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Weekly Chizuk

Parshas Vayeira

Daven for Others & Your Prayers Will Be Answered

And Avraham prayed to God, and God healed Avimelech and his wife and his handmaids, and they gave birth. (Bereishis 20:17)

The gemara (Bava Kama 92a) gives us a powerful recipe for tefilla:

What is the source for this statement of the Rabbis: One who prays for his friend, and he also needs that same thing, he will be answered first? The possuk tells us that And Avraham prayed to God, and God healed Avimelech and his wife and his handmaids… and immediately afterwards it is written, "And the Lord remembered Sarah as He had said, and the Lord did to Sarah as He had spoken. And Sarah conceived and bore a son to Abraham in his old age, at the time of which God had spoken to him" (21:1-2).

Rabbi Dr. Avraham Twersky (Generation to Generation, v. II, p.134-137) relates the following remarkable story:

Our great-grandfather, the Rebbe of Hornostipol, was asked by a chassid, "Why is it that my prayers go unanswered? Were we not assured that God would grant the wishes of those who do His will? Why is it that the prayers of a tzaddik are more effective than the prayers of an average person?"

The Rebbe replied, "A person's sincere wish is never denied, but that wish must be the person's foremost desire, and very few people pray for what is truly their foremost desire.

"Take, for example, the person who prays for success and wealth. He may indeed be impoverished and may very profoundly desire to become wealthy. Yet, if he were drowning and could not catch his breath, he would, of course, not think of acquiring wealth. At that point, his most fervent and only desire would be to breathe and remain alive, hence wealth is not really his first priority.

"The Talmud states that if a person forgoes his own needs to pray for the needs of another, that prayer is warmly received.

"The devotion of a tzaddik to his followers is so great," the Rebbe continued, "that their well-being becomes his first priority. The love of the tzaddik for his fellow Jew surpasses the love and devotion of a father for his favorite child. When a tzaddik prays for someone's health and success, his desire for that person's happiness is so intense, that even if the tzaddik were drowning at that point, his prayer would not be for his own survival, nor his wish to be able to breathe and remain alive, but rather that the other person's needs be fulfilled. This self negation and self-sacrifice which the tzaddik achieves out of love for his fellow man is the reason why his prayers are answered."

The Rebbe knew of what he spoke. It is told that as a child, orphaned at a tender age, he was reared by his grandfather, the tzaddik of Cherkassy. Once one of the Rebbe's adherents came to Cherkassy to beg the Rebbe to pray for his salvation. He had not earned enough to meet the payments on the inn and dwelling which he was renting from the feudal lord, and the latter had threatened him with expulsion and imprisonment if his arrears were not promptly resolved. He could see no source of help, and asked the Rebbe to pray for Divine mercy, so that he and his family would not languish in prison. To his horror, he found that the Rebbe was out of the city, and when he approached the Rebetzin with his bitter plight, she suggested, "Go to the house of study (Beis Medrash) and talk to my grandson. He may be able to help you."

"But your grandson is only a child of ten," the man said. "I need the Rebbe. Our very lives are in jeopardy."

Again the Rebetzin said, "The Rebbe is not available now. Go talk with my grandson."

The man went to the house of study, where the ten year­ old child was engrossed in Talmud studies, and against his better judgment, unburdened himself to the young boy. The young boy listened sympathetically to the man's tearful tale of woe, sighed deeply, and said, "If only Grandfather were here, I am certain that he could help you. But there is nothing I can do for you."

In desperation, the man cried out, "Look, your grandmother sent me to you. Now, if you truly cannot help me, then I hold no grudge against you. But if you have the capacity to help me and refrain from doing so, then I shall never forgive you for what will befall my family. Not only will I not forgive you in this world, but I will not forgive you in the eternal word as well."

The young boy was shaken. He slowly closed the volume of the Talmud and said, "Well, let us go first to the mikva." The man accompanied the young boy to the mikva and stood by as the latter immersed himself beneath the surface of the water. After a few moments, the man become concerned that the child was not coming out of the water, and as the moments passed, far beyond what seemed to be the human endurance for surviving without air, the man became panic-stricken. He tried to go down to the mikva to extricate the child, but his limbs seemed to be paralyzed. He soon forgot about his troubles, about his being in arrears, and about his imminent eviction or imprisonment. He was totally occupied with the child whose head remained immersed beneath the water. "Dear God," he prayed silently and fervently, "just let me see that young child emerge from the mikva alive."

After what seemed to be not one but many eternities, the young boy emerged from the water. "Go home," he said. "You have nothing to worry about."

Several weeks later, the chassid returned to the Rebbe of Cherkassy and told him that upon his return home, the feudal lord had sent for him and apologized to him for having been so harsh with him. That previous night, the feudal lord related, he developed a choking sensation and was unable to breathe. In his panic he began to reflect that perhaps he was being punished by God for being so ruthless with his tenants. He then resolved that henceforth he would be more lenient with them, and soon thereafter his breathing returned to normal. "So," he said, "I will not only forgive you for your arrears but I will also arrange more liberal terms for your future payments."

The Rebbe of Cherkassy shook his head sadly, "This is too tender an age for him to place his life in jeopardy." But the pattern that was initiated at age ten persisted for the next fifty-three years. The wants and needs of others took priority, always.

Gut Shabbos!

© Rabbi Eliezer Parkoff
4 Panim Meirot, Jerusalem 94423 Israel
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Rabbi Parkoff is author of "Chizuk!" and "Trust Me!" (Feldheim Publishers), and "Mission Possible!" (Israel Book Shop Lakewood).
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