Posted on November 13, 2020
From the Rabbi’s Desk
Hayei Sarah 5781
“Rabbi, you read all those names on the misheberakh list in Hebrew and I don’t know who they are. Couldn’t you read the names in English?”
She has a point. After all, the purpose of the misheberakh list is two-fold. It is to beseech God for healing and it is to alert the community to who is unwell so that we might send letters and make phone calls to those who are sick, or, in once and future times, we could make visits, support the caregivers, bring food.
In fact, many prayers have such dual purposes. We pray to God while we also act on our prayers. For example, the first paragraph of birkat hamazon, the prayer after a meal, concludes: הַזָּן אֶת הַכֹּל, praising God for feeding everyone or for providing food for all. But of course God does not feed everyone or provide food for all unless we do our share: planting, harvesting, bringing the food to market, and making sure that the food is distributed. Birkat hamazon is partly an expression of gratitude to God and partly a reminder to us to do our share, especially to make sure that food is distributed to those who are hungry. Likewise, the morning blessing where we thank God for “clothing the naked” — that is part gratitude and part a call for us to make sure that everyone is adequately dressed for the winter that is coming on.
While we have some names on the misheberakh list in English, we list most names in Hebrew, preferably though not necessarily, as Hebrew name, child of Mother’s Hebrew name, and Father’s Hebrew name. That does mean that it is not always obvious who we are praying for. Sometimes that is deliberate — every once in a while there is someone who would like the prayer said but does not want their illness to be public. That has happened three or four times just in the time I have been here. When a person does not have a Hebrew name, we list their name in English only. The list is too long to read every name in Hebrew and in English. And some names have been on for a long time and do not need to be repeated in English every week.
But I will experiment with different ways of reading some of the names in Hebrew and in English so that when it is appropriate, we are fulfilling both purposes of the misheberakh list.
For more on the topic of prayers, tune into my sermon tonight: Holding God Accountable: The Power of Prayer