Ask The Rabbi

Misplaced Merit

The Color of HeavenArtscroll
Topic: Learning in the Merit of the Sick

Marion Zeiger wrote:

Dear Rabbi,

I'm preparing a lesson for my synagogue on the concept of davening (praying) and studying Torah for a sick person's well-being (refuah sheleima). I know the custom, and that davening and learning gains one merit. I would like to know more about the following:

  • History/origins of the custom.
  • Mechanics - Exactly how does the davening and learning gain one merit in Heaven?
  • How does the merit gained transfer to the sick person in whose name one davens and learns?


Dear Marion Zeiger,

The earliest source where praying for the sick is mentioned is when Abraham prays for Avimelech (Genesis 20:17). Later in the Torah, Moses prays for the recovery of Miriam, his sister (Numbers 12:13). There are numerous places in the Prophets as well.

The Talmud discusses the obligation to visit the sick and to pray for them. In fact the implication is that if one visits but does not pray for them, one has not fulfilled the mitzvah. The obligation to pray for the sick is found in The Code of Jewish Law, which states that when praying, one should ask that this sick person be healed along with the other sick people of Israel. The central prayer in Judaism, the shemoneh esreh, includes a blessing in which we pray for the sick.

How does it work? Some say that since the patient has inspired me (consciously or not) to perform a mitzvah, a commandment, and has caused the one who prays or studies Torah to draw closer to G-d, then the patient has direct merit as a result of the prayer. Another way of understanding this is the one who prays is binding himself to the patient, showing concern and sharing the patient's pain. The Divine calculation now must take into account not just the patient and his pain, but also all those who are praying for him.

Sources:

  • Tractate Nedarim 40a
  • Shulchan Aruch Yoreh Deah 355


 
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