Personal Supplications on Shabbos and Yom Tov

In Parshas Eikev, the Torah tells us that Moshe Rabbeinu prayed for the Jewish people. Would he have been permitted to do this on Shabbos? And would he have been permitted to pray for the needs of an individual on Shabbos, or perhaps just for the entire community?

Personal Supplications on Shabbos and Yom Tov

Question # 1: Harachaman Hullabaloo

“I know that some people do not recite the harachamans at the end of bensching on Shabbos, but I was raised saying them. Am I doing something wrong?”

Question #2: The Monotonous Mishebeirach Mode

Iam Impatient calls me with the following question: “Can we do anything to reduce the number of mishebeirachs in our shul? It is taking longer and longer, and I find the delay quite disturbing.”

Question #3: Kibud Av versus Kavod Shabbos

Michal’s father asks her to arrange a minyan to daven on his behalf on Shabbos. May she?

Question #4: On Shabbos morning, Shlomoh asks the shul’s gabbai. “My father will be having surgery this week. Can we say a chapter of Tehillim on his behalf after davening when everyone is still in shul?”

Answer:

In several places, the Gemara mentions that one may not pray for individual needs on Shabbos (e.g., Taanis 19a; Bava Basra 91a; Yerushalmi, Shabbos, 15:3). At least two reasons are quoted for this prohibition. Some sources include it under what the Navi Yeshaya (58:13) commanded when he declared, Vechibadto mei’asos derachecha mimetzo cheftzecha vedabeir davar, “You shall honor the Shabbos by not performing your own matters, seeking out your own needs and speaking of them” (Vayikra Rabbah 34:16; Rashba, Shabbos 113a). This proscription is usually simply called dabeir davar.

A second opinion

Others prohibit praying for personal requests on Shabbos because it violates one’s oneg Shabbos. Praying for personal needs causes one to focus on what troubles him, which leads a person to be sorrowful (see Rambam, Hilchos Shabbos 30:12 and Ran, Shabbos, Rif page 5b). Shabbos is to be a day of joy.

According to both reasons, dabeir davar and oneg Shabbos, we now understand why, on Motza’ei Shabbos, we insert the passage atah chonantanu, which is a declaration of havdalah ending Shabbos, in the fourth brocha of shemoneh esrei, which is the first of the weekday brachos. The reason is that we may not recite the middle brachos of the shemoneh esrei until we have recited havdalah (Yerushalmi, Brachos end of 5:2; Shu”t HaRashba #739; Magen Avraham 294:1). Someone who forgot to recite atah chonantanu and realizes while in the middle of shemoneh esrei may continue the shemoneh esrei, but should not add any personal supplications to his prayer. The reason for this ruling will be explained shortly.

“Provide us, sustain us…”

If personal supplications are prohibited on Shabbos, how can we say in our bensching the personal requests to Hashem “Provide us, sustain us…”? The same question exists in many of the prayers that we recite on Shabbos, such as the Yehi ratzon prayer we recite at the end of the morning birchos hashachar. How are we permitted to recite this prayer on Shabbos?

This question is asked in the Gemara Yerushalmi, which I quote:

We learned: It is prohibited to pray for one’s needs on Shabbos. Rabbi Ze’eira asked Rabbi Chiya bar Abba, “When reciting the bensching, may one say ‘Tend to us, provide us with livelihood’ [re’einu, zuneinu, in the third brocha]?” Rabbi Chiya bar Abba answered him that this is permitted because this is the standard structure of the brocha (Yerushalmi, Shabbos 15:3).

Thus, the Yerushalmi introduces a new idea: that something that is a standard part of a tefillah or brocha may be recited on Shabbos, a concept called tofeis brocha. For this reason, we do not modify the words of bensching or the other brachos that we usually recite.

What is the logic behind permitting tofeis brocha? This is still a request that should be prohibited for one of the two reasons mentioned above.

I found three interpretations to explain why we may recite a prayer that is included in a tofeis brocha.

I. Distorted brachos

The Korban HaEidah, one of the primary commentaries on the Yerushalmi, explains that tofeis brocha is permitted because of concern that changing the wording on Shabbos might cause one to get confused and recite the entire brocha incorrectly.

II. Changing the nusach

The Rivash (Shu”t HaRivash #512) explains the reason for tofeis brocha is because one does not change a text established by Chazal. Thus, the prohibition against making personal requests on Shabbos never applied to standard texts. The Rivash then extends this idea even to selichos and piyutim – and it is for this reason that when we recite these passages on Shabbos that falls on Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, we recite the exact same text as we do when Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur fall on a weekday.

III. Familiarity breeds content

Others provide yet a third reason to explain why one may recite a supplication that is incorporated in a tofeis brocha: something that one says regularly does not cause him suffering (Kuntrus Bakashos BeShabbos page 3, quoting Yafeh Mareh and Atares Paz 1:2:2). This approach assumes that the reason we may not pray for personal supplications on Shabbos is not because of the takkanah of dabeir davar but only because of the reason of oneg Shabbos.

