As we will see in Mitzvah #433, there is an obligation for us to try to get closer to God through prayer. To help us fulfill this, our Sages established a prayer to be recited thrice-daily, corresponding to the prayers of our Forefathers. This prayer is called the Amidah (because it is recited standing); the weekday version is also called Shemoneh Esrei, the Eighteen Benedictions (although a nineteenth has since been added). Once a week for nineteen weeks, we will review the contents of the 19 blessings of “Shemoneh Esrei.”
Just as the seventh blessing paraphrases King David’s words, the eighth bracha recalls the words of the prophet Jeremiah. In the book that bears his name, Jeremiah said, “Heal me, Hashem, and I will be healed; save me and I will be saved because You are my praise” (17:14). This verse is incorporated in its entirety into the prayer for health, only changing Jeremiah’s singular to the plural (“heal us,” “save us,” etc.). Refuah (healing) refers to repairing damaged body parts; yeshuah (salvation) refers to reinvigorating us with strength and vigor as if new.
The intent of this verse appears to be that if God heals us, then we are truly healed. It can also be understood that God is the only true Healer. No matter what the doctor may prescribe, we can only be healed if God wills it. If He heals us, we will be healed, otherwise not. This idea is supported by the next part, which says that God is our praise. If we are healed, He is the One to praise for doing so, not any hospital or pharmacy. (This does not absolve one from seeking medical attention. God expects us to do our part even though the ultimate result is up to Him.)
From context, Jeremiah was speaking of spiritual rather than physical health. Really, the two things are intertwined, as our physical well-being is inextricably ties to our spiritual selves. Even the most righteous person sins; suffering is a means to cleanse the soul in order to receive a richer spiritual reward. What we ask of God is to be healed in both body and soul.
As with teshuvah in the fifth blessing, we ask Hashem for a “refuah shelaimah” – a complete recovery. “Refuah shelaimah” is the wish that Jews universally grant the sick, no doubt from here. If one wishes to ask special consideration from God for oneself or another who is ill, he may insert a personal request here. (Many siddurim offer a suggested text for such insertions.)