Tze Ulmad B'ha·alot'kha

Weekly Talmud Learning with Rabbi Mordecai Schwartz, director of Admissions, The Rabbinical School, JTS

Talmud Shabbat 12a-b

One who visits the sick [on Shabbat should] say, "Shabbat restrains us from crying out, and healing will swiftly arrive." Rabbi Meir says, "Perhaps [Shabbat] will deliver mercy." Rabbi Yehuda says, "May the Omnipresent be merciful to you and the sick of [the People] Israel." Rabbi Yose says, "May the Omnipresent be merciful to you among the sick of [the People] Israel."

Shabbat and prayer are deeply connected in the mind of the contemporary Jew. Shabbat is the time when many of us engage in public prayer each week. Though most Conservative synagogues have a weekday minyan, usually its attendance is much smaller than that of the Shabbat service. So it is surprising when we discover that our Sages frowned on the practice of making personal requests of God on Shabbat. Though the weekday service includes a plethora of requests, for such things as rain, prosperity, protection from one's enemies, and good health, the classical Shabbat service is largely devoid of these types of requests. In the mind of our Sages, Shabbat is to be a refuge from our troubles, a time when we avoid thinking of them. Focusing our Shabbat prayer life on our mundane problems would lead us to think about our workaday concerns unduly.

But, what about the sick? Health is such a basic concern that when it is lacking, whether in ourselves or in a loved one, it is impossible not to think about. Our Sages recognized this and formulated prayers that would fulfill the human need to pray for the sick, even on Shabbat, while preserving the important principle that Shabbat is not a time for personal requests. The first two strategies in the above passage focus on making the healing powers of Shabbat known to the sick person. The second two make the request universal (or at least include all Jewish sick people) rather than personal. May we all know the power of the Shabbat to heal us in the days to come.

Questions:

  1. Does Shabbat have the power to heal? How?
  2. Do you agree with the notion that we should make no personal requests of God on Shabbat? Why or why not?