What Is That Prayer for Healing Called? Originally Published May 14-15, 2021.

There are times when we as a community pray for the healing of body and spirit of our friends and family members.  In our tradition, during a Torah service (weekday, holiday, or even Shabbat when we wouldn’t otherwise ask for anything), there is a point at which the leader will lead us in a prayer for healing, and will have a list at hand of those for whom we specifically are requesting it. 

The prayer is colloquially termed the Mi Sheberakh (e.g., “let’s say a Mi Sheberakh for my friend, who was in an accident”).  The vowel sounds of Mi Sheberakh are similar to “he delayed us.”  The name references the first two words of the paragraph, the first line of which begins “May the one who blessed our ancestors Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, Sarah, Rebecca, Rachel, and Leah, bring blessing and healing….”  Mi Sheberakh means “[the One] Who blessed.”

The entreaty is fairly all-encompassing, asking for blessing, compassion, restoration, strength, etc., for those among us, all Jews, and all others who need this bolstering.

When composing the list for services, we ask for the individual’s Hebrew name, son/daughter of a mother.  We generally use the mother’s name without the father’s, indicating (perhaps somewhat anachronistically or with a bit of gender bias) that the person is in need of maternal care.  This is based on Psalm 86:16, “Turn to me and have mercy on me; … and deliver the son of Your maidservant.”  There is another theory that since people were most often called by their first-name-child-of-their-father’s-first-name, using the mother’s name might confound the Angel of Death as to who was ailing.

Now, that said, there are other forms of the Mi Sheberakh as well, besides the one for healing.  One may say such a blessing over a pre-wedding aufruf couple, over benei mitzvah, over parents of newborns, even over the person being called to the Torah.  All begin with those two words, though much of the rest of the text is different.

The song by Debbie Friedman (z”l) is a good one to send to those praying for healing, available on YouTube and other sites.  Only, of course, if they cannot come to services.