Why is the Mi Shebeirach So Meaningful?

July 6, 2015Howard Lev

The Mi Shebeirach, a Jewish prayer for healing, has been set to music by several contemporary Jewish musicians, including the late Debbie Friedman. Her interpretation – just two short stanzas – is both poetic and powerful, asking God to help those in need of physical or spiritual healing.

I like the Mi Shebeirach because it allows me to offer help to those in need when I cannot be with them physically – or help them emotionally or financially. Reciting the Mi Shebeirach allows me to offer spiritual help, by saying a prayer for their well-being.

For me, the key phrases are “Bless those in need of healing… the renewal of body, the renewal of spirit.” When I sing those words, set to Friedman’s now-familiar melody, together with the congregation and clergy – and, at our congregation, often accompanied by one of three choirs – I honestly believe that those for whom we pray are being healed.

If a coworker or a client mentions to me that a family member is ill, I offer to say the Mi Shebeirach for them at my temple. My wife and children do the same for their friends and colleagues. When I make this offer to people who are not Jewish, they often are surprised that the same prayer can be recited for Jews and for people from other faith and cultural backgrounds. Some of these individuals ask me, “Can you do that?” while others simply say, “I’ll take as many prayers as I can get.”

From time to time, a client or friend calls me to say the prayer worked – and sometimes, people for whom I’ve previously recited the Mi Shebeirach have asked me to do it again.

When there is little or no hope that an individual will recover, the Mi Shebeirach serves as a way to ask God to ease their physical pain and their family’s spiritual pain. I recently learned that a colleague’s father, for whom I had recited Mi Shebeirach, did not recover from his illness. Contented, my colleague told me that he didn’t suffer and is now “in a better place.” So, did the Mi Shebeirach work in this case? I believe it did.

The Mi Shebeirach is not just for those who are physically ailing; it also offers spiritual guidance and strength to those who need it. Maybe you just want God to help you make it through a difficult time. Maybe you’re caring for a family member who is ill and you just need an extra bit of strength. No matter what’s pressing upon you, God is a great listener. God won’t give you the answer; God will just listen. (In my home, we call that “venting”!)

If I am under the weather or just down in the dumps, I often will whisper my own name during Mi Shebeirach, fully appreciating a private moment in which I am able to ask God to watch over me.

Indeed, the power of prayer is important, and the Mi Shebeirach gives people a way to communicate directly with God during their most trying times.

The renewal of body. The renewal of spirit. And let us say: Amen.

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