Monday, October 23, 2006

Intercessory Prayer

The Commentator continues with articles in the section "Legacies of the Rav" with the following three essays:

The Rav at Revel - The Rav at RIETS by R. Robert Blau

Memories of Kindness by Dr. Rivkah Blau

On Translating Ish ha-Halakhah with the Rav by (frequent commenter) Dr. Lawrence Kaplan

This last article, the first in a two-part series, contains comments from Rav Soloveitchik's personal study with Dr. Kaplan while reviewing the latter's translation of Ish Ha-Halakhah (Halakhic Man). Some of this is Dr. Kaplan's notes and some R. Soloveitchik's personal hand-written comments. Evidently, Dr. Kaplan has kept these unpublished for 25 years!

The following is R. Soloveitchik's expansion of the objection to asking angels to pray for us:

[T]he Rav's blanket assertion that "a person needs no advocates or special pleaders" raises the obvious objection that in fact we do ask people to pray on our behalf. In response to this objection, the Rav added the following extended supplementary comment. This is the lengthiest of the Rav's expansions, and he carefully wrote it out in longhand.

Of course Jewish prayer is community prayer. I pray for the many; the many pray for me. We find many instances in the Bible when one individual prays for another. Moses, for instance, prayed for Aaron. However, the prayer of the community is rooted in the gesture of praying together, not in that of praying for each other. People who share distress together share also in the act of praying. Moses prayed for Aaron because he experienced the suffering and travail of Aaron. He suffered no less than Aaron the pangs of frustration. Prayer is motivated by need. To pray for each other means to live through a common passional experience which urges, which impels man to pray together.

Therefore it is permissible, moreover commendable, to ask someone to pray for me, since something very important will be manifested by praying together, viz., the unity of existential destiny, the oneness of the sufferer and fellow sufferer, even though the latter physically feels no pain.

What has been forbidden is to plead with transcendental beings such as angels and seraphim to pray on one's behalf. The angels are not exposed to suffering; they feel no need which is sufficient to stimulate prayer. They cannot join the sufferer, cannot experience his tragic destiny. They, should they happen to intercede on one's behalf, would find themselves praying for, not with the individual.

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