For Whom Should We Pray?- Rosh Hashanah 5781

D'var Torah | Holidays

Between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, the Talmud says, each person’s earnings for the year are determined: all the more reason to pray for prosperity on Rosh Hashanah itself. The farmer would come to the synagogue and pray for a higher crop yield or increased animal births. The businessman would pray for successful investments or increased sales. The lawyer would pray for a plenitude of clients. The tradesman would prayer for more customers. But for what should the physician pray? A petition for more patients is the equivalent for praying for more illness and that strikes us as insensitive or even cruel. And should God accept such a personal prayer, the world would suffer from increased suffering. Further, how could a doctor sincerely join in the congregational prayer for the removal of all illness? It is contrary to his or her self-interest?


One element of a solution is deducible from a comment by RaShI regarding the birth of Isaac. God fulfilled the promised made to Sarah and, after her pregnancy, gave birth to Isaac (Genesis 21:1). RaShI notes that the passage describing the birth of Isaac is juxtaposed with the previous passage on the birth of children to the household of Avimelekh following Abraham’s prayer on his behalf (Genesis 20:17).


This connection leads RaShI to conclude that “whoever prays on behalf of another when he himself is in need of that very thing for which he prays, will himself have his prayers answered by God.” Hence, a doctor who prays for the removal of all illness – effectively putting others ahead of him/herself – will be rewarded with good health as a consequence. And praying for more patients is not equivalent to praying for more illness, but praying for more patients who seek advice on how to remain in good health.


Aside from solving the problem of a doctor’s prayer, RaShI’s commentary offers a valuable lesson for life: there is no finer way of living than by seeking the welfare of others. On Rosh Hashanah, as Jews, no doubt, look to a brighter future for themselves, a future that will understandably include personal prosperity, Jews should ponder how they can help others and not just what they can gain for themselves.




Words to Live By

What lies behind you and what lies ahead of you pales in comparison to what lies inside you.

– Ralph Waldo Emerson

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