Mi Shebeirach is a traditional Hebrew prayer for healing, prayed publicly on behalf of another person who is ill. It starts with calling upon the God of our ancestors to physically and spiritually bless, restore, and heal the sick, and asks for God’s compassion and timeliness in healing the afflictions of those who are suffering. Mi Shebeirach is applicable if one’s suffering is emotional or mental and is not limited to physical afflictions. The prayer is derived from "mi" and shebeirach," meaning "the One who blessed." There are slightly different versions when praying for males or females due to the use of gender in the Hebrew language, which may not be the case in other languages.
This prayer is often recited in synagogue services after the Torah or Haftorah readings (though this may be variable in different congregations), but it is also included in Jewish chaplaincy, anniversaries of diagnoses, hospital and social work settings, medical support groups, and is often read at the bedsides of anyone who is ill and desires to pray for healing and strength. In synagogue services, the rabbi or cantor may recite several names of individuals known to be ill, and congregants have an opportunity to speak up and mention others they know who are in need of healing.
Though Mi Siebeirach started out as a Shabbat blessing for the whole congregation, dating back to possibly Babylonia around the same time the Yekum Purkan prayers were written around the 10th or 11th century, Mi Shebeirach became a prayer of healing during the late medieval era. Some Jewish communities, particularly Reform Jewish communities, stopped incorporating the Mi Shebeirach in their liturgies during the 1800s. This was a time in our history when healing from illnesses seemed to become more based on science and western medical practices, and it seemed that man was more effectively understanding and healing illness without the need to call out to God, the Great Physician.
However, the Mi Shebeirach saw a resurgence in liberal Jewish liturgy during the 1980s, when the AIDS crisis devastated Jewish life in some gay and lesbian synagogues, becoming a central prayer in some liberal Jewish communities at this time in history. As an HIV/AIDS diagnosis is almost always terminal, the prayer still deeply resonates in this community because it calls for spiritual renewal rather than simply physical healing; this distinction is made clear in liberal Jewish communities. However, the words for the Mi Shebeirach were only recorded in some rabbi manuals at this time, and were not well known by the average Jewish congregant, so not all congregations would use this prayer if they did not have a copy of the words available.
Today, many congregations will include "mi shebeirach" lists of those who are ill and in need of prayer, and sometimes people will add themselves to the list if, for example, a surgery or another medical procedure is upcoming and the individual is requesting prayer. Other congregations may have different variations for those who need healing from unhealthy relationships, from sins such as gossip or slander or dishonesty, or for mothers soon anticipating giving birth. Other variations on the traditional Mi Shebeirach may be incorporated into bar/bat mitzvahs, brit milah (circumcision), marriage or anniversary ceremonies, Israeli Defense Forces prayer services, or occasionally certain holidays or other occasions.
Mi Shebeirach is not an officially mandated prayer in Jewish religious life, but many congregations choose to add it in anyway. Therefore, there is much liberty with how a congregation chooses to bless the ill with this prayer, and how one congregation chooses to include the Mi Shebeirach prayer may not be the same as the next congregation. Some congregations may recite the prayer in Hebrew, whereas other congregations may choose to use the vernacular language. In more liberal Jewish communities, Mi Shebeirach has become the central prayer of healing and has more prominence in their religious practices.
Many congregations will also sign the beautiful Hebrew-English version of Mi Shebeirach that Debbie Friedman, a well-known Jewish songwriter, released in her 1989 album And You Shall Be a Blessing.