Prayer Essentials

For the week ending 23 January 2016 / 13 Shevat 5776

The Prayers of the Righteous - Part 2

by Rabbi Yitzchak Botton
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Choni “the Circle Maker”

In the Land of Israel, rain falls only in the winter. One winter there was no rain. Spring had almost arrived. Under the threat of famine the Rabbis decreed days of fasting and prayers to invoke G-d’s mercy, but to no avail.

Finally, the Rabbis turned to Choni “HaMe’ageil”, “the circle-maker”, a leading Torah scholar known for his outstanding piety, and they said to him: “Pray for rain!”

He answered, “Go out and bring in the Pesach ovens so that they do not dissolve [in the rain].” He prayed, but no rain fell. What did he do? He drew a circle, stood in it and said, “Master of the World, Your children have turned to me because I am like a household member before You. I swear by Your great Name that I shall not move from here until You have mercy on Your children.” Rain began to trickle. He said, “Not such rain did I request, but rain that will fill the water holes, ditches and caves” (where drinking water is stored). It began to rain down with fury. He said, “Not such rains did I request, rather rains of good will, blessing and benevolence.” The rains began to fall normally, until the Jews had to leave Jerusalem for the high ground of the Temple Mount because of the rain (Ta’anit 19a).

Master of Miracles

Until today, there are some communities whose High Holiday prayers include the prayer, “G-d of Rabbi Meir, answer us”. This custom dates back to early times, finding its source in the Talmud:

Rabbi Meir’s sister in-law was taken captive. Rabbi Meir went to try to save her. He tried to bribe the Roman guard with a large sum of money, telling him to use half for himself and the other half to bribe his superiors, but the guard asked, “What will I do when this money runs out?”

Rabbi Meir answered: “Just call out: ‘G-d of Meir, answer me!’”

The guard was doubtful that this would help, so Rabbi Meir proved it. He angered some killer dogs that were in the vicinity, and as the dogs lunged to attack him, Rabbi Meir cried: “G-d of Meir, answer me!” The dogs retreated, the guard was convinced, and Rabbi Meir’s sister-in-law went free.

Eventually, the guard was caught for his “crime” of freeing the girl and was sentenced to be hanged. He called out, “G-d of Meir, answer me!” and was saved (Avodah Zara 18a).

From all of the above sources we see just how farreaching the words of the righteous are. Regarding the power of their prayers our Sages say, “The righteous person decrees and the Holy One, blessed is He, fulfills the request. (Ta’anit 23a)

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