Harachaman Hullabaloo

At this point, we can already discuss the first question raised above:

“I know that some people do not recite the harachamans at the end of bensching on Shabbos, but I was raised saying them. Am I doing something wrong?”

No, you are in good company, together with many well-respected poskim. The Mishnah Berurah (188:9) rules that one may recite the harachamans on Shabbos – they are also considered tofeis brachos.

Some authorities extend the lenience of tofeis brocha considerably, ruling that the prohibition against reciting supplications on Shabbos applies only to a prayer that one constructs oneself, but does not apply to any standardized prayer (Shu”t Rav Pe’alim, Orach Chayim 2:46).

Pikuach nefesh

Aside from the situation of tofeis brachos, there is another case when one may recite personal supplications on Shabbos, and that is when the situation is one of pikuach nefesh, life-threatening emergency. Just as saving lives supersedes Shabbos and most mitzvos of the Torah, so one is permitted to pray for deliverance when faced by an immediate life-threatening emergency. For example, the Mishnah (Taanis 19a) teaches that one prays on Shabbos that Hashem save the people when a city is surrounded by invaders, when a river overflows, or when a boat is floundering at sea.

The same is true for an individual.  Just as pikuach nefesh of an individual supersedes Shabbos, so, too, praying for an individual’s deliverance in a life-threatening circumstance supersedes Shabbos when it is a sakanas hayom – a circumstance that presents an immediate, life-threatening emergency (Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chayim 288:9, 10). Therefore, if someone is very seriously ill and his life is in immediate danger, we say Tehillim and pray on his behalf, even on Shabbos. However, if the person is seriously ill but not in immediate danger, we do not say Tehillim for him on Shabbos, but wait until after Shabbos. Thus, the Mishnah Berurah (288:28) rules that a woman giving birth or a woman who gave birth within the past week are both considered sakanas hayom, and one may pray for them on Shabbos.

Out-of-town ill

Is one permitted to daven on Shabbos for an ill person who is not in his city? Why does it make a difference where the ill person is?

Some authorities contend that since one does not know if his condition is a sakanas hayom, these prayers might be desecrating Shabbos unnecessarily (Maharil cited by Machatzis HaShekel 288:14). The accepted practice follows those who permit these prayers, considering them a safek pikuach nefesh (Nachalas Shivah).

Can I get rid of all those mishebeirachs?

At this point, let us examine a different one of our opening questions.

Iam Impatient asked: “Can we do anything to reduce the number of mishebeirachs in our shul? It is taking longer and longer, and I find the delay quite disturbing.”

I mentioned above the dispute as to whether the prohibition of personal supplications on Shabbos is because of the law of dabeir davar, meaning that one should not discuss this-worldly matters on Shabbos, or it is because of oneg Shabbos — praying for personal needs may cause one to become sorrowful. Is there any difference in halachah between the two reasons?

Indeed, there are some differences in halachah that result from this disagreement. One dispute that results is germane to whether one may recite a mishebeirach for an ill person on Shabbos. The standard text for this mishebeirach when recited on a weekday includes a short prayer that the ill person should have a complete recovery. Logically, it should be prohibited to recite this on Shabbos, since it is a private request. Yet, some early authorities rule that when the ill person is not nearby, one may recite these mishebeirachs on Shabbos, reasoning that one does not become sorrowful when reciting a mishebeirach for someone not present (responsum of Rav Yaakov Beirav, in Shu”t Avkas Rocheil #11). This line of reasoning assumes that the prohibition of praying for personal requests on Shabbos is because it causes suffering.

However, several other authorities prohibit reciting a mishebeirach for ill people on Shabbos, expressly stating that it is forbidden because of dabeir davar (She’ei’las Yaavetz #64; Gra”z, Orach Chayim 288:9). The She’ei’las Yaavetz prohibits reciting a mishebeirach for the ill on Shabbos except for a choleh who is in the category of sakanas hayom. He also prohibits reciting these mishebeirachs for an additional reason that will make Iam happy: Yaavetz contends that they are prohibited because they inconvenience the community by delaying the services (tircha de’tzibura).

A compromise position rules that one may recite a mishebeirach for ill people on Shabbos provided that one modifies the text, and instead of closing with a prayer for a swift recovery, one blesses the ill person, and then makes a statement that on Shabbos we are not permitted to cry out, but recovery is soon to come (Magen Avraham 288:14).

The prevalent custom in most places today follows the last approach, and that is why, in many shullen, mishebeirachs are recited for the ill even when it is not a sakanas hayom. Of course, this ruling, which is probably the practice in Iam’s shul, is what is upsetting Iam.

Some authorities add an additional factor in favor of the reciting of the mishebeirach: it is considered a special merit to pray for someone during, or immediately after, the reading of the Torah. To quote the Aruch HaShulchan (Yoreh Deah 335:12): “If one has a family member who is ill… the custom is to pray in shul during kerias haTorah for those who are sick, for then Divine Compassion is aroused.”

