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I find it so tough to pray for people who are terminally ill. I try to have faith and remind myself of the miraculous recoveries I have witnessed that have left the doctors stumped. But my attempts to have faith rarely really help. I find it next to impossible to open up that book of Psalms when I’m in a rush, as usual, and the truth is that deep down I believe it’s really a waste of time to pray for a person who, the doctors say, has only a few weeks or months left to live.

I think this response to a question posed to Rabbi Lazer Brody, translator of the Garden of Emuna and author of the wonderful Lazer Beams blog, to be extremely helpful. Rabbi Lazer explains how prayers help a sick person, even if that person eventually dies. I think this is really important to read. May ever sick person receive a full and miraculous recovery!

Dear Rabbi Lazer,

I don’t know if tears on a keyboard can cause a short circuit or not, but my fingers are slipping because the keys are all wet. A couple of minutes ago, I was informed that my best friend died of cancer in the brain. In between sobs, I’m typing this letter to you, because I need some consolation. For six straight weeks I’ve been begging G-d to save my friend, doubling up on my davening (praying) and saying Tehillim (Psalms) every day. I feel like Hashem doesn’t care about me or my prayers. What’s the use of pouring our heart out if in the end our prayers don’t get answered? Please understand me – I don’t mean to be disrespectful to G-d, I just want to understand. I’m glad you’re available for people like me. Yours gratefully, Joanie from Australia

Dear Joanie,

May The Almighty comfort you at this tragic time of your untimely loss. Losing a close friend is even more difficult than losing a pound of flesh, since the souls of true friends are intertwined in a spiritual bond.

You can be comforted with the knowledge that not a single syllable of your prayers and Psalms has gone to waste. In a way, we’re like little children – when G-d doesn’t grant us what we want, we cry. I promise you, though, that Hashem always does for the best. The fact that we don’t understand, doesn’t alter the fact.

Here’re a few important things to know about prayers one says in behalf of others:

Point one: Prayers often act to reduce a sick person’s suffering in some manner.

Point two: Prayers have the ability to extend a sick person’s life by a few months, weeks, days or even a few hours. Halacha forbids hastening a death in any way, since each moment of life is more precious than the Hope Diamond. Your prayers more than likely added some extra time units to your friend’s life. For this, you can be joyous, because your deceased friend – may Hashem grant him/her eternal peace – will now be a “melitz” (mediator) on your behalf in the Heavenly Court. Anytime an accusing angel asks for a stiff verdict against you, your friend’s soul will jump up in protest. You couldn’t buy such a defense attorney for all the tea in China.

Point three: Even if the prayers effected no change in your friend’s condition, they still are a source of merit for him/her, since prayer arouses Heavenly compassion, and your prayers were said because of the price of suffering that your friend was paying. These merits will stand by your friend in the World to Come.

Point four: Prayers bring salvation to other individuals and to the community as a whole. When Moshiach comes, we’ll learn how each prayer uttered by each individual invoked Divine compassion and brought blessings to the world.

Now is your time for mourning, and again, may you be consoled among the other mourners for Zion and Jerusalem. In the long haul, Joanie, you should rejoice. I can just imagine the joy that Hashem gets when he hears His daughter Joanie from the far-away continent of Australia calling out His name. By virtue of your continued prayers, Moshiach is a little closer. Continue talking to Hashem more than ever, and I’m sure that you’ll be granted all your heart’s wishes for the very best, b’ezrat Hashem. Yours always, Lazer
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