At no time as on the High Holidays do I feel the power of prayer. Chanting Avinu Malkeinu, hearing Kol Nidrei, I am moved. That prayer matters, that it works, that it changes me and the world, that it connects to God; it comforts me and inspires me for the year ahead.
Perhaps most of all, prayer fills me at the Unetaneh Tokef, when we acknowledge that whatever our fate for the year, teshuvah, repairing relationships, tzedakah, giving charity, and tefillah, prayer, will provide purpose, strength and comfort, for us and those around us.
Which brings me to the Mi Shebeirach, the Prayer for Healing. Mentioning the names of those in need of healing, we say this prayer every Shabbat. It is solemn and yet hope filled. It is long and urgent. Most of all, it feels real. And that is because it is.
Does it heal the one who is ill? In some ways I know it does, in others I'm not sure though but I also wouldn't say no.
Does it reach to God? Again, I believe it does. And while I don't believe that "praying hard enough" all of a sudden flicks a switch and God does what we want, yet God is certainly brought into the experience through reciting the prayer.
Most certainly, the prayer expresses of our love and communal concern for all those named.
For those reasons, we should want to know who to include, for how long, and when or if to cease praying for someone:
Who is "sick"? I firmly believe if a person would benefit from the prayer we say it for them. The prayer, after all, is for nefesh, "spirit" as well as guf, "body." That said, the Rabbis define a person who "cannot get up from bed," whose condition signifcantly prevents them from functioning in their usual way as being in need of such a prayer.
Has the person given permission to include them? If not, we should not, and instead pray in our hearts for such people.
What of the chronically ill person? Again, if a person would benefit from being prayed for, we should leave them on the list. Otherwise, a person who is at their "baseline" of health, say the person on medication successfully managing an ongoing condition, might not really need the prayer. We should act with dignity for all people "as they are" and show graditude for the health they now enjoy.
Finally, a practical consideration. The list can get long and at the same time the thought of removing a name that should remain is uncomfortable. Thus, nearly every community strikes a balance by setting a time period after which the list is revised with those for whom there has been no update as to their condition removed.
Starting this Rosh Hashanah, every three months we will begin managing our list in this way. If you want to keep someone on the list, contact the synagogue and tell us, otherwise we will take names off. We will always add a name if you give us one. Still, I suggest you consider these guidlines when adding a name. You can always pray in your heart for someone without adding them to the communal list.
Let us as individuals and as a congregation treat all people, whether healthy or ill, with dignity. Let God give us resolve and determination to meet the challenges and enjoy the blessings of the year ahead, doing so through the actions of our hands and the prayers of our hearts.
For an even more detailed consideration of this issue, clickhere.
Additional High Holiday Highlights will be released weekly through Sukkot.