The History of the Mishaberach Praying for Healing

Origin of Mi Shebeirach Prayer

The prayer had its origins in Babylonia, as a means to bless the congregation. The earliest siddur/prayerbook has it said only on Mondays and Thursdays, probably as a way to get people to show up for the Torah services those days, as everyone came on Shabbat, but not everyone came those mornings. That original Mi Shebeirach said, “May God bless all those brothers and sisters who come to the synagogue for prayer and to give tzedakah.” It asked God to hear their prayers and to give them everything they asked for. Eventually, it was so popular that it was added to the Shabbat service. Who wouldn’t want to have prayer that asked God to deliver all good things, because you came to services and gave tzedakah?

Some of the most important and frequently discussed versions of the Mi Shebeirach were for the mother of a newborn and for sick babies and children.

All scholars agree that it began as a prayer for the congregation and only in the 12th century were there Mi Shebeirach prayers being said for individuals, which at the time was quite an innovation.

There also is a Mi Sheberach for people who don’t talk during services. This effort to promote decorum during worship dates to the 17th century C.E., so kibbitzing may be as old as the service itself.

Until the 1980’s, the Mi Shebeirach for the sick could only be found, in its traditional form, in a Rabbi’s Manual.

Historically, people, Jews, were not empowered to say the Mi Shebeirach, nor did they even have a copy for themselves.

How do we respond in the face of physical or mental illness? Jewish tradition is full of examples of people reaching out in prayer or pausing to meditate on their wishes for a full recovery. Sometimes these requests are highly personal, as our lives are rocked by the illness of a family member or friend.

In a dramatic Biblical moment, Miriam, Moses' older sister, is stricken with leprosy after making negative comments about her brother's wife. Moses never responds to her unkind words, but he does reach out to God and beg for healing, with just a few heartfelt words:

What are some examples of healing prayers in the Tanakh?

וַיִּצְעַ֣ק מֹשֶׁ֔ה אֶל־יְהוָ֖ה לֵאמֹ֑ר אֵ֕ל נָ֛א רְפָ֥א נָ֖א לָֽהּ׃ (פ)
So Moses cried out to the LORD, saying, “O God, pray heal her!”
  • Think of the last time you paused for a moment to wish for healing for someone else. What words came to mind in that moment to express that hope?
  • When Moses prays for his sister, he "cries out." What words might describe you in your neediest moments? Is it a cry, a song, or something else?
(יז) וַיִּתְפַּלֵּ֥ל אַבְרָהָ֖ם אֶל־הָאֱלֹהִ֑ים וַיִּרְפָּ֨א אֱלֹהִ֜ים אֶת־אֲבִימֶ֧לֶךְ וְאֶת־אִשְׁתּ֛וֹ וְאַמְהֹתָ֖יו וַיֵּלֵֽדוּ׃

(17) Abraham then prayed to God, and God healed Abimelech and his wife and his slave girls, so that they bore children;

(כו) וַיֹּאמֶר֩ אִם־שָׁמ֨וֹעַ תִּשְׁמַ֜ע לְק֣וֹל ׀ יְהוָ֣ה אֱלֹהֶ֗יךָ וְהַיָּשָׁ֤ר בְּעֵינָיו֙ תַּעֲשֶׂ֔ה וְהַֽאֲזַנְתָּ֙ לְמִצְוֺתָ֔יו וְשָׁמַרְתָּ֖ כָּל־חֻקָּ֑יו כָּֽל־הַמַּֽחֲלָ֞ה אֲשֶׁר־שַׂ֤מְתִּי בְמִצְרַ֙יִם֙ לֹא־אָשִׂ֣ים עָלֶ֔יךָ כִּ֛י אֲנִ֥י יְהוָ֖ה רֹפְאֶֽךָ׃ (ס)

(26) He said, “If you will heed the LORD your God diligently, doing what is upright in His sight, giving ear to His commandments and keeping all His laws, then I will not bring upon you any of the diseases that I brought upon the Egyptians, for I the LORD am your healer.”

(ד) יְֽהוָ֗ה יִ֭סְעָדֶנּוּ עַל־עֶ֣רֶשׂ דְּוָ֑י כָּל־מִ֝שְׁכָּב֗וֹ הָפַ֥כְתָּ בְחָלְיֽוֹ׃ (ה) אֲ‍ֽנִי־אָ֭מַרְתִּי יְהוָ֣ה חָנֵּ֑נִי רְפָאָ֥ה נַ֝פְשִׁ֗י כִּי־חָטָ֥אתִי לָֽךְ׃

(4) The LORD will sustain him on his sickbed; You shall wholly transform his bed of suffering. (5) I said, “O LORD, have mercy on me, heal me, for I have sinned against You.”

Should we say a prayer for healing on Shabbat?

