Kenneth Cohen

Prayers of the Righteous

The Talmud in Masechet Brachot, tells the story of Rabbi Chanina Ben Dosa, regarding prayer. He commented that if he prayed for two sick people, and with one he felt that his prayer was “fluent in his mouth,” or שגורה בפיו, he knew that person would recover. If it was not “fluent in his mouth,” the ailing individual would not recover.

The Noam Elimelech, one of the great Chassidic masters, commented on this story. It seems puzzling that the prayers of a great Tzaddik, could change G-d’s mind. We believe that there is no knowledge not known to Him. How are we to understand Rabbi Chanina Ben Dosa.

The Noam Elimelech explains that when a person is healed because of prayer, there is no change. All of this already existed potentially in the Infinite Being.

The entire sequence was already laid out, that an individual would be sick, that a righteous person would pray for him, and that the prayer would have a beneficial effect.

When Rabbi Chanina said that the prayer was fluent, he meant that it was familiar. He was playing the role of the Tzaddik who would heal. When he did not feel that familiarity praying for another person, he was not left with the same confidence of his cure.

There is no knowledge removed from G-d. We are meant to fulfill our purpose in this world. But we must never forget how small we are in the realm of things, and how awesome Hashem is, compared to lowly man.

About the Author
Rabbi Cohen has been a Torah instructor at Machon Meir, Jerusalem, for over twenty years while also teaching a Talmud class in the Shtieblach of Old Katamon. Before coming to Israel, he was the founding rabbi of Young Israel of Century City, Los Angeles. He recently published a series of Hebrew language-learning apps, which are available at