In answer to what is the best thing to do, I refer to a responsum of an earlier authority, the Rivash (Shu”t HaRivash #512) on a related topic: whether one should recite Avinu Malkeinu on Shabbos of Rosh Hashanah, Shabbos Shuvah and Yom Kippur. After noting the different customs that he saw in several communities, and explaining the reasons why reciting Avinu Malkeinu on Shabbos does or does not violate the prohibition against reciting personal requests on Shabbos, he concludes that one should follow the prevalent local custom. Similarly, regarding whether one recites a mishebeirach on Shabbos, he should follow established community or shul custom.

May I pray for personal spiritual requests?

The Mishnah Berurah (288:22) permits praying on Shabbos for spiritual help or for any other request that is not a result of difficult circumstances. It seems that this should be permitted according to both reasons mentioned above. According to the first reason, one should not pray on Shabbos about one’s own needs, but spiritual needs are Hashem’s realm. According to the second reason, most people do not become saddened regarding their spiritual failings and “troubles.”

Based on the above, on Shabbos one may recite the prayer of Rav Nechunia ben Hakanah requesting divine assistance for one’s Torah learning (Halichos Shlomoh, 14:11).

Yom Tov versus Shabbos

Does the prohibition against requesting personal supplications apply only on Shabbos, or does it apply equally on Yom Tov? This topic is discussed by the halachic authorities in a variety of places.

The Magen Avraham (128:70) notes that although the custom among Ashkenazim outside Eretz Yisroel is to duchen only on Yom Tov, some communities do not duchen when Yom Tov falls on Shabbos. He suggests the reason for this practice is because the members of the congregation recite the prayer for bad dreams when the kohanim duchen, and that, if the kohanim duchen on Shabbos, people will say this prayer on Shabbos, which violates the prohibition against reciting personal supplications. The Magen Avraham states that there is no concern with reciting this prayer on Yom Tov, notwithstanding the fact that it qualifies as a personal supplication. Although he certainly agrees that one may not recite personal supplications on Yom Tov, he rallies evidence that there is a difference between Yom Tov and Shabbos regarding the severity of this prohibition. After all, we omit reciting the prayer Avinu Malkeinu on Rosh Hashanah when it falls on Shabbos, yet we have no problem with reciting Avinu Malkeinu when Rosh Hashanah falls on a weekday. We could similarly demonstrate this difference between Yom Tov and Shabbos from the fact that we recite certain personal requests and the 13 midos of Hashem when we take out the sefer Torah on Yom Tov, but refrain from reciting these prayers when Yom Tov falls on Shabbos.

However, the Shulchan Aruch (Orach Chayim 576:12) implies that there is no difference between Yom Tov and Shabbos – that personal requests are prohibited equally on both days, a position reiterated by other later authorities (Shu”t Rav Pe’alim 2:46). It appears that Ashkenazim and Sefardim differ as to the accepted position. Ashkenazim follow the ruling of the Magen Avraham and are more lenient on Yom Tov, whereas Sefardim are stricter about reciting personal requests on Yom Tov.

Kibud Av versus Kavod Shabbos

At this point, I would like to address the third question asked above: “Michal’s father asks her to arrange a minyan to daven on his behalf on Shabbos. May she?”

To answer this question, I refer to a responsum on a related topic from Rav Moshe Feinstein.

On the last day of Pesach, someone who was seriously ill, but not a sakanas yom, requested that the members of a shul pray on his behalf. They then recited a few chapters of Tehillim on his behalf and recited the appropriate prayer. After Yom Tov, they were able to ask Rav Moshe whether they had done the correct thing.

Rav Moshe ruled that although this was not a sakanas yom, since the ill person himself had requested that they pray on his behalf, and he was in a situation of general pikuach nefesh, it was proper that they prayed on his behalf. Although ordinarily one may not pray on someone’s behalf if it is not a sakanas yom, in this situation we do pray on his behalf out of concern that he would become upset, which could aggravate his precarious condition. This concept is called shelo titrof daato, that the ill person should not become distressed, and is used in several different halachic contexts.

However, Rav Moshe notes, this ruling applies only when the ill person himself made the request. If family members ask that people pray on his behalf on Shabbos, one should not accede to their request, if it is not a case of sakanas yom (Shu”t Igros Moshe, Orach Chayim 1:105).

At this point, I would like to refer to the last question I raised above: “On Shabbos morning, Shlomoh asks the shul’s gabbai. “My father will be having surgery this week. Can we say a chapter of Tehillim on his behalf after davening, when everyone is still in shul?”

The answer to the question is that since there is no sakanas hayom here and the ill person himself was not the source of the request, one should not say Tehillim and daven for him until after Shabbos.

Conclusion

The words of Yeshaya that include the words dabeir davar are read as part of the haftarah that we recite on Yom Kippur. There the Navi concludes “If you remove your internal yoke from yourself, pointing fingers at one another and evil speech… then Hashem will always guide you… if you refrain from doing your matters on My holy day… you honor it by not performing your own matters, seeking out your own needs and speaking of them. Then you will delight with Hashem and I will mount you on the highest places on Earth. I will feed you the heritage of your father Yaakov, for Hashem has spoken.”