At a prescribed moment during Jewish prayer services every week in synagogues around the world, the Torah is unrolled and the reader pauses so that prayers for healing might be offered. The misheberakh is offered by individuals and by communities: hearts and sanctuaries overflowing with requests for healing of body and healing of spirit. The text of the traditional misheberakh requests, "a complete healing – healing of the soul and healing of the body – along with all the ill, among the people of Israel – soon, speedily, without delay…"
I think of my co-worker with diabetes, a friend with Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, an aunt struggling with chronic clinical depression, a classmate with lupus and ulcerative colitis and an acquaintance living with HIV. I think of my own incomplete recovery. To pray for “complete healing” for those whose ailments cannot or will not ever be completely “healed” seems audacious and even offensive. My co-workers, colleagues, family, friends, and I will negotiate medications, medical appointments, dietary needs, and fears throughout our lives. We will face unexpected side effects, professional and personal repercussions of our special needs, and stigma from many well-meaning strangers every day. Our everyday reality is one of incomplete health; yet, we are not entirely “sick,” either.
To pray for the “complete healing of body and spirit” is to misjudge the realties of many people’s lives. To understand or redefine “healing” as “making peace with one’s fate” is to alter the meaning of the prayer and it may also serve to ignore our specific kind of suffering and its ever-changing realities.
I believe we need a new congregational prayer. We need a prayer that acknowledges the reality of chronic illness. We need a prayer that asks God for the strength to persist even in the face of challenges that may seem insurmountable. We need a prayer asking that we be granted the courage to continue in life even as we face the reality of our death; to rage and to praise, to bless and to curse, to accept and to reject diagnoses simultaneously.
Misheberakh for an individual who is chronically ill
Misheberakh avotenu v'imotenu, hu yivarech et _______ben/bat _______. Chazek et libo/libah ve-tarim et yado/yadah b'birchotam she-natata Ya'akov1, shel Yonatan2 ve-David3, shel Daniel ha-Navi4, shel Tamar5 imo shel Peretz, shel Miriam ha-Neviyah6, ve-shel Naomi7.
Hu yiten ota/oto hen vahesed v’rahamim; ahavah, achava, shalom, v’reut. Bimhera, Adonai Elohenu, sh'ma kolenu, kabel na tefilatenu, u'sh'mor et rucho/ruchah, nafsho/nafshah, venishmato/nishmatah.
Bich'vod gevurat'cha, ve-chasdechah, ve-rachamechah harabim, hinei anachnu omrim lo/la: chazak v'ematz. U’fros aleinu sukkat sh’lomecha. Venomar: Amen."
May the One who blessed our fathers and our mothers, bless _______ son/daughter of _______: strengthen his/her heart and raise up his/her hand, with the blessings you gave to Yaakov, to Yonatan and David, to Daniel the Prophet, to Tamar mother of Peretz, to Miriam the Prophetess, and to Naomi.
May God give to him/her grace, compassion and loving-kindness; love, harmony, peace, and companionship.
Speedily, Adonai our God, hear our voices, take up our prayers, and watch over his/her life-force, spirit, and soul. With respect to your power, your loving-kindness, and your great compassion, behold we say to him/her: be strong and of good courage. Spread over us all Your shelter of peace. And let us say: Amen."
(This prayer can also be adjusted according to the type of illness, or the particular wishes of that specific person for whom the prayer is being offered. Example: May the One who blessed our foremother Miriam, who was forced to leave the camp in her illness and then was welcomed in time back to the community, also be with our friend, Esther, daughter of Reuven v’Elisheva, with the blessing of being able to return, soon, to our community…)
1 Jacob struggled with an invisible being in the night, emerging with a limp. He would not cease his wrestling until he also emerged with a blessing from his adversary.
2 Jonathan was the rightful inheritor of his father’s throne but desired instead to yield leadership to his beloved friend, David. Because he refused to abandon his deeply held convictions, he fought against his father and died in battle defending his companion and his beliefs.
3 David is perhaps best known for his battle against the giant, Goliath, though the odds were firmly not in his favor.
3 Daniel’s enemies threw him into the lion’s den, by order of the king.
4 Tamar was twice widowed, childless, and then denied remarriage by her father-in-law because he feared that she would somehow cause the death of a third husband, were she to be allowed to marry again.
6 Miriam was struck with a skin disease, tzarraat, which forced her to live outside the camp until she was healed.
7 Naomi lost her husband and both her sons in quick succession in a foreign land. She cried out, “God has embittered my soul,” feeling that she was left completely empty, devoid of blessing or hope.