It has been said that all women are healers. It is difficult to find the stories of women healers. I believe that the women of the Bible were healers. MidrashA rabbinic method of interpreting text, often through the telling of stories. tells us that SarahThe first matriarch, wife of Abraham, and mother of Isaac, whom she birthed at the age of 90. Sarah, in Rabbinic tradition, is considered holy, beautiful, and hospitable. Many prayers, particularly the Amidah (the central silent prayer), refer to God as Magen Avraham – protector of Abraham. Many Jews now add: pokehd or ezrat Sarah – guardian or helper of Sarah. Imenu’s ShabbatShabbat is the Sabbath day, the Day of Rest, and is observed from Friday night through Saturday night. Is set aside from the rest of the week both in honor of the fact that God rested on the seventh day after creating the world. On Shabbat, many Jews observe prohibitions from various activities designated as work. Shabbat is traditionally observed with festive meals, wine, challah, prayers, the reading and studying of Torah, conjugal relations, family time, and time with friends. candles burned from one Shabbat to the next, that her tent was always open and welcoming to all who came. I envision Sarah Imenu as a healer, her tent a haven for those in need of healing.
Wells are a symbol of healing. The TorahThe Five Books of Moses, and the foundation of all of Jewish life and lore. The Torah is considered the heart and soul of the Jewish people, and study of the Torah is a high mitzvah. The Torah itself a scroll that is hand lettered on parchment, elaborately dressed and decorated, and stored in a decorative ark. It is chanted aloud on Mondays, Thursdays, and Shabbat, according to a yearly cycle. Sometimes "Torah" is used as a colloquial term for Jewish learning and narrative in general. gives us vivid images of the meetings of IsaacAbraham and Sarah's much-longed-for son and the second Jewish patriarch. Isaac is nearly sacrificed by his father at God's command (Genesis 22). He is married to Rebecca and is the father of Esau and Jacob. His Hebrew name is Yitzchak. and JacobLit. heel Jacob is the third patriarch, son of Isaac and Rebecca, and father to the twelve tribes of Israel. More than any of the other patriarchs, Jacob wrestles with God and evolves from a deceitful, deal-making young man to a mature, faithful partner to God. His Hebrew name is Yaakov. with their future wives, Rivkah and RachelLavan's younger daughter and Jacob's beloved wife second wife (after he is initially tricked into marrying her older sister, Leah). Rachel grieves throughout her life that she is barren while Leah is so fertile. Ultimately, Rachel gives birth to Joseph and dies in childbirth with Benjamin. Rachel is remembered as compassionate (she is said to still weep for her children), and infertile women often invoke Rachel as a kind of intercessor and visit her tomb on the road to Bethlehem., at wells. There is the legend of Miriam’s Well. It tells us that as long as MiriamMiriam is the sister of Moses and Aaron. As Moses' and Aaron's sister she, according to midrash, prophesies Moses' role and helps secure it by watching over the young baby, seeing to it that Pharaoh's daughter takes him and that the baby is returned to his mother for nursing. During the Israelites' trek through the desert, a magical well given on her behalf travels with the Israelites, providing water, healing, and sustenance. lived, a mysterious well accompanied B’nai IsraelLit. ''the one who struggles with God.'' Israel means many things. It is first used with reference to Jacob, whose name is changed to Israel (Genesis 32:29), the one who struggles with God. Jacob's children, the Jewish people, become B'nai Israel, the children of Israel. The name also refers to the land of Israel and the State of Israel. on their journeys. This well was a source of sustenance and healing.
The Torah refers to the midwives PuahPuah, like Shifra, is one of the Hebrew midwives mentioned in Exodus 1 who defies Pharaoh's orders to kill the boy babies. This first act of defiance was instrumental in leading to the Israelite exodus from Egypt. Puah is often identified in the midrash with Miriam, Moses' older sister. and ShifraShifra is one of the two Hebrew midwives mentioned in Exodus 1 who refuses Pharaoh's orders to kill the boy children, instead enabling them to live. She, along with her partner Puah, is instrumental in beginning the process leading to the Exodus. Shifra is often identified as Jochebed, Moses' mother., and, according to midrash, Miriam herself was a midwife. Midwives were healers in ancient times and it is believed that their skills went beyond assisting women in birthing.
There is a midrash about Serach, Jacob’s granddaughter, healing her grandfather’s mental anguish with her music. It is said that the Prophetess HuldahA prophetess mentioned in 2 Kings. The king asks his advisers to consult her when he realizes that he and the people have not been following God's word. She is noted for her compassion. stood at the gates of the city, teaching and “counselling” people. Could Huldah have been a healer, counselling people in need of mental and emotional healing?
