Wednesday, January 11, 2006

On The Divisibility of God's Mercy

A thirteen year old boy in our neighborhood recently came down with cancer. The prognosis for him is good and with the proper care (and God's mercy) he will be fine.

His parents (understandably) asked that people in the neighborhood say Tehillim for their son. An effort soon arose whereby people were asked to say certain chapters of Tehillim every day and that, as a result, the entire book of Tehillim would be recited every day for this child.

A friend of mine, who was organizing the effort, called me up and asked me to participate. I immediately agreed to and was given a set of chapters to recite. I was told that there were two "rules" to observe:

1. That the chapters be recited every day.
2. That the chapters be recited exclusively for the recovery of the boy who is ill. One could certainly pray for the recovery of other people at other times; but these chapters, when recited daily, should be said exclusively for this boy.

I agreed to the rules, even though I don't agree with the latter one. The reason I agreed was simply because it wasn't my child and I certainly wasn't going to dictate to a set of worried, upset parents the conditions under which I would pray for their son.

The whole concept, nonetheless, troubles me. It seems to imply that God (so to speak) only has so much mercy to go around and that if you pray for someone else while you're praying for this boy, then the boy somehow loses out on God's mercy. The whole concept seems entirely wrong to me. I can't imagine God withholding a refuah shelaimah because the prayor (is that even a word?) had someone else in mind while praying.

When discussing the issue with my wife later on that night, I found out that she had the same reservations about this concept that I did. I instructed my wife that should (God forbid) the need ever arise, I don't mind having people say Tehillim for me; but I don't want the exclusivity restriction. I'd *rather* people pray for as many sick people as possible - and I'll do what I can to make it easier for people to do so.

The Wolf

P.S. The boy's name is Chaim Mayer ben Leah Miriam.

8 comments:

Mississippi Fred MacDowell said...

I agree that the theology behind such a request is iffy, but as you said, in such a situation rahmanut for the boy and his family's situation is the only thing called for and that means complying with the family's request.

Olah Chadasha said...

I've always learned that Tefillah isn't for G-d's benefit, it's for ours. G-d doesn't need our Teffilot, we do. Therefore, when you daven, you're supposed to concentrate on what you're doing to reinforce what the meaning is for you. Because of that, I don't neccessarily disagree with the request. I don't believe it has anything with trying to grasp G-d's undivided attention. I think it's to grasp yours. If you're dividing your attention to many different people, you're not concentrating on the person you agreed to pray for. While I don't agree with it whole-heartedly, I don't think it's a completely outlandish request.
-OC

BrooklynWolf said...

That's an interesting way to look at it Olah.

Of course you are correct that God doesn't "need" our prayers and that it is for my benefit.

But then again, nonetheless, the end result is that you want God to heal the person for whom you are praying. If I personally don't know the kid (which I don't) then on what am I concentrating? A name? Well, I think it's just as easy to concentrate on two names as it is on one.

I didn't think the request was outlandish, but I didn't think it was entirely proper.

The Wolf

SephardiLady said...

I believe there is a concept that mishaberachs on Shabbat should only be said for those who are seriously ill. The Rav at our local YI shul is apparantely very strict about admitting names onto the mishaberach list for Shabbat.

But, since the tehillim is said on all days, not just Shabbat, I'm wondering if the same concept applies. It would be interesting to know the basis for their request.

Rebeljew said...

Is it harder to believe that G-d has only so much mercy to go around, or that G-d is less likely to care about a particular person unless other people pray for his recovery? If it is for our own benefit, then why dictate a nusach or even that it be "Tehilim"? Let it be as Moshe did "Kel na refa no la", and finished.

SS said...

I agree that it doesn't make complete sense because there have been times when prayers "weren't answered". It was the same type of people who say that we should not divide prayers between different people who were probably the ones who said - "G-d said no, but all of the prayers went to help so-and-so other situation that needed praying for..." Nachshon Waxman is an example that comes to mind.

Tobie said...

I feel as if the request is to prevent people from "killing two birds with one stone"- that is, accepting tehillim for a whole lot of different people and then just saying the same chapters for all of them at once, the general idea being that they want you to be doing something extra specifically because of their child. This goes according to the logic that prayer is for merit, and if they cause you to do an extra good deed, all the merit goes straight to their child only. While I don't fully agree with this logic, I do understand it. It's not a question of mercy to go around, it's a question of merit, or rather causation

swiftthinker said...

I had this same question when I was asking people to bake challahs for a refuah for my parents. I was told that the custom requires 40 people to make challah and dedicate it to one choleh. It seemed strange that those 40 people couldn't be challah baking for several people.