When You Have Nobody to Pray For

Art of Healing
Creative Commons License photo credit: h.koppdelaney

At some point during the Shabbat service there comes a moment when the leader stops and invites the congregation to speak the names of people in need of healing. The congregation, having heard those names, keeps those people in their thoughts as a prayer is spoken.

The prayer is the Mi Sheberach. It is based on a tersely worded entreaty to God by Moses himself – the shortest supplication recorded in Torah: “El na refa na la” (Please God, heal her now!”). It appears in Parsha Beha’alotcha, which we’ll read this comming Shabbat.

There is, of course, something every exposing about the whole process. I know people who would be horrified to know that they had been “outed” in this way.

I don’t believe the tradition developed as a way to satisfy the voyeuristic impulse. I believe that the mi sheberach is a communal experience. We say the names out loud and in the public of our chosen community so that everyone can know when someone needs support without the need for the suffer-er to ask people directly, or to have someone ask on their behalf.

This week, I realized that having this moment during the service accomplishes another important task: it’s a good indicator of how self-absorbed you are.

There are plenty of good reasons not to speak someone’s name: you know someone else is in the congregation is going to do it, you don’t know their Hebrew name and your congregation prefers it, etc. But even so, you have have a name in mind. Your intention is clear.

This week – as most weeks – I sat silently as those around me spoke the names of those they knew who needed healing. I marveled at the 3 people who each held a list of a dozen (or more) names to recite. And that’s when it struck me:

If you have nobody in your life who needs healing on some level; nobody in such a condition – whom you know well enough to want to say their name out loud in the congregation – then there are really only two explanations:

  • Either you are remarkably blessed to be surrounded by incredibly healthy people…
  • Or you are so wrapped up in your own life that you aren’t paying attention to those around you. You aren’t part of your community at all.

So… which is it, and what are you going to do about it?