When Someone is Sick

When someone is sick, I mean very sick, not with the flu or a cold or some ailment that can be treated with antibiotics, what do you do?

RivkA over at Coffee and Chemo is now very sick. She has people all over the world praying for her. Risa dedicated Haveil Havalim to her today.

In our own community of Highland Park, we have been praying for a baby who needs to undergo chemotherapy. And for a friend of my daughter’s who has also been receiving treatments. Oh, Cancer, when will you stop?!!!

In our Sephardi synagogue of Etz Ahaim, there are 4 sets of misheberach prayers – one for deceased men, one for deceased women, one for sick men, and one for sick women. When you say the name to the rabbi of the person who is sick, it is preferable to say their Hebrew name followed by ben (son of) or bat (daughter of) and then their mother’s name. But if you don’t know it, you can just say their English name.

Years ago someone I know well said in a cynical manner, what is the point of getting together to say tehillim (Psalms) when a person is so deathly ill that you know (how do you know? when my mother was dying, my father’s cousin told me she had certain body signs – but do you know???) they are not going to recover? I didn’t respond at the time, but isn’t it better to have a hope and a prayer than nothing? One can also feel a part of a group praying and hoping and not alone in one’s fear. But the rationalist may have problems with so much prayer, I will at least grant the person that.

Praying for RivkA bat Teirtzel.

17 thoughts on “When Someone is Sick

  • Excellent and thoughtful post.

    Communal prayer can also be very comforting for the patient’s immediate family. I believe that it helps them to know that the entire community/congregation is supporting them and showering them with love and hope.

  • At the beginning of the recent prayer meeting for RivkA, someone expressed the hope that our prayers will bring the Beit Hamikdash down from Heaven and that all the sick people will be cured. It struck me as somewhat…..unlikely. But by the end of the meeting I realized that as unlikely as it is that she gets better, God could cure her if he wants. He’s omnipotent, right? That’s pretty powerful. (What about the Haftara we read on Shabbat?)

    • Ah, yes, Elisha and the boy who is revived. A moving story. I read Friday about a cancer patient in France who was declared dead and then woke up, refreshed…

  • We can never know for certain when someone is about to die. If we are to believe in God at all, then we must believe that the power to bestow life or take it away is in his hands only.
    My newborn son was so sick that we were told by three different doctors that he wouldn’t survive the night. His father and I spent that night praying desperately. At 5:00 AM, the chief doctor of the NICU came to tell us that although he doesn’t really understand how it happened, the baby’s condition had improved significantly and it looked like he would make it after all. That baby is now a tall, healthy, bright and athletic 16 year old.
    It is in God’s hands, but we must do our part. We must believe that our prayers can make a difference. And we must continue to pray as hard as we can for RivkA.

  • Thank you for writing this post. I couldn’t have expressed it so well.
    I agree with Mrs.S. about the solace of communal prayer for the family and find Raizy’s words comforting.
    Besides saying tehilim is one way to engage those who care and can’t do anything else.

  • The Talmud says you shouldn’t stop praying even if the sword is at your throat.

    I find there are theological difficulties with the whole idea of prayer, especially with prayer for other people. I wanted to write a series of posts on this topic (comparing the approaches of three different rabbis), but it is going to have to wait until after my MA. Suffice to say that I do think there are grounds to pray for other people, especially if you know them personally.

    • Whenever you do have time to write such a post, it sounds like there are others besides myself who are interested in the topic.

      Good luck with your MA – hope the year goes smoothly for you.

  • I too, have struggled with this question and have found/heard some answers that have helped me.

    1. Even if the person you are davening for is not going to get better, there may be somebody else in this world with the same name who is aided by your tefillos. One never knows where the power lands.

    2. One can daven not only for the full recovery of the ill person, but also for strength for his/her family in this time of crisis.

  • What a thoughtful post, thought-provoking in many ways. The power of prayer binds people together in ways that medical methods don’t/can’t.

    There is always room for prayer, no matter what. A Rabbi once told me that prayer isn’t just for physical healing, but also for healing in other ways that might not have the result we desire. Our prayers can be for a peaceful and pain free result, and/or meaning that our loved one leaves us pain free and in peace. We can also pray for the family who remains.

  • Since no one else has said so, I just want to say that for a family member who is watching someone close to them become very ill (or gradually more ill), it is OK (in my humble opinion) at times to take a break from prayer and just breathe. Sometimes one can feel pressure to pray, and it no longer feels like the best thing to do. For whatever reason.

  • My Rav, Rabbi Ahron Leibowitz of Nachlaot, Jerusalem, taught me, that we require Hashem’s Rachamim at any stage of our life. When we are in this world, and – Heaven forbid – when we need to leave it. We ask for every point in our life to be meaningful.

    RivkA was my swimming teacher and is still a tremendously positive influence on my life. When I pray for her, I have healing thoughts in my mind, and at the same time I acknoledge that Hashem will make a decision and I implore for Rachamim in whatever the outcome.

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