Who Should Pray?
By: Rabbi Barak Bar-Chaim
There is a dispute among our early commentators as to whether or not daily prayer is a Biblical obligation. However, all commentators agree that praying when in crisis or going through troubling times is a biblical obligation. Both men and women are obligated to pour their hearts out to God in times of difficulty.
We pray directly to God and not through any intermediary. Every truthful, heartfelt prayer before God is meaningful and heard by God. I once heard that someone visiting Rabbi Shlomo Zalman Auerbach, of blessed memory, mentioned that he was going to pray at the Western Wall. The Rabbi asked his visitor to pray for him as well. The Rabbi was teaching his visitor that the sincere prayer of an average person is also meaningful and powerful.
Having said this, we find an interesting teaching in the Talmud. “Someone who has a sick person within their household should go to a wise (righteous) man and ask compassion for him…” (Baba Batra 116a.)
Why go to the righteous man? If all sincere prayers are accepted, then shouldn’t we simply pray ourselves? I believe the answer to this question is that we need to recognize that there are some learned and extremely pious individuals that are more spiritually developed than we are. As a consequence of their closer relationship with God and their deep understanding of the workings of the spiritual world, they are able to pray with more intention, power, and effectivity than the average person. This is why the Talmud instructs us to approach a righteous man to pray for our cause.
In Parshat Ki Tisa, after the sin of the golden calf, God tells Moses that he will destroy the Jewish people in a moment and build a new nation through Moses. Moses pleads to God on behalf of the people who are in mortal danger and appeases God to give them another chance. This is the very same model of the righteous man accomplishing more through his prayers than others are able to do on their own.
It is important to point out that this does not exempt or minimize our obligation to pray in troubled times. As Rabbi Sholmo Zalman Auerbach taught us, every prayer counts and we need to flood the heavens with prayers for compassion. May God answer all our prayers and help us in overcoming challenges.