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Feb 15, 2012

Rav Benny Lau Upsets Many With Comments About Prayers For Rav Elyashiv

Rav Benny Lau, a rav in Jerusalem and rav of a number of organizations, has set off a firestorm of anger with his comments n Rav Elyashiv's situation.

Rav Lau spoke of the intense prayers being offered for Rav Elyashiv to recover. Rav Lau wrote on his Facebook page:
In the news they are reporting that the treatment Rav Elyashiv underwent has failed, and he is currently on a respirator and is unconscious. 
I am reminded of the image of Rav Yehuda HaNasi that fell deathly ill, and outside his mansion the students congregated and were relentless in prayer, in order to prevent the Angel of Death from completing his work. The maidservant of rav Yehuda HaNasi was one of the only people who saw him as a person and not as an image, but as a person who was actually suffering in pain. At first she asked the students to overcome the Angel of Death, but then she changed her prayer and requested that the upper spheres should overcome the lower spheres. She then threw down a ceramic jug, and the shattering noise caused the students to stop praying for a moment. In that moment, sans prayers, Rav Yehuda passed away. 
From the prayer of that maidservant we learn the halacha that sometimes it is appropriate to pray to allow the neshama to leave the rebellious body. This is how the Ran concludes in Masechet Nedarim, as Rav Moshe Feinstein explained it in igros Moshe. 
We too should daven that Rav Elyashiv, who lived his entire life in modesty and completely dedicated to the goal of keep the Jewish people connected to the Torah, he should find quiet and rest and the physical pains should leave him, soon in our time. 

In the original Hebrew:
בחדשות מוסרים שהטיפול האחרון ברב אלישיב כשל וכעת הוא מונשם ומורדם. אני נזכר בתמונה של רבי יהודה הנשיא שקרס לתוך גופו ומחוץ לארמונו התגודדו התלמידים ושאגו בתפילה, על מנת למנוע ממלאך המוות להשלים את מלאכתו. שפחתו של בית רבי הייתה מהיחידים שראו את אדונה לא בדמיונות אלא כמראה בשר ודם - איש מיוסר מכאבים. בתחילה עוד בקשה שהתלמידים העומדים למטה יכניעו את מלאך המוות אך לאחר זמן שינתה את תפילתה וביקשה "יהי רצון שיכופו עליונים את התחתונים". הפילה לארץ כד של חרס ובנפילתו נשתתקו קולות התפילה ונסתלק רבי מן העולם. מתפילתה של אותה שפחה למדנו הלכה שלעיתים נכון וראוי להתפלל להניח לנשמה להסתלק מן הגוף הבוגדני. כך מסיק להלכה הר"ן במסכת נדרים דף מ כפי שמביאו הרב משה פיינשטיין (אגרות משה חושן משפט ב, עג). אף אנו נתפלל שהרב יוסף שלום אלישיב, שחי כל חייו בצניעות ובמסירות במטרה לשמור על עם ישראל מחובר לתורתו, ימצא שקט ומנוחה ויסתלק מכל ייסורי הגוף, השתא בעגלא ובזמן קריב

Many are upset, saying that he has no right to say such a thing, to call for prayers for Rav Elyashiv's death.

I see nothing wrong with davening for a recovery (not what Rav Lau suggested), no matter how remote the chances of this are. Not just to continue existing as he is right now, but to recover. Some claims to the contrary disturb me. I have heard, both in conversation and from reading forums and talkbacks, some people say that he should be kept alive and davened for, even if just remaining in his current state. They reason that as long as he is alive he protects us (that made me think of him as "the national mezuza") and while he is suffering he provides a form of kappara for us. People are saying that even if he were to remain in his current situation, we should continue to extend it and daven for it to continue so we can receive our kappara.

To me that sounds absurd. I have no problem with the concept of the death, or suffering, of tzaddikim bringing kappara to the people. Even if I don't understand it, I have no problem accepting it. But to demand, or to daven, that Rav Elyashiv (or anyone else) should be forced to continue to suffer so that we could get a kappara, is just selfish and sick. To daven for him to continue suffering? That is absurd! Daven for a recovery, or don't daven. but to daven for the situation to continue as is for selfish reasons is ridiculous.

