Answers

  1. This term is found in the Book of Jeremiah 8:22.
    It should be understood in both a literal, but more importantly, in a metaphorical sense.
    Literal: a special medicinal balm could be found in a region of Israel called Gilead.
    Metaphor: The Prophet Jeremiah is rebuking the Jewish nation and telling them that if they don’t repent from terrible transgression – murder, idolatry and adultery – they will be exiled from Israel by the Babylonians, who will take their land and property. Throughout the chapter the prophet spells out why this will happen, what they have done, and appeals to them to repent and change their ways for the good  – and, if so, they will avoid this punishment from God.
    He asks rhetorically: Is there no balm in Gilead? This “balm” refers to the ability they have to repent. and atone. Repenting will heal their spiritual sickness, which has caused them to be distant from God and the Torah, and be deserving of punishment of exile.
    “Is there no balm in your region (Gilead)?” – meaning, can’t you find it within yourselves the need to repent from these terrible ways and return to the way of God, and be spared any need for punishment and exile (note: punishment and exile by God is not being cruel, but to put them in a situation where they can contemplate their errant ways and repent, which  they if fact did after 70 years in Babylonian exile.)
    I hope that this is clear and helpful.
    Best wishes from Jerusalem,
    Rabbi Moshe Newman

    Best wishes from the AskTheRabbi.org Team