Someone Who Is Not An "Other"

Friday, 8 September, 2023 - 12:23 pm

In 1960 there was a Jewish woman in London who was very ill. The doctors were concerned for her life and had nearly despaired of curing her illness. She and her husband were friendly with a recently arrived Chabad Rabbi, who suggested that they write to the Rebbe for a blessing and his prayers on her behalf. They did so, and shortly afterwards her condition improved and, ultimately, she made a complete recovery.

The couple was very grateful to the Rebbe for his blessing and prayers. They made no secret of that gratitude, and it became a topic of conversation in their community. Their Synagogue Rabbi, though an admirer of the Rebbe, was perplexed by the advice given by the Chabad Rabbi to ask for the Rebbe’s prayers. He cited a passage from the Torah reading on Rosh Hashanah to support his question. In Genesis chapter 21 we read of Yishmael taking ill in the wilderness outside Beersheba. The verse states, “Fear not, for G-d has heard the lad's voice…” Upon which Rashi comments, citing a Midrash, “From here we learn that the sick person’s prayer is more effective than the prayer of others on his behalf.”

“In light of the above,” the Rabbi asked, “why would you ask someone else (the Rebbe) to pray for the woman who was ill instead of encouraging her to intensify her own prayers?”

The question made its way back to the Rebbe. After pointing out that the advice to ask a sage for prayers comes from the Talmud, he then proceeded to explain why it was proper advice. Rashi says that the prayer of the sick person is more effective than the prayer of others. Emphasis is on “others.” However, if someone is not an “other,” but rather cares about you as much as you care about yourself, then their prayer would be as effective.

The term Rebbe is an acronym for Rosh Bnei Yisrael – the head of the children of Israel. Just as the head is what senses the pain and pleasure of the organs and limbs of a body, the Rebbe is the “head” of our collective Jewish soul, and therefore senses the needs and feelings of a Jew anywhere. When the Rebbe prays for us, he is not praying for an “other;” it is his own pain and need that he senses as our collective Rosh.    

We employ the same term when speaking of the upcoming holiday, Rosh Hashanah. It is not just the beginning of the year, but also the “head” of the year. What we experience spiritually on Rosh Hashanah, reverberates throughout the rest of the year. This is why we are encouraged to pack as much spirituality and goodness into the 48 hours of Rosh Hashanah, not wasting any of the time on trivialities. We take great care to ensure that our “brain” is healthy and well-supported. This pays dividends for the rest of our year.

May we merit to utilize the gift that is Rosh Hashanah, as well as the days leading up to it. This in turn brings the blessings of a good and sweet year of health, prosperity, nachas, and meaningful spiritual growth for all of us.

Shabbat Shalom
Rabbi Mendel Rivkin

Comments on: Someone Who Is Not An "Other"
There are no comments.