Mi Shebeirach directs hope for strength and restoration to our loved ones, and to ourselves

Bu Student Rabbi Remy Liverman

Prayers for healing are deeply embedded in our Jewish liturgy and tradition. The practice began with the holy words Moses prayed to God after his sister Miriam had been stricken with the affliction of tzara’at.

Moses pleaded: El na, refa na la — “Please God, heal her” (Numbers 12:13).

When we join together for Kabbalat Shabbat, we pause during our service to include the Mi Shebeirach, our communal prayer for healing.

Traditionally, we recite this prayer in synagogue during the Torah service. However, the Mi Shebeirach is not mandated by our tradition.

Traditionally, we recite this prayer in synagogue during the Torah service. However, the Mi Shebeirach is not mandated by our tradition; it is a supplemental prayer.

Thus, the Mi Shebeirach has been included in other services without Torah, and beautiful contemporary versions of the ·prayer have been set to music, including the popular folk version created by the late Debbie Friedman that has become part of our minhag.

Her interpretation of our prayer for healing captures the powerful sentiment of hope for strength and restoration when we sing: “Bless those in need of healing with r’fuah sh’leimah, the renewal of body, the renewal of spirit….”

Prayer for healing can provide comfort in medical settings

We may recite the Mi Shebeirach not just in the synagogue, but also in in medical settings, perhaps while a loved one awaits a diagnosis or receives one, or rests in recovery following a procedure.

I believe the power of this prayer for healing exists in the comfort it provides to the patient and to his or her loved ones and caretakers.

Continuing to recite this prayer during services spreads the support to the larger community. This act of chesed sends the message that those who suffer are not alone.

Sometimes we must adjust our expectations

Yet, how do we reconcile our prayer for healing when the possibility of recovery does not exist?

After my grandfather passed away two years ago, I sat down with my rabbi to discuss my grandfather’s life and prepare his eulogy.

When my rabbi asked how I was feeling, I replied at that moment I was consumed by a sense of guilt.

My grandfather had suffered a stroke six years earlier, transforming him from the active eternal optimist I knew to a shell of the person he once was.

I felt guilty for calling my grandfather’s name each Shabbat as we recited the Mi Shebeirach, when I knew healing and recovery were no longer possible for him.

The stroke had paralyzed half his body and my grandfather spent the next six years in a wheelchair as his health slowly deteriorated.

I felt guilty for calling my grandfather’s name each Shabbat as we recited the Mi Shebeirach, when I knew healing and recovery were no longer possible for him.

I felt guilty because I knew my prayer was not for his recovery. I was praying that his life would be sustained — that we wouldn’t have to let him go, despite his condition and the reality of the worsening quality of his life.

My rabbi asked if my grandfather’s survival had been the only reason for my prayer for healing.

It was then I realized I had been praying for more than the confirmation of his life as it had been. I had been praying for strength and hope for my family and for myself in coping with his illness and caring for him in those final years.

Healing may come in the form of care rather than cure

We often equate healing with cure, so when we are faced with illness that cannot be healed, we encounter what might seem like a prayer with no possible resolution. We may feel the support of our community when we join together, but in our silent prayer to God for healing we may feel alone and unanswered.

At such time, our prayer for healing reaches a turning point, where we may need to adjust our petition toward God.

We may require the strength to ask for what is possible, and the added strength to accept that this has to be enough.

Instead, we might ask-for perspective, for strength and for loving care for ourselves and our loved ones.

We may require the strength to ask for what is possible, and the added strength to accept that this has to be enough.

This is why I encourage others to include themselves in their prayer for healing, even if only to themselves.

The power of prayer is vital to our tradition. We should not lose sight of this principle even when we feel its purpose is lost.

Therefore, we continue in the footsteps of our ancestors, reciting the prayer for healing together, in all its beauty and struggle.

Leave a Reply

avatar
  Subscribe  
Notify of