Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Segulah-izing prayer for others

In the fairly recent past, two websites have emerged with the sake of turning davening for others into a segulah. This is being endorsed by various rabbonim, and in one case, appears to draw its inspiration from an incident related by Rabbi Paysach Krohn, and there from a Talmudic statement. Thus:
His arguments were to no avail. Mrs. Efrat, who was a baalas teshuvah (one who had come to Torah Judaism of her own volition), said that she didn't know any tzaddikim, Rebbes or any other prominent Roshei Yeshivah whom she could easily relate to or speak openly with. That is why she desired to receive a berachah from Rabbi Gutman.

He thought quietly for a few moments and then said to Mrs. Efrat, "I want you to know that I feel your anguish and I share your pain. I myself have a daughter living in Milwaukee, who has been married for more than ten years and has never borne a child. The Gemara (Bava Kama 92A) instructs us 'If one has a problem and prays for another who has the identical problem, he who has prayed will be answered first.'
Let us make an agreement between us. You pray for my daughter and I will pray for you."

Now it was Mrs. Efrat who was struck by another's anguish. The personal pain that Rabbi Gutman had unexpectedly shared with her, and the unique suggestion he proposed, bonded the young woman with the renowned individual who sat before her. She felt an inner serenity and knew that regardless of what the future held, her trip had been worthwhile.

One website is, where they match up groups of 11 people, so that each person has a minyan of people praying on their behalf. The earlier one is The idea is that if you pray for someone else, you will get answered first. But doesn't this pose a logical and theological problem? How can anyone get answered first, if each person is praying for the other person? :)

Why has this not been done in previous generations? This is a trait of our generation, that turns every inspiring statement into a segulah. Thus e.g. challah-baking groups, and giving tzedaka as a segulah. It probably also has to do with the organizational power which is possible with the Internet.

Anyway, the gemara in Bava Kamma 92a reads:
Raba said to Rabbah b. Mari: Whence can be derived the lesson taught by our Rabbis that one who solicits mercy for his fellow while he himself is in need of the same thing, [will be answered first]? — He replied: As it is written:And the Lord changed the fortune of Job when he prayed for his friends. He said to him: You say it is from that text, but I say it is from this text: 'And Abraham prayed unto God and God healed Abimelech and his wife and his maidservants,' and immediately after it says: And the Lord remembered Sarah as he had said, etc., [i.e.] as Abraham had [prayed and] said regarding Abimelech.
The thing is, in neither of these two examples was the Biblical character doing this as a trick, to force Hashem to fulfill one's will. Rather, they were able to put aside their own "selfish" concerns and focus on other people's needs, even where the other person had the same need as himself. This is an excellent trait to have and develop. And then, in reward for such a good attitude, when Hashem answers, He even first turns to help the individual who did not think of himself first. This is an inspirational message, rather than a trick.

But if someone would not be davening for other people having the same condition, except that he or she heard of this gemara and of this segulah trick, then are they really davening for the other person? Or are they really davening for themselves, in a clever roundabout fashion? Are you developing within yourself, or manifesting, this trait of caring for others and not just your own narrow concerns?

(cross-listed to Segulah Watch)


Anonymous said...

Well put.

These Segulah (Magic) Tricks are getting out of hand.

Anonymous said...

I'm linking this post on my blog.

I hope you don't mind :)

joshwaxman said...

i'm glad you liked it. and thanks.


Anonymous said...

Rabbi Gutman? I'm surprised R' Krohn bothered to change the name in this case - the gadol who gave the advice told the story over publicly often.

Tzvi Haber said...

I couldn't have said it better myself. I followed Rabbi Fink's lead here and found myself nodding in full agreement. I will once again follow Rabbi Fink's lead and post to this on my blog.

Ariella's blog said...

Quid pro quo observance.

joshwaxman said...


Anonymous said...

If you want to Hear somone really tell it as it is see Rabbi Pearl here at the end speaks his mind about the CHallah Segulah and others not said anywhere:

Its in the LAst 5 minutes you can skip to it.

Josh M. said...

Brachos 31b on the passuk "im ra'o sir'eh" provides a similar example of trying to "force HaShem's hand", although it strikes me as being a strange ma'amar Chazal.

Binyomin Yudin said...

If I am not mistaken ( I don't have a geamar in front of me ), the maharsha explains that the shefa coming down to give the other person the bracha which you are davening for, comes down through you. Therefore, you are answered. It has nothing to do with "who is first". Although I am not a fan of segulos, as they detract from a shleimus in our avoda, we can't make it a segula to go after them. Everyone has their thing.

joshwaxman said...

thanks. i'll try to check it out, bli neder.
though that would only answer my humorous paradox according to the maharsha. at this point, though, i still prefer my own understanding of the gemara as truer and more inspirational, rather than a mystical explanation which seems to be more on the mechanical side.

and while everyone has their thing, i think it is a good idea to take a public stand at the unfortunate *trend* (rather than actions of any individual) in modern day Judaism to turn every mitzvah into a segulah.


Tzvi Haber said...

I just received hate mail because I linked to you and there were apparently objectionable ads on the page.(I haven't seen any on my numerous visits). I promised the guy I'd let you know.

joshwaxman said...

thanks for the tip. and sorry for indirectly causing the hate mail.

alas, sometimes the Google ads, which are context sensitive, pick up words like Biblical and put up ads for Christian sites. i have to catch them when they happen to be showing (which I haven't frequently seen), specifically in Internet Explorer to get the ad ID and put them in Google's competitive ad filter. and there are a bunch of them.

it doesn't really bother me, because it is obviously nonsense, and i don't really think parshablog readers are going to see an ad and be convinced by the ridiculous claims. but it does indeed give a bad impression about the site. i'll see if i can catch these ads, though I haven't seen them today.


Tzvi Haber said...

It's no big deal, and the sophistication of your articles allows for assuming the readers are relatively intelligent and understanding. Apparently I can't say the same. I was going to just forward the email but couldn't find an email address anywhere.
all the best

woof said...

I once heard that a roish hayeshiva when asked if saying shir haShirim 40 straight days would help find him a shidduch, the RY replied "it would help a lot more if you went out with the girl 40 straight days"


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