Among the more uplifting experiences of my recent years in the rabbinate has been the renewed emphasis on the healing aspects of our tradition and its liturgy. Our own Healing Service has been well-attended and much appreciated. (The next one occurs on Saturday night, January 24 at 6:00). The people who attend come for their own benefit, or on behalf of someone else. It is a gentle and comforting time.
The prayer for healing which we include each time we read Torah, known by its first word, mishebeirakh, has attracted a good deal more attention from the congregation. Each name which is included in that prayer is brought by someone whose concerns are deeply felt and constant. Those names deserve our full attention and the full kavvanah (intentionality) of our prayers.
As acknowledgment of the mishebeirakh has grown, so has the number of names included on the roster of those for whom we pray. There are times when, as I read the names, I feel my attention glaze over. I have also noticed that the patience of the congregation is tried during the long recitations, and some turn to conversation or some other distraction. On the other hand, those names offered by congregants seem to command a bit more attention.
Temporarily, we would like to try the following approach. We will continue to read the names of members of the congregation who are in need of our prayers, as well as the names of those who need our short-term prayers (and let us define short-term as something akin to a hospital stay or the recuperative period following surgery). For those outside of our congregation who have more persistent conditions, we ask that you yourself offer the name at services on Saturday, Monday or Thursday. If you are unable to attend in a particular week, please call the office no later than Thursday afternoon and we will gladly act in your stead. As always, we prefer the Hebrew name (including the mother’s name, as is traditional) for Jews, but we will offer prayers if the Hebrew name is unknown, as well as for non-Jews.
In this way, we can preserve the focus and intention of our prayers and be fully mindful of the sacred task we have assumed in our partnership with G-d and medical science in bringing healing and comfort to those who suffer.