Hi Rabbi. A friend of mine who is trying to get married told me that he went to the Ohel to pray. Since when do Jews ask human beings (living or otherwise) for blessings? Don’t we just pray directly to G‑d?


You’re right, we Jews do not pray to human beings. We pray only to G‑d. Just that sometimes we enlist others to pray along with us.

That’s why Abraham prayed for Abimelech to be healed, Moses prayed for the Israelites numerous times, and the list goes on and on.

The Talmud (Bava Batra 116a) tells us, "If there is someone ill in your house, go to the wise man of the city and ask that he should pray for him." Of course, this does not mean that you do not need to pray as well, but that he should pray along with you.

Jews are not allowed to have an intermediary between ourselves and G‑d. But because all Jews are connected, when this other person is praying for you, he is praying for himself as well. The entire Jewish People are really one, and whatever happens with one of us affects all the rest of us.

But if you are not deserving of G‑d’s blessing beforehand, how could a holy person change that? The answer is that often a person is deserving, but in isolation, he is not properly connected to G‑d. Like a limb on a body, each member of the Jewish people must be properly attached in order to be healthy and functioning. As the head of the body, the holy person helps him make that connection, creating a channel for him to receive that which he should receive—which is basically what a blessing is. And if he is truly not deserving, the rabbi will teach him what he needs to do in order to be deserving.

But what about those who have passed on? The righteous, tradition tells us, continue to live even after death (Berachot 18a). And just as they would have prayed for you during their lifetimes, they certainly continue to do so from their spiritual station, joining us as we pray for whatever we and our loved ones need.

How Jewish is it to seek their prayers? Turns out this practice also has very old Jewish roots, dating back to the days of Moses. The Torah intimates that Caleb, one of the twelve spies sent to spy out the Land of Canaan, made a personal detour to Hebron. Why? The Talmud (Sotah 34b) tells that he wished to pray at the cave where Abraham, Sarah, Isaac, Rebecca, Jacob and Leah are buried. He prayed there for mercy on his soul and he was saved from the fateful decision of the other spies.

For more on this topic, I suggest that you have a look at this excellent article by Rabbi Tzvi Freeman for a thorough discussion of this matter.