There are a few things in my life that I really love: REI. “The Greatest Showman.” The MBTA (shocker, I know!). And the Mi Shebeirach prayer for healing. It’s easy for me to uncover the roots of my love for some of them. REI helps me get outdoors with 100% satisfaction guaranteed clothing. “The Greatest Showman” has the catchiest musical jams sung by Hugh Jackman and Zac Efron. And the MBTA acts like my personal chauffeur while I’m listening to songs from “The Greatest Showman.” But while those are fairly clear and obvious to me, I’ve had a harder time really isolating why I love the Mi Shebeirach.
Part of it is that I believe it’s what the world needs now. Even though Instagram seems to suggest that everyone is getting married, traveling the world, having children and adopting the cutest dogs, many people are struggling. There are shootings, wildfires and protests worldwide, and DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals) may soon end at the hands of the Supreme Court, leaving many children and families at risk. By singing Mi Shebeirach, we ask God to offer healing and strength to those in need.
But the other reason I like the Mi Shebeirach is because I am also in need. I know my problems pale in comparison to everything I just mentioned, and that as a white, heterosexual male, the system disproportionately benefits me. I acknowledge that privilege. But mentally, that awareness doesn’t always cancel out my feelings. Maybe it should. But also, I’m a human, and sometimes I still feel depressed, like after a recent breakup.
Right after we broke up, I sang the Mi Shebeirach hoping for healing. By invoking the prayer, I wished that I would be sent the motivation to move forward in my life to feel happy, perhaps through adventures with friends or by finding someone new in my life, or via White Claw spiked seltzer. Isn’t happiness what we all want in the end?
But lately I’ve been thinking about it differently. There’s a line I like in the Debbie Friedman version of the prayer that says, “Help us find the courage to make our lives a blessing.”
It reminded me of a quote from the book “Lost Connections.” It begins with the author describing a terrible pain he experiences while abroad, for which he couldn’t identify the cause. Maybe he ate something spoiled, was having appendicitis or was bitten by a bug. Whatever it was, he was in excruciating pain and he begged his doctor for painkillers. But he wasn’t given them. Instead, the doctor said the pain was necessary to signal to him the source of the problem. At the end of the book, the author reflects back, saying:
“No, I would say to my younger self…your distress is not a malfunction. It is a signal—a necessary signal. I know this is going to be hard to hear, I’d tell him, because I know how deep your suffering cuts. But this pain isn’t your enemy, however much it hurts (and I know how much it hurts). It’s your ally—leading you away from a wasted life and pointing the way toward a more fulfilling one…it is only when we listen to our pain that we can follow it back to its source—and only there, when we can see its true causes, can we begin to overcome it.”
I imagine that some of y’all, too, may be struggling with something. Maybe it’s a relationship, or a big choice you have to make. Maybe someone you love is sick or you recently lost a job. Maybe you’re trying to get pregnant and can’t. Maybe you recently moved to Boston and don’t know anyone. Maybe you feel lonely or depressed.
Whatever it is, I hope the Mi Shebeirach gives you healing, but perhaps more importantly, I hope it gives you courage—the courage to sit awhile in the darkness, discover the true cause of your pain, uncover the inner light that lives inside of you and make your life a blessing. And to then share that blessing with others.
Originally shared at Riverway Shabbat on Nov. 8, 2019.
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