Anyway, Rav Benny Lau saw some of the criticism of his statement on various websites and posted a further comment. he quoted more source material on the subject from the gemara, and then brought the explanation of the Ran. he wrote:
Sometimes we must ask for mercy for someone sick that he should die, for example if he is suffering greatly from his sickness and he cannot recover as it says.. ..
From the words of the Ran we understand that there is a reality of a sick person who is going to die, that the doctors have said they have done everything humanly possible to heal and now he is in a state of suffering - for him we daven that he should be redeemed  from his body that is trapping his soul. It is everybody's right, and for sure a gadol like Rav Elyashiv, to be released from the physical limitations trapping his soul.

אין מבקש עליו רחמים לא שיחיה ולא שימות - נראה בעיני דהכי קאמר: פעמים שצריך לבקש רחמים על החולה שימות כגון שמצטער החולה בחליו הרבה ואי אפשר לו שיחיה כדאמרינן בפרק הנושא (כתובות קד - הסיפור על רבי) ומשום הכי קאמר דהמבקר חולה מועילו בתפלתו אפי' לחיות מפני שהיא תפלה יותר מועלת ומי שאינו מבקרו אין צריך לומר שאינו מועילו לחיות אלא אפי' היכא דאיכא ליה הנאה במיתה אפי' אותה זוטרתי אינו מהנהו. 
מדברי הר"ן אנו לומדים שיש מציאות של חולה הנוטה למות שהרופאים אומרים שמיצו את יכולתם האנושית לרפא והוא נתון במציאות של סבל - שמבקשים ומתפללים מהקב"ה שיגאל את האדם מהגוף הכולא את הנשמה. זכותו של כל אדם, ובודאי של גדול ישראל כרב אלישיב, להיות משוחרר ממסגרי הגוף הכולאים את נשמתו.


  1. I'm with R. Lau on this one. In this case I think that similar to a "don't resuscitate" order, I would say stop praying and fasting and accept that nature is taking its course. Hashem natan, hashem lakakh.

  2. it's interesting that you have no problem with righteous people suffering for your sins.

    The last time Jews had Israel that became a popular concept then as well, look how that turned out.

  3. I would venture that nowadays there is a big difference. We have painkillers. We have hospice programs and specialists in palliative care. [Note: The fact that many ill patients do not use these services is besides the point - the services are there for the taking and should be used.]

    The pain that R' Yehuda HaNassi went through is not something that should occur nowadays. I would say that Rav Elyashiv will never reach such a state - although it is exceedingly unlikely that he will be discharged from the hospital in a state that remotely resembles his original health status.

  4. Way - it's not often that I agree with you, but on this score I am with you. This Rebbe-worship shtick is leading Judaism down a very slippery path.

  5. The medical technology has done nothing more than interrupt the inevitable process of death. It has not "cured" him and will not "cure" him.

    I would think that the parallel to Rabbu Yehuda HaNassi applies, not withstanding the palliative care and the possibility that the Rav is in a coma.

    The Rav Lau question is not how aggressive his care should be -- that as well is an interesting question, but a different one -- but what we should daven for.

  6. There are times when someone is told that it is a show of emunah to continue to daven, but that it would be inappropriate to "storm the heavens" - to daven with all your might indefinitely for basically a miracle.

    Of course if a fast has been called by the other remaining Gadol of that era, they aren't saying let it be at this point.

  7. I was taught that in such situations you pray that HKB"H does what is best for the individual in question.
    Joel Rich

  8. I think Joel Rich is onto something.

    The fact that we are connected and concerned enough to pray for a person can add to his merits, which can affect "what is best" now for him.

  9. I find some of the comments here interesting.

    Many here have issues with "rebbe worship", Charedi lifestyles (no work, no army, etc.) and other gedolim rated topics.

    And yet I know some of you have bought into this system yourselves.

    While you may profess to be open minded, tolerant, etc. you have placed your children into educational systems that indoctrinate their students with the same ideals that you repudiate.

    If you truly don't believe in such hashkafa why throw your children into their midrassas?

  10. Confounded: I think it's a case of "pick your poison". The Charedi schools have their issues, and the DL schools have theirs. There is no perfect school. I chose a school for my son (Darchei Noam), which I believe has a healthy balance of kodesh and chol, and a generally sane approach to education. I'm less enthused about the charedi school where my daughters go, but given the alternatives, where the girls at some DL schools are really pushing the halachic envelope in terms of hanging out with boys, pants under skirts, 19 earrings between two ears, one nose and sometimes other features - I think I prefer the more sweet, eidel environment over the more intellectually challenging one.

