Too much prayer?

“Longevity, Children and Livelihood are not dependant on Merit, but rather on Mazal (luck).” – Rava, Babylonian Talmud, Moed Katan 28a.

There is a commonly held belief in Judaism, propagated most popularly in recent generations by followers of some Hassidic groups, that wherever there is some lack or deficiency in human aspirations, it is due to a lack of prayer or righteousness. While this may be true for many people and in many cases, when this principle is taken to an extreme, it is not only wrong – it is dangerous.

Was Moses not righteous enough or did not pray enough for his wish to cross into Israel? Do parents not pray enough for the health of their sick or dying children? Are innocent children lacking in righteousness when they are stricken down? No. It is a fallacy to think that lack of prayer or righteousness is at fault for every situation.

The Ohr Hachayim (on Deuteronomy 6:5) brings the above referenced quote to make a point that may frustrate (or end the frustration engendered by) the belief that prayer or righteousness is the answer to all our needs. Observant Jews read the “Shmah” twice daily as a prime article of faith. The second verse states:

“And you shall love God, your Lord, with all of your heart, with all of your soul, and with all of your means.”

The Ohr Hachayim explains that heart equals children, soul equals longevity, and means equals livelihood. Not everyone is blessed with children, longevity or livelihood. Some who are blessed with these gifts may see it suddenly torn away from them. According to the Ohr Hachayim it does not demonstrate a lack of prayer or righteousness.

He adds that the objective of our statement of faith, is that even if God were to hold back or take these things from us, despite ones physical and spiritual efforts, we need to retain our faith in Him; in His justice, mercy and loving-kindness.  We do not know what Mazal we are born under. We do not know the divine calculations. We can pray. We can do good deeds. But we cannot judge. We cannot believe on one hand that God is unjust or on the other hand that a person has failed in his righteousness or his efforts. We just can’t understand, and those who claim they do – well, I’d steer clear of them.

May we have the Mazal of healthy children, robust longevity and ample livelihood.

Shabbat Shalom,



To all those blessed to have completed the seven and a half year cycle of study of the Bablyonian Talmud and especially to my wife (see video of her wonderful speech on behalf of her group – in Hebrew) and the other dedicated women of Alon Shvut (see video of their concluding ceremony, the recitation of the ‘Hadran’). You are inspirational.

About the Author
Ben-Tzion Spitz is the former Chief Rabbi of Uruguay and a candidate for the Knesset for the Zehut party. He is the author of three books of Biblical Fiction and hundreds of articles and stories dealing with biblical themes. Ben-Tzion is a graduate of Yeshiva University and received his Master’s in Mechanical Engineering from Columbia University.