February 9, 2013
As is the case for most blessings, the language of the misheberach for the sick (pp. 143‑145) dates from the Middle Ages. However, the notion of the importance of praying for the sick appears already in a number of places in the Talmud. No specific formula is given, but the idea of asking for mercy for the patient is included in the mitzvah of bikkur cholim—visiting the sick. In fact, in one passage in Nedarim, it seems that the primary reason for making the visit is to be prompted to pray for the patient’s recovery.
R. Dimi is quoted as saying: “Whoever visits the sick causes him to live, and whoever does not visit the sick causes him to die.” The commentator asks: “How does one ‘cause’ this? Does this mean that whoever visits the sick will ask mercy [i.e., pray] that he may live, and whoever does not visit the sick will ask mercy that he should die? Would you think this? But [it must mean] that whoever does not visit the sick will not ask mercy, neither that he should live nor die.”
The idea here is that those visit the sick will be moved to pray on their behalf, while those who don’t visit will most likely forget about the sick—out of sight, out of mind. Luckily, we now have the liturgical formulation of the misheberach that prompts us to remember those who are sick who are not among us.
This formulation does not appear exclusively during the Torah service on Shabbat. There is a version of it that is appropriate to recite at the bedside of someone who is ill, and another version that appears in the weekday amidah, amid the various supplications that we make during that prayer. For now, however, we will focus on the prayer as it appears in the Shabbat liturgy.
Siddur Sim Shalom tends to paraphrase. Because I want to be more literal, I will use the translation by my colleague Rabbi Joe Ozarowsk from his book, To Walk in God’s Ways: Jewish Pastoral Perspectives on Illness and Bereavement. Rabbi Joe is chaplain at the Jewish Healing Network of Chicago; he co-led our training in bikkur cholim (visiting the sick) last spring.
Misheberach avoteinu, Avraham Yitzchak v’Ya’akov, Sarah Rivka Rachel v’Leah
May He who blessed our ancestors, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, Sarah, Rebecca, Rachel and Leah
The merit of the ancestors—zechut avot—remember us? We’re connected to those people
Hu y’varech virapeh et-______________ v’et-kol hacholim bikhilla kedosha
Bless and heal ______________________ and all the sick in this holy congregation
Mother’s name—rachamim, rehem—who do you want when you’re sick? Mommy
Hakadosh baruch hu yimalei rachamim aleihem l’hachezikam ulrapotam
May the Holy One, Blessed Be He be filled with mercy upon them, to strengthen and heal them
Asking for mercy—per the Talmud
V’yishlach lahem mheirah refuah shleimah min hashamayim, refuat hanefesh urfuat haguf
And may He send quickly a complete healing from Heaven, a healing of soul and a healing of body
What is complete healing—both soul and body—more on that later
B’toch sh’ar cholei Ysrael
Among all the other sick of Israel
Rabbi Joe—“Inclusion of the ill amongst our other people’s sick links them to the larger group. Just as we have connected [the sick] vertically to their Jewish past, so do we connect them horizontally to the present.”
Helps break down sense of isolation
Shabbat hi miliz’ok urfuah k’rovah lavo
It is the Sabbath and we do not cry out, but healing is near
Don’t include other petitions on Shabbat—be thankful for what we have, give God a rest, taste of ‘olam haba—everything is perfect
But somehow this one worked its way back into the Shabbat liturgy—the felt need of the people to ask for healing from illness worked its way around this restriction
Why at this spot (also others)? Arukh Hashulchan: “It is the custom to bless the sick in the synagogue at the time of the Torah reading, for at that time, the divine mercies are awakened.”
Rabbi Joe: “While we generally do not ask for our specific needs on the Sabbath, the Day of Rest itself brings comfort and healing in its wake. We may thus make reference to God’s healing power on the holy Sabbath.”
Hashta ba’agalah uvizman kariv v’nomar amen.
May it happen immediately without delay and let us say, Amen!
Why is this prayer so powerful?
- Many shuls, our own included, have a very long misheberach list.
- People want to be remembered.
- This is a time in the service (like kaddish) to remember our connections and the vulnerability of the human condition—those two things go together.
- The public acknowledgement of who is ill or bereaved is a way of communicating with the community.
What does it mean to pray for healing?
- Do we believe that God will heal us?
- Couldn’t hurt.
→ Divrei Tefillah webpage.