  11. There are schools in RBS that are not Charedi or DL but "in between".

    It should be duly noted that many of the so called "park kids" are products of the sweeter, more eidel environment of the Charedi schools.

  12. Chani: Pray tell which schools I'm missing? If there's a (girls') school out there that takes both kodesh and chol seriously, has a sane hashkafa, and does not have a "pushing the halachic envelope" syndrome, I want to know about it.

    And as for the comment that some of the "park kids" come from Charedi schools - that is true, but let's look at the proportions. If as much as 10% of the "park kids" come from Charedi schools, I'll be very surprised.

  13. R' Lau didn't make this up, he is simply quoting an Igros Moshe who applies the Gemara by Rebbe nowadays (1978). See Should we be davening for R' Elyashiv to live? for a more in-depth analysis.

  14. Totally agree with R. Lau. Both with my father z"l almost 11 months ago and with a friend of mine more recently, I davened for a peaceful end to suffering, not for a miracle cure in a hopeless situation.

  15. Totally agree with Rav Lau and don't understand at all this idea of a rebbe's suffering as a kapara for people.

  16. 1. Finally, a Rabbi who is able to express my thoughts. I have been asking why people are literally freaking out that 90+ year old person - albeit a gadol - is sick and dying? I said tehillim too, but only with the thought of, let him get well or let him pass peacefully but take the pain away.

    |But people here are making it sound as if this is the worst thing to befall Judaism. granted we lose a posek, but really, how much of what is quoted in his name recently is really true anyway?

    to Confounded: that's why I chose a school that does not teach that idea of rebbe worship. There are some schools out there

  17. Moshe: unfortunately painkillers and palliative care are not everything. First of all they don't always work. Second even if you don't suffer as much physically, being trapped in your body, unable to move, see, study, having people taking care of your bodily needs, etc., etc., is in no way better. Really, even without physical pain, old age illnesses can be worse than death r"l.
    I don't know Rav Eliyashiv situation, but I pray that he doesn't suffer either way. The rest I leave in the hands of He who knows best.

  18. I think the takeaway here is less about "to daven or not to daven" and much more about how we are viewing Rav Elyashiv: as an individual human being who is suffering and needs rachmei shamayim or as a communal talisman? Once again, most people seem to be missing the point.

  19. I understand why the Lubavitchers felt as if the world was coming to an end when Rebbe was dying, but I didn't expect to see this among non-Chasidim. Maybe it's misplaced anxiety about economic factors and other issues that might mean the beginning of the end of the chareidi lifestyle?

  20. Imperfect,

    Perhaps you should take a look at Ahavat Yisroel/Rappaport.

    The girls there have a proper sense of tznius and a healthy outlook on life.

    No "pushing the envelope" there.

    And regarding the "park kids" (many of whom my husband and I have hosted, the majority are from Charedi schools. You should listen to what they have to say about the charedi system..they are quite wise and experienced.

  21. tesyaa: interesting parallel to lubavitch, but they have grown by leaps and bounds since the rebbe died.

    re rav lau: does he truly believe that שהרב יוסף שלום אלישיב, שחי כל חייו בצניעות ובמסירות במטרה לשמור על עם ישראל מחובר לתורתו,
    not that the man should suffer, but let us be honest about whom we are discussing.

  22. "I was taught that in such situations you pray that HKB"H does what is best for the individual in question."

    Reb Joel, what is your Hava Amina? That without the prayers the RBSA would NOT do the best thing?

  23. R' Snag,
    Your question goes to the nature of prayer - see here for a great summary: http://vbm-torah.org/archive/faith/12faith.htm
    each approach has strngths and weaknesses.

    As a general rule I try to remember to end my prayers with " that's what I think, but if you have a better idea, let's go with yours"

    Joel RIch

  24. "Imperfect world", I think you would be very surprised.

  25. Snag - that leads to question the entire institution of prayer. Everything we ask for, one could say why ask for it or anything, doesnt the RBSO know what is best for us and will do the best as He sees fit?

