In the Jewish tradition, much like other religions, there is a space in the prayer service where the names of those who need healing are called out. It’s not a general “and for everyone who needs healing, please send healing” message. No, usually their actual Hebrew names are called out. These are very intimate names — the names of their souls.
Surely, the Creator knows these people’s names. The Source of All knows their affliction. Even if no prayer for healing were uttered, their need for healing would be well documented in the higher realms and echoed to the furthest reaches of existence. So, what difference does it make that we carve out a section of our daily prayers to run through this roster of people needing healing? Does our uttering of their name speed up their recovery? If we don’t utter their name, will the Holy One ignore their distress?
As I’ve mentioned before, prayer is one of the most misunderstood aspects of spiritual life to those who don’t practice it. (Heck, I don’t even understand it sometimes.) Even for some who have belief in a Creator, prayer can seem like the utmost waste of time. Does the Creator know our heart or not? Why must we make these requests every day? Don’t we have faith that the Holy One already knows what we need?
The Creator does know. The problem is that we forget.
Before I became more acquainted with the Mi Sheberach prayer (the prayer for healing), I still prayed for the overall healing of those are suffering. I had a heart for those experiencing distress, though it was generic. It wasn’t actionable whatsoever. It didn’t require anything of me. As I took on the practice of mentioning the names of those people close to me who needed healing, I noticed something peculiar begin to happen inside.
If my wife tells me to go to the grocery store for five items, I still tell her to send me a message on my phone with the list or I’ll jot them down myself. Yes, I can’t keep five items in my mind. Still, as I began the practice of reciting a detailed Mi Sherberach, I found that I could rattle off a dozen names without hesitation. Some of these names I’ve just heard mentioned in my synagogue. They have no faces, ages, or specific ailments, but they exist as clearly in my mind as the Shema. Still, others are the names I’ve added — loved ones I care for deeply down to acquaintances I know are experiencing suffering. If you asked me for this list, you wouldn’t see a piece of paper come out of my pocket or a memo note open on my phone. Though a basic grocery list alludes me, I could rattle off their names without hesitation.
This memorization of the names of the people in my life who need healing is not just so that I can ask the Creator to change whatever cosmic plan was in store for these people. While I believe that my prayer echoes through the throne room of the Creator of Heaven and Earth, the one who needs to hear this prayer the most is me. Just as much as my laptop, my lunch bag, and whatever book I’m reading are a part of my day, so too are these people. This prayer forces me to carry them with me — to remember their affliction, to recall their faces, and to help them in their healing process however I can.
I was uttering the Mi Sheberach prayer the other day and, despite it being a whisper, a dear friend’s name echoed off the back wall of my living room like a ricocheting tennis ball. Her face flashed before my eyes and my heart filled with joy.
“I wonder how she’s doing. Where’s my phone…”
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