Who and What are You Praying For?

Who and What are You Praying For?

Ask anyone who is lucky enough to be a parent-“who do you pray for?”  The answer comes quickly: “my kids.”  Press for more -“who else do you pray for?”  “Well, my parents and spouse if they are not well or there is a tough day coming up at work.  And, of course, I daven (pray) for shalom bayis (peace in my house), for everyone to be healthy, happy and fulfill their potential and for an honest parnossa (income).”

Think back to the time before you were married.  What did you pray for?  You passionately prayed to meet your bashert – to meet the one destined for you.  It is so common as to be trite that when one finds a prayer book in shul with tear smudged pages it is because someone prayed for someone was ill or prayed to find his/her soulmate. 

And when you met your special person, your gratefulness was so profound it was almost beyond expression.  Yet now, when marriage has gotten past that first magic year, people thank God daily for their children and pray to Him daily for their children’s welfare.  But do they thank God for spouses and pray to Him for the welfare of their spouses? Maybe, not so much.  It is odd.  We could speculate about the reasons but the reasons do not really matter.

The Rambam makes it clear that we must thank God for what we have and pray to Him for our needs (Mishneh Torah, Laws of Prayer, 1:1-2).  Indeed, the authorities are in agreement that we must pray to God at a time of need.  Sefer HaChinuch, Mitzvah 433

Certainly, among our greatest blessings are spouses and among our central needs are that our spouses should be healthy, understanding, kind, wise and loving.  Thus, we think it is beyond dispute that, as a matter of Jewish law and simple decency, one has to thank God for a spouse and pray for his or her welfare.  We know we ask God to bless our spouses in the Grace after Meals but we respectfully suggest this is not enough.

Judaism believes that prayer is powerful.  Not only does God listen to prayer but He grants us things we may not have deserved simply because we pray for them.  Sefer HaChinuch, Mitzvah 433.   Rav Chaim Kanievsky in his Orchos Yosher paraphrases the Midrash Tanchuma that “Hashem says: ‘Even if one is not worthy for his prayers to be answered with kindness, if he prays and is profuse with earnest supplication, I will perform kindness with him.’”[Who and What are You Praying For?1]  

Our high holiday prayers reflect this theme by repeatedly reminding us that prayer is one of the three ways that one can avert a divine decree that is unfavorable (the other two are returning to God and giving charity).   The Amidah prayer which is recited three times a day is replete with prayers that God grant a variety of requests and even contains at least two special sections where we can add personal prayers for things we want and need.  Many sources suggest that all prayers are have value and are addressed (and that does not mean with a “no”). See, e.g., Freeman, “Answers in Boxes”, www.chabad.org/library/article_cdo/aid/862518/jewish/Answers-in-Boxes.htm.  Rav Chaim, too notes:  “Hashem does not reject anyone’s supplication.”[2]

Thus, from a Jewish prospective we owe it to God and our spouses to thank God for our spouses and to pray for their welfare.   For those who want further encouragement or reinforcement, it is helpful to know that contemporary research shows that people who pray for their spouses have better marriages.  We will discuss that research in our next column.

[1] Kanievsky, Orchos Yosher 419 (Artscroll 2018) based on Midrash Tanchuma, Vayeira 1.

[2] Id. at 420

Leave a Reply