The following is perhaps one of the more difficult questions any of us should face. Is there a point when we stop beseeching G-d for someone else’s health? There is no good answer to this question. While the author contemplates the possibility of stopping, others would argue simply that one doesn’t stop until a person is dead because we always hope a miracle might occur. I think both sides have tremendous merit to them. Praying for someone is not a sign of false hope. Rather, it might be a comfort as one of the few things a person can “do” when a loved one is dying and there is a sense of loss of control.
[Note: This post takes it as given that reciting Tehillim for those who are ill is a good and efficacious practice. The debate regarding that is interesting, but not for right now.]
I began saying two paragraphs of Tehillim each morning before Shacharis some time back, and the practice has grown on me. Aside from the contribution I believe I am making to people’s health, I find it helps me get ready for my own davening, as well as feel good for the day.
But I have the question myself: When do you take someone off the list?
I am not talking about halting Tehillim [Psalms] because a situation is hopeless; rather, I’m talking about halting Tehillim because it seems that a person has recovered, or, at least, seems to be out of danger.
You know the situations; you are saying Tehillim –
-on behalf of someone who is battling cancer, and the disease seems to have gone into remission.
-on behalf of a person with Parkinsons’s, and the progression seems to have slowed.
-on behalf of a person who had a heart attack, and doctors have now determined that she has a chronic heart condition with which she will struggle for the rest of her life.
-on behalf of a person who is recovering from a hip replacement, but she will need weeks of physical therapy.
-on behalf of a person who had a stroke, and doctors think he may be out of danger, but he will be on blood thinners for the foreseeable future.
Rabbi, when do I stop saying Tehillim?
This is one of the hardest questions to answer, because it’s much more about personality than it is about any halachah. It’s also about superstition. Hope. Fear and uncertainty. Relationships.
So one might suggest that we never remove names, but that could be counterproductive. Part of the value, for me, is thinking about each individual name – but how do you do that, as they add up? And doesn’t the intensity of the prayer bceome diluted as you add names and include less intense situations? And shouldn’t someone be left out, to be included in the catch-all בתוך שאר חולי ישראל, “among the other ill of Israel”?
So I’ve never had a great answer for this one… The best I can come up with is to reduce the frequency of including certain names, or to create a substitute practice for them, such as dedicating part of one’s learning on their behalf, or including them in the general shul “Mi sheBeirach”. But I’m still searching for criteria.