There are documented records of women healers in medieval Europe, “most of whom were Jewish” (Siraisi, 2009, p. 27). These healing arts would have been practiced and passed down from generation to generation from the healing women in the Torah through to medieval times and down to our present day. There is a legacy of women healers in our faith, their stories often hidden, lost, unrecorded.
This meditation is dedicated to all women healers, past, and present. It honors women healers and caregivers from biblical times onward. It invites us to journey with these women and to draw inspiration from them in our healing work.
Sit quietly. Relax your body. Close your eyes. Take a few deep breaths, inhaling and exhaling slowly. As you inhale, imagine that you are breathing in waves of healing energy. Feel these waves flow through your entire body—like an ocean of healing light. As you exhale, envision any negative energy—any pain, tension, stress, fatigue—being released from your body, carried away on the soft wind of your breath, carried away on angel wings. With every breath, feel the narrow places within you opening, expanding, becoming filled with waves of deep relaxation and healing energy. Feel this happening in your feet, your legs, your hips, your hands, your arms, your shoulders. Feel this happening in the core of your body—your pelvis, your abdomen, your spine, your chest. Feel this happening in your neck, your head, and your face.
Envision yourself on a journey. Note your surroundings, the path you are traveling on. As you journey, you come upon a sanctuary. See yourself standing at the entrance of the sanctuary. Note what the sanctuary looks like, the color and texture of the walls, doors, windows. Now a woman opens the doors and invites you to enter. She tells you this is a Sanctuary of Women’s Healing Wisdom and she is a shomrah, a mishmeret, a guardian and protector of the sanctuary. As you cross the threshold with her, you feel a sense of calm and beauty. You note a soft, gentle, soothing light shining down from an opening in the ceiling. This is a light of healing. Below this you note a pool filled with clear, crystal water. These are waters of healing. All around you, you note beautiful vegetation adorning the sanctuary space. Their fragrance fills the air around you. These plants have the power to heal.
Now your guide takes you deeper into the sanctuary. She takes you to an alcove which holds a large scroll made of parchment. She tells you: “This is the Scroll of Women’s Healing Wisdom.” This scroll contains the hidden stories of women healers, the stories that have been lost through the ages. The shomrah opens the parchment scroll and begins to chant their stories.
As you hear their stories chanted, these women come to life before you. You see Sarah Imenu with her tent of healing, a luminous beacon in the ancient desert. You see Mother LeahThe third of the Jewish matriarchs, Lead is the eldest of Lavan's daughters and one of the wives of Jacob. She is the daughter whom Lavan tricks Jacob into marrying instead of his younger daughter Rachel, whom Jacob has requested to marry. Leah is mother to six of the the twelve tribes and to one daughter, Dinah. tending her healing plants. You see Rivkah, Rachel, and Miriam with their healing wells. You see Serach playing her harp. You hear her sing her songs of healing. You see Huldah at the gates giving counsel to those in need of emotional healing. You see medieval women healers practicing their healing arts. As you hear their stories, you see many more women healers through the ages—nurses, doctors, midwives, counsellors—mothers, daughters, sisters, aunts, grandmothers. You hear a voice say: “All women are healers.”
And now another woman approaches you. This woman is a soferet, a scribe. She invites you to share your healing story. As you speak, she inscribes your story in this Scroll of Women’s Healing Wisdom. As your story is completed, you hear a voice say: “This is your sacred work.” Now you know your story to be imprinted on the scroll. Now you know you are part of the legacy of women healers. Now the scroll begins to glow. A stream of light flows from the scroll to you. Envision this light bringing you compassion and strength to do your sacred healing work. Envision this light flowing from you to those in your care. Envision this light bringing them hope, healing, courage, strength, and wholeness—complete healing (refuah shleimah)—healing of body and healing of spirit.
Hold on to these images as you now become aware once more of your breath and of the boundaries of your body. As you take a few deep breaths, become aware of the gentle rise and fall of your chest. Become aware once more of your physical presence. Then—whenever you are ready—slowly, gently open your eyes.
Adelman, P. V. (1996). Legend of Miriam’s Well. In: Miriam’s Well: Rituals for Jewish Women around the World. (pp. 69–70). New York: Biblo Press.
Frankel, E. (1996). Five Books of Miriam: A Woman’s Commentary on the Torah. San Francisco: Harper.
Minkowski, W. L. (1992). Women Healers of the Middle Ages: Selected Aspects of their History. American Journal of Public Health 82(2): 288–295.
Siraisi, N.G. (2009). Medieval and Early Renaissance Medicine: An Introduction to Knowledge and Practice. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
Stein, D. (1990). All Women are Healers: A Comprehensive Guide to Natural Healing. Freedom, CA: Crossing Press.
Tallin, C. Doctors: Medieval. Jewish Women’s Archive. Found at: https://jwa.org/encyclopedia/article/doctors-medieval.