The Mi Shebeirach, the Jewish prayer of healing, heals hearts as well as bodies

Burt, Suzy and our grandkids on the last day of 2019.

15 years ago, recovering from stage 4 cancer, I attended a service at Detroit’s Temple Beth El.  Our son David was speaking that night.  I was there for the singing of the Mi Shebeirach, the Jewish Prayer of Healing.  I’d spent 8 months in treatment and didn’t realize my name had been read every Friday night on the Sabbath, as a member needing healing prayers.  It was a comforting surprise.  As any cancer survivor knows, I was still feeling vulnerable.  Waiting for the next shoe to drop.  And since I hadn’t gone out socially for so long, you can be sure the shoe wasn’t a Louboutin.

15 years later, I’m familiar with the Mi Shebeirach, with its soulful tune and moving lyrics.

Mi shebeirach avoteinu
M’kor Hab’racha l’imoteinu
May the source of strength
Who blessed the ones before us
Help us find the courage
To make our lives a blessing
And let us say, Amen.
Mi shebeirach imoteinu
M’kor habrachah l’avoteinu
Bless those in need of healing
With r’fuah sh’leimah
The renewal of body,
The renewal of spirit.
And let us say, Amen. 

Now my husband’s the one dealing with a health challenge.  Instead of spending his retirement on the golf course as he intended, Burton has spent way too much time in hospitals.  In those hospitals I sought out chapels where I could weep in private.  There on my cell phone I discovered a beautiful version of a guitarist singing the Mi Shebeirach.  I played it over and over.

Recently, I received a call from Temple Beth El’s Cantor Rachel.  She thought I was in the D and wanted to visit and give me a hug.  I told her I relish every hug I can get these days, but was in Sarasota.   Only God’s arms stretch that far.  I asked if she’d sing a Mi Shebeirach for us.  I took my phone into the family room where Burton sat in his comfy motorized recliner.  I perched on the arm of the chair, held Burton’s hand and said, “Hit it, Cantor.” The voice of an angel wafted through the phone.  Music shoots straight to the heart.  Evidence of my physiological response streamed down my cheeks.  A sacred and painful yet hopeful moment.

I’m grateful to be here.  I’m grateful to be anywhere.  I’m especially grateful to be here for Burton, who  was a better caregiver than I’ll ever be.  Still, I believe in miracles.  I hope our family didn’t use up our entire allotment in my recovery almost 200 full moons ago.  Burton could use a miracle of his own.  The side effects he suffers from brain surgery in 2018 are daunting.  Partial paralysis.  Cognitive impairment.  But so far he’s progressing.  He helps himself (God helps those…) by working hard at PT, staying positive and participating in whatever he can.

Recently I took him to see the new Sarasota Art Museum.  A miracle in itself of hard work, architectural genius, generosity and faith.  Burton patiently listened to me expound on Vik Muniz, whose smart, creative photographs were (still are) on display.  Our morning visit to the SAM wore Burton out.  We returned home soon after.  Later, friends Larry Thompson and Anne Garlington of the Ringling Art & Design College visited.  That night Burton was too pooped to make it to dinner with friends Jill and Scott Levine.  I went without him.  I told the Levines about our Mi Shebeirach solo.  And how often I’d listened to a You Tube video of a woman singing it with a guitar in a chapel.

“Debbie Friedman,” Jill said.

I hadn’t noticed the name of the woman serenading me on You Tube.  The next morning I checked her out on the internet.  Not only did Debbie Friedman perform the song countless times in countless synagogues, but she had composed the tune.  Sadly the power of the song wasn’t enough to heal her.  She died in 2011, at 59, of an undisclosed illness.

According to Debbie’s eulogy by the World Union for Progressive Judaism, Reform worship was once characterized by organs and choirs.  “Debbie taught us to sing… as communities and congregations.  The guitar became a sacred instrument in her hands.”

Surely the angels in heaven are as entranced by Debbie’s singing as I was.  Thanks, Jill, for the heads up.  Debbie, for the hope and consolation.  Cantor Rachel, for the acapella solo.

Thanks, friends, for the prayers and well wishes.  May we all find the courage to make our lives a blessing.

