B’haalot’cha: Of Fertility And Infertility In Land And People by Anna Burke

“Action and prayer work hand-in-hand; we cannot rely solely on God for our well-being, but we can derive meaning and support from walking our journeys with God in our hearts and minds.”

Parashat B’haalot’cha marks the beginning of the Israelites’ journey from Sinai to the Promised Land as they make their final preparations, set out from their encampment, and grapple with the challenges they face along the way. The Israelites push God’s buttons with their complaining, and in this portion even Miriam and Aaron challenge Moses, and God by extension. God punishes Miriam with leprosy for speaking out against Moses. Upon hearing Aaron’s plea for forgiveness, Moses prays for his sister with the words, “El na refa na la,” meaning, “Please God, heal her.”

Moses’ prayer for healing has become a staple of the Jewish tradition that compels us to lean on God as our source of healing. We trust in God to heal the earth in the shmita year as we allow the land to rest, and hopefully, in turn, become rejuvenated. Maintaining faith in God as we remove ourselves from our regular activities and work can be challenging, especially at our most vulnerable times. And yet, we know that by allowing the earth to rest, we actively care for it and do our part to invest in a sustainable future.

During this shmita year, as we help the earth rest and heal, we can extend the same kindness to ourselves. In the infertility community, specifically, we play an active role in caring for ourselves and our bodies as we utilize fertility treatments and the many methods for building our families. Though we take advantage of the technology and resources available to us, we still cry out to God for the ability to grow our families. As we think of the financial and emotional burden of infertility, we pray for ourselves and those we love with Moses’ words “El na refa na la.” Our tradition teaches that action and prayer work hand-in-hand; we cannot rely solely on God for our well-being, but we can derive meaning and support from walking our journeys with God in our hearts and minds. Hopefully, we can find healing as well. 

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Anna Burke is a proud New Englander at heart, having been born and raised in Rhode Island and studied at Northeastern University in Boston, MA, where she continued to live post-graduation to serve Northeastern Hillel as the Director of Jewish Student Life. With her passion for Israel and Jewish education, Anna went on to teach English in Ashdod and remained in Israel to complete her first year of Rabbinical School at the Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion in Jerusalem. She has since continued her rabbinic studies in Cincinnati, where she has enjoyed serving as an educator at Kulanu, the Madrichim Coordinator at Rockdale Temple, Rabbinic Educator at Hillel at Miami University, and Fellow at RAC-OH. While working on completing her rabbinic studies, Anna earned her M.A. in Jewish Education and has held the position of Cincinnati Manager for the Jewish Fertility Foundation since May of 2020. Anna is passionate about supporting those struggling with infertility and providing educational resources for the community.

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