Rethinking… When Misheberach Isn’t Enough
by Rabbi Julie Pelc
(Originally published in Reform Judaism magazine)
After suffering a ruptured brain aneurysm midway through rabbinic school, I spent more time in doctors’ offices than in seminary classrooms.
At first, the illness was acute and I found solace and strength from the traditional misheberach prayer whereby Jews request “a complete healing–healing of the soul and healing of the body–along with all the ill among the people of Israel–soon, speedily, without delay.” But after months of praying for a “complete” recovery, I realized this fervent wish did not reflect my permanent challenges: nausea and dizziness, loss of equilibrium/center of balance, and full use of my left hand and strength in my left leg.
Similarly, a coworker living with diabetes, an aunt with chronic clinical depression, a former classmate with lupus and ulcerative colitis, an acquaintance with HIV may live many years. Praying for our “complete healing” seems audacious, even offensive. We will negotiate medications, medical appointments, dietary needs, unexpected side effects, and fears throughout our lives. To pray for the “complete healing of body and spirit” is to misunderstand the realties of our lives. And to try to find one’s own voice in the misheberach by redefining “healing” as “making peace with one’s fate” both changes the meaning of the prayer and ignores our particular suffering.
We need a new congregational prayer that acknowledges those whose chronic illnesses cannot be completely healed. We need a prayer that asks God for the strength to persist in the face of seemingly insurmountable challenges. We need a prayer that opens us to the courage to continue in life even as we face the reality of death. We need a prayer that allows us to rage and to praise, to curse and to bless, and to reject and to accept what medical science has told us of our fate.
I ask you: what prayer(s) would you create to help those of us engaged in struggle without the hope of full recovery? Add a comment here for us all to share and email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Jewish tradition is full of resources that offer comfort, supplication, hope, and light to the world of those who suffer. It is upon us to help renew our tradition.
Rabbi Julie Pelc is assistant director of the HUC-JIR Kalsman Institute on Judaism and Health and director of the Berit Mila Program of Reform Judaism.