A few days ago we entered into the new month of Iyar. Here’s my favorite teaching about the month of Iyar: its name is an acronym for something beautiful. Torah teaches that after the children of Israel crossed through the Sea of Reeds and reached the far shore, they sang and danced — and then, once they began their journey in the wilderness, they became afraid. What if there were no potable water for them to drink? What if there weren’t enough to nourish them in life’s journey?
So God instructed Moshe to throw a piece of wood into a stagnant pond, and the water became sweet. And then God offered one of Torah’s most beautiful reassurances, saying “I am YHVH your healer.” That’s the phrase we can see hidden in the name of the month Iyar: אני יה רפאך / I am God, your healer.
In the words of my friend and teacher Rabbi Yael Levy of A Way In:
Iyar is an acronym for this promise the Divine Mystery has made to us: I am your healer. On life’s journeys you will face the seas of struggle, celebration, fear and joy, and whatever comes, I am there to heal and guide you. (Exodus 15:26)
Iyar is a month of second chances because the full moon of Iyar provides the opportunity to make up for something that has been missed. During Temple times, it was considered essential for a person’s spiritual and material wellbeing to compete a sacrificial offering for Passover. If circumstances kept someone from someone from making this offering, he/she was given another opportunity to do so on the 15th day of the month of Iyar.
Iyar says it is never too late — no matter what situation we find ourselves in, no matter how far away we have traveled from our intentions or goals, it is possible to find our way back.
Every life contains missteps and missed opportunities — times when we look back and realize we wish we’d chosen differently. If only I had reached out to that person then, instead of staying silent. If only I had walked through that door, instead of staying outside. If only I had said “I love you” while I still could. If only, if only.
Part of what it means to me to say that God is our healer is to say that God accompanies us into our second chances. I don’t have a time turner; I can’t actually go back in time to undo my mistakes, so that I could do then what I wish now that I had done. But Rabbi Levy points out that just as our ancestors were given the opportunity to offer the Pesach sacrifice late, we too can find opportunities to make up for where we missed the mark… and I think that’s one way that God can help us to find healing.
Illness and healing are major themes in this week’s Torah portion, Tazria-Metzora. Torah’s ancient paradigm of tamei and tahor, impure and pure — or charged-up with the energy of life and death, and absent that psycho-spiritual “electricity” — may not speak to us. But part of what I relearn from this Torah portion each year is that when one is sick, whether physically or emotionally or spiritually, one may feel exiled from the community. Cut off and isolated. “Outside the camp” in an existential sense: alone even when surrounded by other human beings.
And in those times God comes to us and reminds us אני יה רפאך — I am God, your healer. I am the One Who is with you in sickness and in health, the One Who accompanies you even when you feel most existentially alone.
When we are sick and feel isolated, the One Who Accompanies is with us. And when we are sick at heart because of the places where we missed the mark, the One Who Accompanies is with us too. May this month of Iyar be a time when our second chances gleam bright before us, so we can find healing in making amends, and making new choices, and remembering that — as Rabbi Levy teaches — no matter how far we’ve strayed from where we meant to be, it’s never too late to find our way back.
This is the d’var Torah that Rabbi Rachel offered at services this morning. (Cross-posted to Velveteen Rabbi.)