From the Sources
Praying for Others
Rav said: Whoever has it in his power to pray on behalf of his neighbor, and fails to do so, is called a sinner.
Talmud Bavli, Berachot 12b
If there is one thing that characterizes Jewish prayer, it is the emphasis on praying as a community, both across time and across space. Whether the constant use of second person, “we” language in our prayer book’s petitions, or the insistence on daily prayer in a minyan, the context of Jewish prayer is communal. So much so that even when davenning alone on top of a mountain, one does not pray in a vacuum. Even my personal, unscripted prayers emerge within the deep sea of my People’s yearning.
In this statement from the third century, Babylonian rabbi Rav, the communal context receives philosophical articulation and is taken to the next level. To pray only for oneself is worse than not praying at all.
Surrender and humility are essential moves in spiritual life. But the way to submit to God is not always to focus directly on God, something particularly difficult for those who do not share the traditional take on a personal God. One important way to serve God, Rav reminds us, is to serve others.
Rabbi Mike Comins
A Rabbinic Anthology
C. G. Montefiore and H. Loewe
New York: Schocken Books, 1974
Published by Jewish Lights