Here is my printed response from today's "Ask the Clergy" column in Newsday. The question was: How would you comfort someone facing a medical challenge?
In Judaism, we believe in doctors. We don't ascribe to a faith that is without science and modern medicine. So, the first order of business is to make sure the person is getting the right medicine and science.
Then, we would deal with the practical. Can I help them in any way to find the right doctors? Do they need assistance with transportation to medical appointments? Do they need someone to sit with them in their home? Do they need someone to sit with them at a doctor's appointment?
Sometimes, people think going to the rabbi or other clergy is the last resort. We can be supportive throughout the person's illness, even for practical assistance. And the things I mentioned earlier can be done by any individual, not just a member of the clergy.
Yes, we can pray with them, and our hope is that prayer offers strength and comfort. Judaism certainly has prayers for the sick, but I strongly believe that every situation is unique, and we shouldn't try to find prayers or words that fit a formula. Each person is different. Each illness is different. I have to listen to the person about what he or she needs. Don't rush in thinking you can solve their problems. Don't assume you know how someone feels. Avoid the cliches, such as "I know how you feel" or "All things happen for a reason."