Thursday, July 28, 2011

tefilos on behalf of someone else

Last week we touched briefly on the power of one’s tefilos to affect another person’s ruchniyus. The Maor Va’Shemesh writes that even those who did join in the physical battle against Midyan shared responsibility for the soldiers’ hirhurei avirah during battle. Why are those who remained behind responsible for the aveiros of the soldiers? Because had they been davening better for the soldiers' success, there would not have been aveiros!

We find the same idea in this week’s parsha. One who murders b’shogeg must remain in a city of refuge until the death of the kohen gadol. The Mishna says that the mothers of the kohanim used to deliver food to these refugees so they wouldn’t daven for the death of their children. What did the kohanim do wrong to deserve this? The gemara explains that they should have davened that there be no killings on their watch (see Maharal, Gur Aryeh, on Rashi 35:25!)

(Parenthetically, the Targum Yonasan says the K.G. should have davened for this on Yom Kippur, opening the door to the question of why a K.G. appointed after Y.K. who dies before the next Y.K. responsible. I'm not so bothered if the details of derush don't match the halacha 100%, but see the notes in the Gan Ravah which discusses this.)

Another example: The gemara (Brachos 10) tells us that Brurya told her husband, R’ Meir, that rather than pray for the demise of the sinners in the neighborhood, he should daven that they do teshuvah.

Question: Hakol b’yedei shamayim chutz m’yiras shamayim – commitment and belief must be arrived at through free will, bechira chofshis. How then can one person’s tefilos influence whether another person will do teshuvah, will do aveiros or mitzvos?

There are two basic approaches to the issue:

1) Tefilah has an indirect effect. Most of the meforshim I have seen take this approach. Bechira does not take place in a vacuum. There are always obstacles which prevent us from being truly free to make any choices we like. Temptation, a lack of ability to focus on what is important, jobs and stress which sap energy and concentration all tilt the scale. Another person’s tefilah cannot cause me to choose to do the right thing, but it can cause Hashem to remove some of the obstacles that might be preventing me from framing the issue properly and being truly free to choose.

2) Tefilah has a direct effect. This approach is developed by R’ Dessler in Michtav m’Eliyahu. Every cheit in effect is a chilul Hashem, as it minimizes Hashem’s glory in the world. Onesh is not punitive or vindictive, but rather is meant to restore that glory to its proper place by showing that those who act improperly suffer consequences. But what if Hashem’s glory could be restored in some other way? That’s exactly what happens when someone else is inspired to daven for a chotei. Instead of sin desecrating G-d’s name, sin becomes a vehicle for people to draw close to Hashem.

There seems to be differences in the way this idea is presented in different essays in Michtav. In my simplified version the chotei escapes punishment because the chilul Hashem he/she caused is rectified in some other way, namely by arousing tefilos of others. In other places R’Dessler seems to stress that tefilah must also impact the chotei. By becoming aware that he/she has served as an inspiration to tefilah, the chotei him/herself is inspired to do better. In yet other places Michtav relates this idea to his concept of nekudas habechira. We do not actively engage in choosing every action we do. Most of what we do is by rote and habit – e.g. I did not really have to exercise my bechira chofshis in deciding not to eat treif for lunch today. On the other hand, someone who is used to eating a Big Mac for lunch and then becomes a ba’al teshuvah may really have to exercise bechira and choose to not go down that road again. Which situations require active bechira varies by person. Somehow tefilah can change someone's nekudas habechira so they are not forces to choose how to act in scenarios that might trip them up. I’m not clear on how this works or how it fits together with the other points R' Dessler makes.

Along similar lines as this topic, Chassidishe seforim in many places mention that a tzadik has the power to elevate tefilos of others even where those tefilos are inadequate or would otherwise be rejected (one example: see Tiferes Shlomo, Parshas Pinchas, on “Vayakreiv Moshe es mishpatan…:) I don’t fully understand how this works. How can someone else help my tefilos do their job if the words are undeserving? Maybe somebody can explain it.


  1. Anonymous1:58 PM

    "r'tzon y'reiav yaaseh"-- does this
    not imply that should fearful A pray for fearless B, the latter's wayward desire would, if the prayer be answered, be further ignored Above? with his yetzer further frustrated, teshuvah might beckon the more;
    or, in other terms, every Jew has
    a preexisting claim on the future behavior of his fellow, as
    per naaseh v'nishmah, as a partner in a collective contract; thru prayer, Jew A can ever-so-faintly call in his
    claim on Jew B to comply
    {these 2 sound like masculine forms; surely there'd be more empathic, feminine dynamics too!?}

  2. Anonymous5:59 PM

    The halacha is that one should not say his prayers in Aramaic because the angels don't understand that language and so they won't be able to bring such prayers beyond the divine curtain. (Although the angel Gavriel does understand Aramaic (Tos. first perek of Shabbos), I guess we shouldn't rely on one angel alone to help us out.) This halacha seems to indicate that our prayers are never effective without outside help. Maybe we can say, according to those Chassidishe Seforim you quoted, that when you are close to a Tzaddik his VIP pass is more VIP than those of the angels; or maybe the tzaddik just lets you not need to rely on angels.


  3. >>>This halacha seems to indicate that our prayers are never effective without outside help

    The malachim serve as a pipeline. The tzadik is doing more than that -- he is changing the nature of the tefilah itself.
    L'mashal: If you speak in a low garbled voice into your telephone, the phone wire (=the malachim) will transmit the same poor quality sound to the receiver on the other end. The tzadik seems to have the power to transform that garbled message into clear sound -- that's what I don't understand.

  4. Anonymous3:36 PM

    maybe there's naught to be understood? is the "tzadik"
    phenomenon min haTorah? is it not worrisome when thousands take to standing tightly (& dangerously?) in bleachers, to celebrate the
    "tzadik"'s least gesture at the rostrum below? is not each Jew,
    like Avraham, his own man, with his own dalet amos,
    & his own momentous gestures?
    (& his own teshuvah ever pending)

    as far as the "tzadik" redeeming
    garbled prayers or fallen souls or
    what else, Hashem does quite all right by Himself, should He so will-- "meikim mei'afar dal, mei'ashpos yarim evyon, l'hoshiv im n'divim, v'kisei chavod yan'chileim..." (Shmuel 1, 2:8)

  5. This comment has been removed by the author.

  6. Very apropos for now! Our ruchnius helps the gashmius and guf of the idf. We must increase ruchnius!!