Recently, my nephew-in-law fell suddenly and inexplicably ill.
Baher began suffering brain seizures multiple times a day. He was hospitalized and put into a medically-induced coma. He endured brain biopsies, spinal taps and electroconvulsive therapy in attempts to both stop the seizures and try to understand their cause.
His family and friends gathered close in support.
That support was tangible, organizing child care for Baher’s children, and intangible, with prayer. Prayer has become a constant companion during this time. Judaism offers a specific Hebrew Prayer for healing, the Mi Shebeairach. Mi Shebeairach translates to “May the One who blesses.” It is a brief, simple prayer, powerful in its request:
“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.
Bless those in need of healing with r’fuah sh’leima, the renewal of body, the renewal of spirit, and let us say Amen”
R’fuah sh’leima translates as total healing, and the renewals specified go on to clarify what we ask be totally healed. The Mi Shebeairach has been evolving since the Middle Ages. The prayer translated here is a variation written by Debbie Friedman. It is usually offered toward the end of Shabbat services, with congregants sharing the names of people needing healing.
Moses may have offered the first recorded Mi Shebeairach, when has asked the Lord to heal Miriam, after she was afflicted with a skin disorder.
The Mi Shebeairach is a fixed prayer, with a traditional rhythm and place in a service, like reciting the Lord’s Prayer for Christians. Fixed prayers are recited the world over and are so comforting. With their familiarity, they give structure and sense of connectedness to one’s community as well as to God. Even in the face of an illness or affliction, offering prayer is a way of sitting beside our loved one, literally or figuratively. It is a way of working for a healing of the body, and of the spirit, worn down by illness. Sending this prayer up as a group magnifies a sense of community and togetherness, adding a warmth of additional humanity to the request made of God.
The Mi Shebeairach asks for courage, and for complete and total healing, no matter what the diagnosis.
This request for a complete renewal of body and spirit is both mystical and practical. There are medicines of all types, some come with a prescription from the pharmacy. Others come wrapped in the caring and compassion of one’s community, based on faith.
Why would you not use both?
One’s ongoing relationship with God surely has room for requests, in addition to the offerings of thanks and appreciation for one’s life. And as for finding the courage to live well, we all would do well to remember that, and that reminder surely helps those sitting in the cold, sterile waiting rooms of the ill. Perhaps that reminder gives strength, just in its repetition.
Baher is in rehab. His life is different now, and he is making progress of the slow, stop, retreat and start again kind. As he says, slowly and haltingly, “I am a mess.”
A painting of the Tree of Life hangs on the wall of his room, a gift from a friend. His faith is still strong as he works, each day, to remember how to do the simplest of tasks. And the prayers of friends and family, and the Mi Shebeairachs will go on. His family, his faith family, they will continue to bond together, supporting each moment, as we remember what was, and remember to treasure the moments of life that are.
Edie Yakutis works with Ritual Life at Temple Solel in Fort Mill. Contact her firstname.lastname@example.org.