The power of praying for others when you yourself are in need
Chazal reveal to us a fascinating formula built into the mechanism of tefillah: “If a person davens for his friend, and he needs that very thing, he is answered first.”
The Sages derive this concept from the juxtaposition of two pesukim. In one passuk,we read of Avraham Avinu’s prayer on behalf of Avimelech’s household. For taking Sarah to the king’s quarters, Avimelech and his court were punished by blockage of all their orifices, including the ability to give birth. Avraham davened that they should be healed, a particularly selfless prayer on Avraham’s part considering that Avraham himself was childless for so long. In the very next passuk, we are told that Hashem remembered Sarah and she bore a son to Avraham.
Based on this principle, many people make “tefillah pacts”: “We both need a shidduch – you daven for me, I’ll daven for you, and Hashem will answer us both.” There are even organizations who will match you up with a davening partner. But when we analyze this arrangement objectively, we might wonder – if I’m davening for my friend just so that my own need will be filled, isn’t that actually synonymous with davening for myself? Hmm – doesn’t sound quite so unselfish when you put it that way…
Rav Yitzchak Ezrachi was bothered by this question, until he took a closer look at the language of Chazal and his eyes were opened:
“If a person davens for his friend, and he needs that very thing, he is answered first.”
When does the person who is davening for his friend merit a yeshuah for himself? Only when, in spite of his own neediness, he focuses genuinely and sincerely on “that very thing” that he is davening for – his friend’s yeshuah. It won’t work if he “plays the game” and mutters a perfunctory prayer for his partner, while actually seeing it as a mere stepping stone to his own yeshuah. The condition for this mechanism to work is that the person who is davening should feel his partner’s pain so acutely that he cries out on his behalf from the depth of his heart and with every fiber of his being, as if that is the very thing he himself needs. Only then is he awarded with Hashem’s gracious fulfillment of his own desires.
According to this interpretation of Chazal’s statement, the two tefillah partners do not even have to share the same difficulty, since the words “he needs that very thing” do not intend to identify the supplicant’s need, but rather to describe the sincerity with which he is asking for his friend’s lack to be filled. Thus, the principle would work even if the two parties need entirely different yeshuos, as the following true story that our Machsom L’fi group witnessed recently proves (names have been changed):
Riva’s daughter Chanie had been married over three years and was still waiting for the sound of a child’s cry to fill her empty home. Riva’s neighbor Yehudis, also a member of the local Machsom L’fi, had a wonderful daughter Nomi, in her mid-20’s, who needed a shidduch. Both names had previously been submitted to the Machsom L’fi for a yeshuah, but the two friends decided to do an extra bit of hishtadlus. They agreed that Riva would daven for Nomi to find her bashert very soon, while Yehudis would say a special tefillah each day for Chanie and her husband to be blessed with a child. Each one felt a warm connection with the object of her prayers; the tefillos were uttered consistently and sincerely.
A few months passed by. The entire neighborhood rejoiced to hear that Nomi was engaged to a fine ben Torah. At the wedding, a few people were surprised to see Riva, a good friend of the kallah’s mother, leaving rather early. Their wonderment was dispelled the next morning, when they woke to hear that Riva’s daughter Chanie had given birth to a healthy baby boy – on the very same Hebrew date as that of Nomi’s wedding! Mazel tov!