Misheberach Blessing for Healing at Rodeph Shalom

Debbie Friedman’s (of blessed memory) pursuit of relevance and meaning, written about in the last post, “Debbie Friedman: A Spiritual Legacy,” is not only an inspiration, but also a challenge. As Pirke Avot, the Wisdom of Our Sages, instructs us to do, she “turned the text over and over again,” to rediscover meaning. When we turn the text in our quest into the ultimate questions of life and meaning, we are a part of Debbie Friedman’s legacy.

When we “turn” the text of our healing prayer, we find roots of the Misheberach prayer in the Torah, when Moses is praying for the health of his sister Miriam. He recites this simple prayer: “El na refana la: Please, God, heal her” (Numbers 12:13). The prayer developed into a full paragraph, which is written in the form of a Misheberach.

A Misheberach can be a prayer about a variety of personal experiences—anything from a birthday to the experience of offering the aliyah blessing at the Torah to the prayer for healing (in Debbie Friedman’s version) that we focus on in our congregation. In Orthodox and Conservative services, the full Hebrew paragraph of the Misheberach is typically recited during the Torah service. A worshiper approaches the bimah and recites the Hebrew name of someone who is ill.

In Reform services, Misheberach is typically recited during the course of the worship, whether or not a Torah service is held. In Reform circles, Debbie Friedman’s Misheberach is very common. In fact, one could say that Debbie’s composition reawakened Reform Jews to the concept of healing prayer. In Reform and other liberal services, the practice of sharing names outloud has emerged in the last 15-20 years. For some, sharing the names gives power to the prayer and strength to the ill. For some, the sharing of the name allows the community to be aware of members who are ill and empowers the community to offer support.

At Rodeph Shalom, we recently introduced the practice of sharing names during the Misheberach for healing. This new custom is the result of much contemplation and many conversations in the Religious Services committee and beyond. Of course, in our diverse congregation, there exists a variety of perspectives about the practice: some people are moved by the opportunity to share and hear names; others are concerned about the decorum of the moment and the privacy of those who are mentioned (please only share the names of those with whom you are very close and who you know to be comfortable with it). Even as we continue to move forward in sharing names, please do continue to share your thoughts and experiences of the ritual. Jewish ritual will always evolve, especially in our Reform world; after all, we named our movement for the concept of change. As our practice evolves and grows, may we turn the tradition again and again. May we pursue relevance, spirituality and wholeness. And may we rediscover meaning.