Burt calls Bingo in December; Alexis Farbman (in New Years hat) won. Her name is now engraved on the Annual family Bingo trophy (left) held by Fischer Farbman.

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19 thoughts on “The Mi Shebeirach, the Jewish prayer of healing, heals hearts as well as bodies

  1. Pamela Bloom

    Beautiful is the power of prayer through music. Thank you for sharing. I wish you and your family continued strength and comfort.

  2. Suzy Farbman

    Thanks Deenie, Heide, Ruth and Brenda for the beautiful comments. Appreciate your letting me know how much this week’s column meant to you. God bless.

  3. Deenie Zonder

    Beautiful article about your healing journey! The MiShebeirach is such a beautiful , haunting source of strength . I remember singing this so often many years ago for my father !! The love you share with a strong family will get you through this difficult time ! Sending love & prayers to you & Burt !!! XOXO

  4. Heide Ralli

    Believing in the power of prayer and the love of a strong family brings healing. That’s our fervent wish for Burt!

  5. Rabbi Bob Alper

    Hi Suzy,
    An inspiring column on so many levels. Thank you.

    Years ago at a CCAR conference I sat with Debbie Friedman and told her about a family member’s illness. She was, of course, a celeb, and colleagues kept coming up to interrupt, but Debbie politely ignored them. She was laser focused on what we were discussing, and how she could help. Debbie was the real deal.

    I wanted to share a Muslim healing prayer that touched me, and below that, a video of Cantor Leon Sher’s “Heal Us Now,” which I listen to frequently.

    May you find peace from your pain.
    Before you feel the pain in your chest, my heart aches
    If I could, I would carry your burden, I would carry your pain
    How could I leave you to face this time alone
    I will never leave you to suffer or face your pain alone
    May you find peace from your pain.

    Wishing you and Burt strength and healing.


    1. Suzy Farbman Post author

      Just saw this reply and listened to that beautiful and haunting song/prayer. Wow. My eyes are still moist. Thanks for the beautiful message, the prayer and the melodic inspiration. God bless. xoS

    2. Suzy Farbman Post author

      Thanks for the prayer and the you tube link. what a beautiful rendition. God bless.

  6. Reid Thebault

    Burt, Thinking about you often over the past many months since we last communicated. You are in our prayers always. Warm Regards, Reid

    1. Suzy Farbman Post author

      Thanks, Reid. Burton, as you might expect, is a trooper. Thanks for your thoughtful comment. God bless. xoS/B

  7. Margie Cohn

    My dear Suzy. This was absolutely beautiful. You know my prayers and love are with you and BUrt forever. I love you and you can always come here and we can cry together. Love you, sweetie.

    1. Suzy Farbman Post author

      Love you, too. Just sorry we can’t deliver hugs in person these days. thanks for the comment. xoS

  8. Margie Cohn

    My dear Suzy. This was absolutely beautiful. You know my prayers and love are with you and BUrt forever. I will definitely go to YouTube now to listen to the music I could use some healing and comfort. also. I love you and you can always come here and we can cry together. Love you, sweetie.

  9. Ruth Petzold

    Suzy I really believe in the power of prayer and faith and truly so do you. God bless you and Burton and all your beautiful family !! I will check out the music you find so healing
    Lots of love to you both ❤️❤️❤️❤️Ruthie ( Dah dah dah dah dah )

  10. Brenda goodman

    I loved reading this piece. I will check out the music. I sometimes play some old tapes I have of cantors singing. So moving
    My heart ❤️ is with you and Burt everyday.

  11. Michael and Donna Maddin

    Beautifully and so meaningfully written Suzy (as always) and ironically just this past Friday we attended a Kabbalah Shabbat service at SZ where we said a prayer for the growing list of family and friends who are ailing. Have always believed every day is a gift and we should make the most of it as best we can. Seeing your family all together in these two pictures is an important part of life and healing! Thinking of you both from afar…
    M and D Maddin

  12. Diane Mahan

    Absolutely beautiful on so many levels. Blessings and continued prayers to the Farbman Family. May a God hold you all gently in the palm of His hand.

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