  26. To Snag:

    First of all on terminology:
    I have always seen RBSA as an abbreviation for Ramat Bet Shemesh Alef, and not for the Ribono Shel Olam (which might be abbreviated RSO, but I am not fond of the proliferation of abbreviations anyway).

    As far as what the Kadosh Baruch Hu would do:
    We always pray to Him, even though we know that He knows better than we do what should be.
    There is the famous "SheHu Yimalei et Mishalot Libeinu LETOVAH" (That HE should fulfill our requests for the best), since only HaShem knows what is best in the absolute sense.

    So it seems to me to be quite proper to pray to HaShem for a person who is suffering; but we can only pray that whatever is best for the world occur. This could mean the person's miraculous recovery, or it could mean other things which would relieve the suffering. However, since only HaShem truly knows what is best, it is even possible that in some situations this might mean some additional suffering for the particular person (though we all hope not), if, for reasons known only to HaShem, that is what is best for the world.

    What we truly need to have is a bit more humility vis-a-vis our standing in the world, whether we be great Talmidei Chachamim or simple Jews.

    Remember that Gemara Berachot (in a passage which also mentions my name) uses Yishmael, the Kohen Gadol, as a metaphor for a common person; because, when compared to HaShem anyone and everyone is simply a common person!

  27. What on earth are "park kids"????

    I'm guessing kids that hang out at a park. But is that such a bad thing? Where else should they hang out?

  28. While the Halachic discussion is instructive and important, it is important to note that the historic fact is that the students of Rabi Yehudah Hansi did not make a decision to stop praying.

    That is what happened then and that is what has happened when great people fell ill throughout history, until today.

    I, for one, will be 'meikel' and follow Rav Chaim Kanievsky's psak.

  29. azh,

    You are right that the talmidim continued davening, but according to the Ran and R' Moshe they were wrong and we pasken like Rebbe's maid that proper thing to do at that time was to daven for Rebbe's death.

  30. Sorry to go off topic...

    "Imperfect World", I quote: "girls at some DL schools are really pushing the halachic envelope in terms of hanging out with boys, pants under skirts, 19 earrings between two ears, one nose and sometimes other features".

    And you think that by sending them to a Haredi institution where they will experience cognitive dissonance between what they do and think and what they are taught is going to help them grow spiritually and personally? Seriously, what do you care about? About external appearances or internal strength? Why do you only decry the external superficial supposed appearance of our dear DL daughters? What about their strong characters, their ideals and spirituality, their courage, their hessed and their involvedness? Where do you get this stereotype from and do you think you will be safe from it? What is the worst scenario that could happen to your daughter? That she should wear pants under her skirt? Like what halacha exactly is she "pushing the envelope" on that? That she shouldn't have too many earrings? What DL schools are you thinking of when you describe a Goth-Punk dress style? And the way she dresses is worst thing that can happen to her?

    I'm sorry but this self satisfied superficial stereotype scare tactics really annoys me. "I send my daughters to a Haredi institution so they will be eidel not like your Goth supposedly religious daughter".

  31. I think we should ask an Askan to get a Psak from R. Elyashiv on what to do...

  32. Mark,

    I agree 100% about the kids in the park. Unfortunately they have been labeled (mostly by those in the charedi/yeshivish circles).

    That is why I used "" when saying park kids.

    They are nice kids, with big hearts that are simply looking for a place to hang out.

    Having been brought up in a place devoid of social activities (ie bowling,malls, etc.) they go to the only place that is open and they can be themselves.

  33. My parents claim I suffered quite a bit because they judged the high school I eventually wound up in- to my benefit- based on how the students dressed. It took a bit of trouble in the "better" places before I wound up there, though.

    Kol HaKavod to R' Lau for having the courage to say aloud and publicly what many of us have been thinking and whispering. (Full disclosure: I daven in his shul and have long enjoyed his shiurim and books.)

  34. Again, the point of tefilla is NOT to give the RBSO permission to do what He thinks is best. Of course He will; it is the opportunity that He gave us to communicate with Him about what we want. The point is for us to consider why we want what we are asking for and hopefully realize that most people are using and dehumanizing rabbanim like Rav Elyashiv for their personal/communal interests and don't even have the ability to see him as as person in pain! It's just sick.

  35. Unfortunately, the haredi gedolim are not offering viable solutions for the future of Judaism. We need more rabbis like HaRav David Bar-Hayim.


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