How we might pray for healing

Mi Sheberakh avoteinu

M’kor habrachah l’imoteinu…

We pray for healing for ourselves and for loved ones when we join together for Shabbat services. How often, however, do we think about what it means to pray for healing— to actively engage in one’s suffering and ask God (and each other) for support, strength and love?

There is something intensely profound in turning to prayer in moments of fear and trepidation, to ask for help. To do so is also a personal experience. In fact, this being deeply personal is entirely necessary. Rabbi Dr. Daniel Landes, in My People’s Prayerbook, remarks:

“The Mi Sheberakh is not a magical incantation. It obligates the [pray-er] to give tzedakah and to pray personally on behalf of the person for whom the prayer is given. It summons us all to recognize our own utter powerlessness in the face of illness.”*

Praying for healing means opening up and coming to terms with our deepest fears. And so, we pray. We sing and read the healing Mi Sheberakh.

I want to ensure that we all have the necessary knowledge from our tradition for something so important. What do we do to pray for the healing of a loved one?

1) We show up and we ourselves pray for our loved ones. There are so many opportunities for prayer. In our community we pray for healing every Friday night, and in all Jewish communities (including our own) healing can be prayed for anytime the Torah is read (Shabbat, Monday, Thursday and holiday mornings) or anytime the weekday Amidah is read (every weekday). And, healing can be prayed for elsewhere. When we engage in bikur cholim, the mitzvah of visiting the sick, there is nothing more effective than praying for your loved one while looking them in the eye and holding their hand.

2) If we ourselves cannot make it to synagogue to pray, we can assign an emissary (a friend or relative) to pray on our behalf. This ensures that your loved one is in someone’s thoughts— one who has agreed to take responsibility for them.

3) When we can’t make it to synagogue or to a bedside, and cannot find an emissary, then we call the synagogue and have our loved one’s name put on the Mi Sheberach list. The purpose of our Mi Sheberach list is to let people know of those who are ill who have no one available to pray for them. It is our job, as congregants, to think of those on the list, and for each one of them, offer prayers for healing. Believe it or not, the power is not in the rabbi or cantor reading those names. The power is in having someone focus in on one of those names, and intentionally offer prayer on their behalf.

4) We give tzedakah on behalf of our loves ones, so that blessings in their name can be brought to the world while they focus on healing.

A few DOs and DON’Ts to help us remember what to do:

  • DO pray for your loved ones, at every available opportunity.
  • DO ask a friend or family member to pray for a loved one (or for yourself) on your behalf.
  • DO call the office before Friday at 1 pm to let us know if you would like for someone’s name to be read from the Mi Shebeirakh list that Shabbat.
  • DO give tzedakah as a means of praying for healing.
  • DON’T keep someone on the Mi Shebeirakh list when you or an emissary are able to come to temple and pray. We need to make sure that those on the list are those in need of someone to pray for them. Remember that the mitzvah is in coming to Temple and praying on your loved one’s behalf.
  • DO let us know when your loved one gets better. We love good news!
  • DO let us know when you yourself are in need of healing and/or in need of support from our caring community. We at Temple Emanu-El are here for you and wish to help.

We all at times need healing, and it is so wonderful to know that there are others praying on our behalf. Please take every opportunity you can to be here for loved ones. Join us for support and prayer every Shabbat evening and morning.

May we all have the courage to be for each other a blessing and let us say, Amen.

*Landes, Daniel. My People’s Prayer Book Vol. 4. Ed. Lawrence Hoffman. Vermont: Jewish Lights Publishing, 2000. 123.

Published in the November 2014 edition of Temple Emanu-El’s Kolaynu.

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davidzvaisberg Written by:

David Vaisberg, originally from Montreal and Mississauga, Canada, serves as Rabbi at Temple Emanu-El of Edison, NJ and lives in Metuchen, NJ with his family.

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