וְכֵן הָיָה רַבִּי שִׁמְעוֹן בֶּן אֶלְעָזָר אוֹמֵר מִשּׁוּם רַבָּן שִׁמְעוֹן בֶּן גַּמְלִיאֵל: אֵין מְשַׁדְּכִין אֶת הַתִּינוֹקוֹת לֵאָרֵס, וְלֹא אֶת הַתִּינוֹק לְלַמְּדוֹ סֵפֶר וּלְלַמְּדוֹ אוּמָּנוּת, וְאֵין מְנַחֲמִין אֲבֵלִים, וְאֵין מְבַקְּרִין חוֹלִין בְּשַׁבָּת, דִּבְרֵי בֵּית שַׁמַּאי. וּבֵית הִלֵּל מַתִּירִין. תָּנוּ רַבָּנַן, הַנִּכְנָס לְבַקֵּר אֶת הַחוֹלֶה אוֹמֵר: ״שַׁבָּת הִיא מִלִּזְעוֹק, וּרְפוּאָה קְרוֹבָה לָבֹא״. וְרַבִּי מֵאִיר אוֹמֵר: ״יְכוֹלָה הִיא שֶׁתְּרַחֵם״.

And Rabbi Shimon ben Elazar would also say in the name of Rabban Shimon ben Gamliel: one may not comfort mourners on Shabbat, and one may not visit the sick on Shabbat, this is the statement of Beit Shammai, as in their opinion, those are weekday activities and not appropriate on Shabbat. And Beit Hillel permit performing all of these activities on Shabbat, as they each include an aspect of mitzva. The Sages taught in a baraita: One who enters to visit a sick person on Shabbat does not address him in the manner customary during the week; rather, he says: It is on Shabbat that it is prohibited to cry out and ask for compassion, and healing is soon to come. And Rabbi Meir says that it is appropriate to add: The merit of Shabbat is capable of engendering compassion.

Who should you say the Mi Shebeirach for?

  • If you have seen or been in touch with the individual in the last month
  • Even when those in our inner circle are healthy, we may be moved to express our wishes for the well-being of our community, our city, or our world, especially when we know that so many are suffering.
  • The Amidah, or prayer of silent devotion, forms the core of the daily prayer service. One of the blessings is a wish for healing, framed in the plural. We pray not only for ourselves, but for all "those in need of healing," as the song says:

רְפָאֵנוּ ה' וְנֵרָפֵא. הושִׁיעֵנוּ וְנִוָּשֵׁעָה כִּי תְהִלָּתֵנוּ אָתָּה. וְהַעֲלֵה רְפוּאָה שְׁלֵמָה לְכָל מַכּותֵינוּ.

Heal us, O Lord, and we shall be healed, save us and we shall be saved, for You are our praise. Bring complete healing to all our wounds,

Who has permission to heal? God? Doctors?

...תָנֵי דְּבֵי רַבִּי יִשְׁמָעֵאל: ״וְרַפֹּא יְרַפֵּא״ — מִכָּאן שֶׁנִּיתְּנָה רְשׁוּת לָרוֹפֵא לְרַפּאוֹת.

...It was taught in the school of Rabbi Yishmael that from the verse, “And shall cause him to be thoroughly healed” (Exodus 21:19), from here we derive that permission is granted to a doctor to heal. The practice of medicine is in accordance with the will of God.

On the other hand, a Rabbinic tradition teaches that human beings have permission to heal. A verse in Exodus speaks of what happens if two people fight and one is injured. The injurer must "cause" the other party to be "thoroughly healed." We are expected to use our power to act in this world in order to help others.

One aspect of the pandemic has been the celebration of those in the healing profession - doctors, nurses, and all those who have been working to save lives during a wave of illness unlike nothing we have experience before. Even as we pray that COVID-19 will be eradicated, we turn to those with the expertise to fight back against this disease. In raising up their work, we are also acknowledging the blessing of all the tools with which we are endowed that allow us to make changes in our flawed world.

"I do not pray to God for healing, but rather to be part of the healing process, if possible. I don’t expect an answer from God. I am praying, because I am seeking a way to deal with the illness and pain, from a God who created both the good and the bad, from the God who is the Creator and Sustainer of life in the face of adversity, from a loving Parent who doesn’t always have ultimate power or control and can’t always change the world for us, but wants to help make our lives bearable."

Rabbi Amy R. Perlin, D.D.

“He who visits the sick will pray for mercy that the sick shall recover and the person who doesn’t visit the sick will not ask for mercy.” This means that through the visit the visitor will be moved to pray for mercy that God will heal the sick…


(יד) רְפָאֵ֤נִי יְהוָה֙ וְאֵ֣רָפֵ֔א הוֹשִׁיעֵ֖נִי וְאִוָּשֵׁ֑עָה כִּ֥י תְהִלָּתִ֖י אָֽתָּה׃

(14) Heal me, O L-RD, and I shall be healed; Save me, and I shall be saved; For You are the object of my praise.

