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Are there rules/guidelines for how often to include a sick person in the refa’enu prayer in the amidah, and for how long to include them? Should one pray for that person every time one prays until one knows they are well, or, G!d forbid, until they have died? Is once enough? Or maybe in each daily service for one day? For a week? Or what?

I’m especially interested in the teachings about cholim whom one doesn’t know well — or even at all. It feels strange to be praying three times a day for the daughter of someone whose blog I read, but with whom I’ve never spoken… but it feels even stranger to consciously leave her out of my prayers! So then should I be keeping a personal list of every sick person I know for every time I pray the silent amidah?

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  • The fact that many shuls maintain a mi sheberach list to be read at each service (or maybe once a day? not sure there) makes me suspect it's "until you know it's no longer relevant", but I've no source for that. – Monica Cellio Dec 11 '14 at 21:59
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    I was actually thinking of that practice as a reason refa’enu would have a different principle. Since mi sheberach is for the community, that seems like the place to be comprehensive. It also informs the community. But the personal prayer has different motivations, especially because one can rely on mi sheberach to be comprehensive. – Jon Mitchell Dec 11 '14 at 22:09
  • @ablaze oh, that's a good point. – Monica Cellio Dec 11 '14 at 22:18
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Got this partial answer from Rabbi David Wolpe:

"I have always heard that while there is no limit to personal prayers, a mi sheberach should be for four weeks unless requested longer. But I know of many that have gone longer, so there probably isn’t a prohibition."

This at least answers the question about the upper bound and highlights some distinction between personal prayer and communal prayer. Still feels like there’s much more to the story, though. I have more rabbanim to ask!

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    The four-week limit ties in nicely to the practice I've seen in at least two (Orthodox) synagogues to purge their mi sheberach lists every rosh chodesh. – msh210 Dec 17 '14 at 9:05
  • @msh210: And I've seen it in a third synagogue. – unforgettableid Dec 19 '14 at 2:07
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    @unforgettableid ...unless it was one of my two. :-) – msh210 Dec 19 '14 at 4:16
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I have often wondered about this myself. As far as I can tell, there are no rules about how long you say a mi-shebeirakh for a person or include an ill person in your private Amidah, except, of course, if the person gets well or dies, in which case the prayer no longer makes sense. I like the distinction suggested above -- that mi shebeirakh is a communal prayer and therefore should be more inclusive than the ones for whom one prays privately in one's Amidah. Even so, the practice of pruning the communal list every Rosh Hodesh is a good one, at least to make sure that some people on the list are still alive and sick. I also think that one should at least have some personal connection to the people for whom one is praying in the Amidah. That said, I don't stop until the person gets well or dies. As I get older, that leaves me with much too long a list, but such is life -- and such is what it means to be part of a community who cares for one another.

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