May One Pray For Others To Become More Observant

(This should not be relied upon for practical halacha. When a question arises a Rabbi should be consulted.)

The poskim debate whether one is permitted to pray to Hashem to cause others to become more observant. On the one hand, we know that prayer is one of the cornerstones of Judaism. On the other hand, G-d allows for people to have free will and perhaps asking Hashem to help someone become more observant is a violation of the other person’s free will. [It is worthy to note that one is absolutely permitted and advised to daven for Hashem to help himself become more religious. In this instance it is not a compromise of his free will, since he wishes to become more observant (Yaaros Devash Derush 1, see however Luach Eres 22 for a possible dissenting view).]

The Gemara (Brachos 10) relates that there were a group of people who used to trouble and harass Rav Meir. Rav Meir wished to pray that they should die. However, his wife Beruryah told him that it would be preferable to pray that they stop sinning and repent. And that is exactly what Rav Meir did. He prayed to Hashem to help them repent and they repented. One can deduce from this Gemara that it is permitted to pray to Hashem to help others become more observant, as Rav Meir himself did. A similar lenient view can be found in the Zohar Hakadosh. The Zohar adds that it is actually the responsibility of the righteous to pray for those who are less observant in order to help them become more religious (Zohar Medrash Hanelam Vayerah).

However, the Maharsha (commenting on the aforementioned Gemara) questions how it was possible that Rav Meir prayed for others to repent since this seemingly denies their ability to have free will and choose to sin. The Maharsha does not offer an answer to his question. It is thus clear that according to the Maharsha one may not pray for others to become more observant.

The Chazon Ish (Orach Chaim Hashmatos 156) feels that one may ask Hashem to cause others to repent. He explains that since Hashem is only getting involved because He was asked to do so by the “davener”, using his free will, Hashem’s involvement is not contradicting the sinner’s free will. A person has permission to use his free will to affect other people’s lives and in this case he is “using” prayer and Hashem to affect someone else’s life, which in the Chazon Ish’s view is not a contradiction to free will.

Harav Moshe Feinstein zt”l (Igros Moshe vol. 4 40:13) discusses this issue. He rules in accordance with the Maharsha and maintains that one may not ask Hashem to cause others to become more observant. How then did Rav Meir pray for others to repent? Harav Moshe explains that many times a person will sin, not in order to rebel against Hashem, but because of their circumstance and in their mind they feel that they have no choice. For example, if someone is very poor he may choose to steal because he mistakenly concludes that he has no choice. And if this person were to have sufficient funds he might not sin. Therefore, writes Harav Moshe, one may pray to Hashem to change someone’s circumstance which in turn may lead them to choose not to sin. This was the situation with Rav Meir. The group of people who were harassing Rav Meir were doing so primarily due to their situation in life and Rav Meir felt that if their circumstances were different they would repent on their own, and that is exactly what happened.

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