Misheberach for a person who is ill

Siddur Sim Shalom

May He who blessed our ancestors, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, Sarah, Rebecca, Rachel, and Leah, bless and heal _________________. May the Holy One in mercy strengthen him/her and heal him/her soon, body and soul, together with others who suffer illness. And let us say: Amen

Debbie Friedman song
Mi shebeirach avoteinu
M'kor hab'racha l'imoteinu
May the source of strength,
Who blessed the ones before us,
Help us find the courage to make our lives a blessing,
And let us say, Amen.
Mi shebeirach imoteinu
M'kor habrachah l'avoteinu
Bless those in need of healing with r'fuah sh'leimah,
The renewal of body, the renewal of spirit,
And let us say, Amen

() רְפָאֵנוּ ה' וְנֵרָפֵא. הושִׁיעֵנוּ וְנִוָּשֵׁעָה כִּי תְהִלָּתֵנוּ אָתָּה. וְהַעֲלֵה רְפוּאָה שְׁלֵמָה לְכָל מַכּותֵינוּ.

() תפילה בעד החולה: יְהִי רָצון מִלְּפָנֶיךָ ה' אֱלהַי וֵאלהֵי אֲבותַי. שֶׁתִּשְׁלַח מְהֵרָה רְפוּאָה שְׁלֵמָה מִן הַשָּׁמַיִם. רְפוּאַת הַנֶּפֶשׁ וּרְפוּאַת הַגּוּף לְחולֶה פב"פ בְּתוךְ שְׁאָר חולֵי יִשרָאֵל:

() כִּי אֵל מֶלֶךְ רופֵא נֶאֱמָן וְרַחֲמָן אָתָּה. בָּרוּךְ אַתָּה ה', רופֵא חולֵי עַמּו יִשרָאֵל:

Heal us, O Lord, and we shall be healed, save us and we shall be saved, for You are our praise. Bring complete healing to all our wounds,

(Prayer to add for a sick person: May it be Your will in front of You, O Lord, my God and the God of my forefathers, that You quickly send a complete recovery from the Heavens - a recovery of the soul and a recovery of the body - to the the sick person, insert name, the son/daughter of insert mother's name, among the other sick ones of Israel.)

for You are God and King, the faithful and merciful healer. Blessed are You, O Lord, Who heals the sick of his people Israel.

Consider these three versions of the Jewish prayer for healing.

  1. What are some of the thematic differences?
  2. Why are these prayers typically recited in the presence of a minyan?
  3. Which prayer most speaks to you?

What does it mean to ask God for complete recovery (refuah shelema)?

What kind of healing do we expect from God?

Do we need to recite a person's name out loud or from a list?

  1. Berachot 34a “If one prays on behalf of his fellow, he need no mention his name, since it says ‘Heal her now, Oh God, I beseech Thee’ and he did not mention the name of Miriam”
  1. Zohar (Vayishlach) “Deliver me, I pray, from the hand of my brother, from the hand of Esau (Genesis 32:12)”
  1. Maharikash: the name of the sick person is not mentioned in the prayer for healing

4. Tur: “a person’ name might be the cause of good and bad.”

5. Zohar: “the name of a sick person sometimes can invoke the attribute of justice (midat hadin). And it is therefore that prayer without mentioning his name is more desireable and acceptable.”

(א) בָּרוּךְ אַתָּה יְהֹוָה אֱלֹהֵֽינוּ מֶֽלֶךְ הָעוֹלָם אֲשֶׁר יָצַר אֶת־הָאָדָם בְּחָכְמָה וּבָֽרָא בוֹ נְקָבִים נְקָבִים חֲלוּלִים חֲלוּלִים גָּלוּי וְיָדֽוּעַ לִפְנֵי כִסֵּא כְבוֹדֶֽךָ שֶׁאִם יִפָּתֵֽחַ אֶחָד מֵהֶם אוֹ יִסָּתֵם אֶחָד מֵהֶם אִי אֶפְשַׁר לְהִתְקַיֵּם וְלַעֲמֹד לְפָנֶֽיךָ אֲפִילוּ שָׁעָה אֶחָת. בָּרוּךְ אַתָּה יְהֹוָה רוֹפֵא כָל־בָּשָׂר וּמַפְלִיא לַעֲשׂוֹת:

(1) Blessed are You, Adonoy our God, King of the Universe, Who formed man with wisdom3This may mean either that man was formed by God’s wisdom, or that God formed man and endowed him with wisdom. and created within him openings and hollows. It is obvious and known in the presence of Your glorious throne4In refutation of those who claim that God is not concerned with earthly matters, we declare that even in the presence of His glorious throne, where He is surrounded by myriads of angels, He is aware of the mundane needs of each individual.—Vilna Gaon that if one of them were ruptured, or if one of them were blocked, it would be impossible to exist and stand in Your Presence even for a short while. Blessed are You, Adonoy, Who heals all flesh and performs wonders.