Torn: the nature of healing

In Hebrew, the word for heal is “raph”, which means to repair or sew together a torn garment. This tells us of the nature of healing.

The root meaning of the Hebrew for garment (beged) is covering or rebel. After the incident at the tree in the garden of Eden, the Lord finds Adam and Eve hiding from Him – aware of their nakedness – and He provides covering for them. In the Bible, when somebody deliberately tears their garments, it is a sign of deep sorrow or affliction. Tearing of garments can be seen, then, as a tearing of the Lord’s covering, a reminder of our rebellious nature, or an expression of grief or rage.

children wearing tallits at the Western Wall in Jerusalem But look at the nature of the garment that is torn. In Numbers 15, Israel is instructed to wear garments with tassels, with a cord of blue running through the tassel at each corner. The blue cord is to remind them of God’s commandments to them.* This is Israel’s part of the covenant with God, which they have sworn to fulfil.

It follows that tearing the garment (called a tallit) is a breach in relationship with the Creator – whether the breach is by ourselves or has some other source. Healing, therefore, is repair of that relationship. Healing in the Biblical sense repairs spiritual or emotional gashes that cause loss of intimacy with God. It is not magic and it is not primarily physical but relational, though Moses, Elijah. Elisha and Isaiah all realize miracles of physical healing.

Healing comes from God. In Numbers 15, the corner where fringes are to be attached is kawnawf which also means wing. We shelter under the wings of the Lord (Ruth 2:12, Psalm 17:8 etc.); His garment shelters us. Malachi 4:2: says “The Sun of Righteousness shall arise with healing in his wing”: that is, the corners of his garment shall mend the tears in ours. Our tattered relationship shall be made good there. More of this later.

* The blue of the cord – made from the blood of a shellfish – reflects the colour of the sea, which reflects the colour of the sky, which reflects the colour of God’s throne (Talmud Menachos 43b). Some translations incorrectly identify the tassel as the reminder. The gender construction of the sentence points to the cord, not the tassel.

3 Responses to “Torn: the nature of healing”

  1. Eugenia Wells Says:

    When 2 of Aaron’s sons were killed by Yahweh because of strange fire, Aaron was not allowed to tear his garments. That would have meant that he was rebelling? Is that right?

  2. yf Says:

    Interesting point Eugenia.
    The voluntary tearing of garments in Middle Eastern cultures is generally an expression of extreme grief – declaring “I am wounded.” So, why was the Lord so tough on Aaron after he lost his two sons?

    In Exodus 28:2 – before the incident – instructions are given about a holy garment for Aaron to wear in his role as high priest. On the basis of this and Ezekiel 44:19, the Talmud sees the priestly garments as inherently holy (Zevachim 17B). So, Aaron’s high priestly garment was not his to tear: it was holy unto the Lord and if he tore it he would be tearing – wounding – holiness and renouncing his status as high priest.

  3. Arvilla Tarring Says:

    The Land of Israel was not the inheritance of the Jews — 7:14 And the LORD said unto Moses: ‘Pharaoh’s heart is stubborn he refuseth to let the people go.