From the day after my Bar Mitzvah until I graduated high school, I was the baal koreh, the Torah reader in the daily minyan. Not only did my Torah reading skills improve drastically; I also had a note that permitted me to be ten minutes late to school on Mondays, Thursdays, Rosh Chodesh, minor fast days, and holidays…for religious reasons. Each time we read the Torah, I recited a mishebeirach, the prayer for those in need of healing.
One morning, when I was 13-years-old, an elderly man asked me to recite a mishebeirach for his severely ill daughter. That afternoon, the daughter passed away.
That moment transformed my thought on the efficacy of prayer. Did the words out of my 13-year-old mouth not work?
Healing prayers are found throughout our tradition. The Torah tell us this Shabbat that Moses recited the shortest prayer for his sister Miriam, el na rfa na la: God, please heal her.
Each weekday morning in our Amidah, we read the words inspired from the prophet Jeremiah, rfaeini adonai varapeh, hoshieni veevasheah ki thilati ata: Heal me, God, then I will be healed; help me then I will be helped, I praise You for constantly helping me.
So what is the purpose of healing prayers?
If we are certain that these words will cure our physical ills, each and every minyan would be a standing room only congregation. The purpose of the mishebeirach is a call for spiritual strength throughout our physical and emotional pain. For we know that one of the most potent medicines for the soul is public prayer.
The Chofetz Chaim taught: When someone swallows a bitter pill, he does not feel its bitterness because it is sugarcoated. Similarly, we who suffer hardship, coated with the sugar of spirituality, can feel just that much better.
We recite these prayers to know that we are not alone. We recite these prayers to announce to the community that there are those who do need our help in healing.
We recite these prayers because they are effective for the soul.
As Debbie Friedman wrote in her modern interpretation of the mishebeirach, “May the source of blessing who blessed the ones before us, help us find the courage to make our lives a blessing,” and let us say, Amen.