Friday, July 11, 2008

Save a Life (Sermon delivered 7/11/2008)

"If you will heed the LORD your God diligently, doing what is upright in My sight, giving ear to My commandments and keeping all My laws, then I will not bring upon you any of the diseases that I brought upon the Egyptians, ki ani adonai rofecha for I the LORD am your healer."
(Exodus 15:26)

Just before our silent prayer this evening we prayed for healing. Every Shabbat we take the opportunity to interrupt our regular worship service to ask for healing on behalf of those in our lives who are suffering from some sort of illness. Every day, as a part of the daily Amidah, we ask God to heal our friends, our family, ourselves. As Modern Jews we straddle two worlds: the world of science and the world of faith. We understand that we should go to the best doctors available for healing. Even the Talmud requires it. Yet we say Mi Shebeirach every day, even on Shabbat.

We believe that God is rofeinu, our healer. For many of us the Mi Shebeirach is the most intense prayer experience we have over the course of any given week. Expressing our hope that our loved ones will be healed may or may not help them heal. There are studies that show that when a person knows people are praying for healing, something happens physiologically and they are able to heal. When a person is unaware that people praying for them…we do not know. But even as Modernists, we are certainly open to the possibility that God has an active role in the healing process.

At the same time, we understand that God no longer serves as the miracle worker of the Biblical stories. We know that God must follow the laws of nature, and if a person is injured or contracts or inherits a disease, that person must deal with it as nature demands. That might mean taking the appropriate medicines, a regimen of physical therapy, or enduring years of waiting for an organ donor. These processes may take days or years. They may be done alone or require the help of an entire community.

Sometimes, though, we can take steps in advance to help the process of healing. The Talmud says that when a person saves one life, it is as if they saved the entire world. You can try to save a life by doing nothing more than putting a Q-tip in your mouth.

Mira Elias was diagnosed with acute myelogenous leukemia on July 6, 2004. She had treatment and thought it was gone, but a year later she found out it had come back. Then, in November that year she did receive a miracle. Only her miracle came not in the form of a burning bush or a parting sea. Her miracle is named Tzivya. On November 4, 2005, Mira received a blood stem cell transplant from Tzivya, and just two months ago the two of them met for the first time. In Mira’s words, “Because of Tzivya I am alive today and able to look forward to my future.”

Michael Faust was diagnosed with lymphoblastic leukemia in March 2004. He spent months traveling the globe from New York to Australia looking for someone who could help him with a cure. In February 2006, after nearly two years of searching, he was matched with a bone marrow donor, also named Michael, and they too were able to meet two months ago. In Faust’s words, “Michael has given me a great deal more than blood stem cells. He has given me another chance to be with my family, another chance to get back on the tennis court, another chance to start my own family, another chance to accomplish my dreams and most importantly, he has given me a second chance at life.”

Maybe you have heard similar stories. Perhaps you have read about them on line or seen a feature on a news program. We love to watch these stories, we might even tear up in sympathy or in joy. There is a way to do more than watch. We have an opportunity to try to save a life. We can register with Gift of Life.

Gift of Life is a bone marrow registry started in 1991. In its first four years, over 60,000 registrants of Eastern European Jewish descent signed up to be donors. Today, Gift of Life manages a registry of over 120,000 bone marrow donors and a bank of over 800 umbilical cord blood units. They have facilitated transplants for over 1,500 patients in need, and processed over 18,000 searches for patients worldwide. One in 1,000 of the donors in Gift of Life's registry are called to donate their marrow or blood stem cells each year, and I was called this week. I signed up in 2006 at a drive at Hebrew Union College. I wrote down my name and address, swiped my inner cheek with a Q-tip, put it in a hermetically sealed container, and that was it. Until this weekend.

I received a letter on Saturday that I was a potential match for a 7 year old boy in desperate need of a blood stem cell transplant. I was to call the Gift of Life and check my email for a consent form. I called on Monday and had a lovely conversation with their interviewer Amanda. She asked me health questions for about 20 minutes, and told me to send in the consent form as soon as possible. Time, of course, was of the essence. By Wednesday Amanda had called to speak to me again. Because of a melanoma I had four years ago, I am not a match for this boy. Honestly, I feel like I’ve been dumped. My blood will not be used to save his life, and he must keep searching. My opportunity to be someone’s miracle will have to wait.

Though I am unable to help this particular boy, I have an unusual benefit that other potential donors may not have. I have a pulpit and a blog. I can teach you about this opportunity and convince you to sign up. I do hope I get called again. Until then I pray that you will sign up to be the next miracle. Go to the Gift of Life web site. Since saving a life is a Mitzvah that supersedes Shabbat, go home tonight and register on line.

The patients on the recipient list have been praying fervently for God to serve as their healer. They pray for a miracle every opportunity they get. God no longer splits the seas or makes the dry bones dance. God works in more subtle ways. God works through us. God today is Adonai rochecha, Adonai our healer, through scientific advances and through our willingness to donate blood stem cells and bone marrow. We have the opportunity to put out a helping hand to people like Mira and Michael. Sign up for Gift of Life, and one day you might be God’s next miracle.