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?
- 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?
Should we say a prayer for healing on Shabbat?
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:
Who has permission to heal? God? Doctors?
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…
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
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.
M'kor habrachah l'avoteinu
The renewal of body, the renewal of spirit,
And let us say, Amen
Consider these three versions of the Jewish prayer for healing.
- What are some of the thematic differences?
- Why are these prayers typically recited in the presence of a minyan?
- 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?
- 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”
- Zohar (Vayishlach) “Deliver me, I pray, from the hand of my brother, from the hand of Esau (Genesis 32:12)”
- 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.”