Praying for Intervention

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March 09 2005

Praying for Intervention

The Talmud (Berakhot 10a) tells us that Bruria recommended to R. Meir that instead of praying for his enemies to die, he should pray for them to repent. The Maharsha points out the theological difficulty with such a plan. If it is true that “All is in the hands of Heaven except for the fear of Heaven” (Berakhot 33b), how can another’s spiritual well-being be prayed for?

R. Moshe Feinstein (Resp. Iggerot Moshe O.C., IV, 40) suggests that since praying for another to grow spiritually would indeed seem inappropriate, it must be rather that the intent here was a prayer that they should be spared the challenges that can push one into spiritual pitfalls. The Chazon Ish, (End of Orach Chaim.) however, takes a different approach, asserting that prayer is considered an act of humans, and thus G-d’s response to a prayer would not imply that the spiritual boost received would be “from Heaven”.

The Chavatzelet HaSharon al HaTorah (Bereishit, pp. 190-191) notes that there appears to be a dispute here as to the status of change accomplished through prayer, whether it is to be viewed as an act of man or an act of G-d.
This would be relevant to a dispute concerning Ketubot 104a, where we are told that Rebbe’s maidservant prayed that he should pass away and be relieved of the suffering of his illness. The Ran (Nedarim 40a, s.v. ein) comments that this action was appropriate (see Arukh HaShulchan, Y.D. 335). The Netziv (Sh’iltot 93), however, argues that this position is not accepted l’halakhah. If the results of prayer are considered to be human acts, it would be forbidden to do anything to hasten someone’s death. However, if the result of prayer is considered wholly Divine action, the Ran’s view might be understood.
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