Question: During Kriat HaTorah, many congregations recite a general prayer for ill people. What is the source of this custom? Also, in many congregations, instead of the gabbai announcing each name, all of the shul’s members are asked to silently say the name of the ill person to themselves while the gabbai remains quiet for several moments. Is this proper?
Answer: Recently, someone showed me the following from Berachot 55b: “When Rava would take ill, he would not say anything. [If his illness persisted], he would say to his servant, ‘Go out and announce that Rava is ill. He who likes me, let him pray to G-d for mercy on my behalf. And he who hates me, let him take joy over [my predicament]’ … G-d will then have compassion on me and transfer my illness to him.”
This Gemara teaches us that when someone is ill, the community should be made aware of the person’s name so that it will pray for his recovery. As such, it seems that simply saying the ill person’s name silently to oneself is improper since the rest of the congregation has no knowledge for whom they should be praying.
Interestingly, Rava only requested that an announcement be publicly made that he was not well. Thus, it seems that any public listing of ill people who need a refuah sheleimah is sufficient. Actually saying a special Mi She’beirach would be unnecessary.
To explain the practices of saying a Mi She’beirach for the sick and having people say the names of ill people silently to themselves, we may suggest the following: The Mi She’beirach for the sick is not a communal prayers based on the story of Rava in the Gemara. Rather, they are personal prayers for the sick, which are recited in synagogue because of the presence of the Sefer Torah.
I recall learning, although I cannot recall the source, that prayers said in the presence of a Sefer Torah have a greater efficacy than other prayers.
Rabbi Cohen, a Jerusalem Prize recipient, is the author of several books on Jewish law. His latest, “Jewish Prayer The Right Way: Resolving Halachic Dilemmas” (Urim Publications), is available at Amazon.com.