Thursday, June 29, 2006

Praying for a Miracle

Rav Hershel Schachter writes regarding the prohibition of asking G-d for a miracle: (
"The Shaarei Teshuvah quotes the three exceptions to the rule as stated by the Acharonim, as to when one is permitted to ask for a nes: 1) One may ask for a nes nistar. For this is what hashgacha is all about- God controls the world from behind the scenes, without openly violating any of the rules of nature. 2)Since we believe that, "ein mazal le-yisrael," that the Jewish people are, "lemala min hateva," there is nothing at all improper about requesting a nes nigleh on their behalf. 3) Even if the nes is not for Klal Yisrael, but only on behalf of an unusual tzadik, this too is allowed, as is evidenced from the various stories related in the Gemara Taanit regarding several tzadikim who prayed for miracles. The great tzadik is also "lemala min hateva."

In Parshat Korach we find Moshe Rabbeinu requesting of God that even if the opening of Gehenom not be here, that He make a nes and "yivra Hashem" - let it move to here. Because the miracle was needed- either for klal yisrael or the unusual tzadik- Moshe was allowed to pray for it. A similar situation appears in the Haftorah. Shmuel Ha-navi calls upon God to bring about a miracle on Shmuel's personal behalf, to indicate his righteousness. This appears to be the thematic similarity between the sedra and the Haftorah: the exceptions to the rule i.e. when one is permitted to pray for a miracle.

To illustrate this point, I remember many years ago, when I visited the Ponovez Yeshina in Benai Brak, the tzibbur was reciting tehillim on behalf of a cancer patient on whom the doctors had given up hope. The Mashgiach, Rav Yecheskel Levenstein - refused to participate in the prayers because in effect they were praying for a miracle."

There is much discussion in the medical halacha literature regarding the permissibility of praying for the DEATH of a terminally-ill patient. However, it appears from Rav Shachter's analysis above that the reverse question must also be addressed. Is one allowed to pray for the continued LIFE of a terminal patient? The answer, I suspect, is not absolute. In many cases praying for the cure of a terminal patient may only require a nes nistar, which is permissible. Apparently, Rav Levenstein ZT"L felt that an even more open miracle would have been required in the case of the cancer patient.

Avi Oppenheimer


At 7:11 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I spoke with the Noviminsker Rebbe shlita at length about this very question just a few eeks ago.
His feeling was, quite emphatically, that while it may not be correct to gather in public for tehillim (as this may lead to questions of faith should G-d decide that the patient should succumb to his illness), it is proper and fitting to daven for recovery provided that the prayer is for the future- this is the Gemara of "afilu cherev chada munachas al tzavaro shel adam" as opposed to the gemara of tefilas shav, which applies to praying for the present (i.e. davening on the day of a diagnostic CT scan following a round of chemo that the test be negative).


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