Q & A: Ask the Rabbi

Praying for the Wicked

Dear Rabbi,

I heard a lesson about the trait of kindness and I understood that our father Abraham’s praying for the people of Sodom was the quintessential act of kindness since it was totally altruistic. My question is how does this relate to us today? Are we supposed to pray that wicked people who G-d wants to destroy should live? What about Jews estranged from Judaism or strongly oppose a life of Torah Judaism for themselves?
To the Questioner,

The Talmud in Berachot (10a) teaches us that one should not pray for the physical destruction even of sinners:
“There were outlaws who lived in the neighborhood of Rabi Meir, and they would bother him greatly. Rabi Meir would pray that they should die. His wife, Bruriyah, said to him: “What is your reasoning to pray they should die? Is it because it says in Psalms (104-35): ‘Sins should be eradicated from the Earth’? Is it written that [the] ‘Sinners’ [themselves should be eradicated?] – It is only written that [the] ‘Sins’ [should be eradicated]…Rather, you should pray that they should repent, and then automatically the end of that verse will take place: “there will be no more sins in the land and there shall be no more wicked people”. He then prayed that they repent and they indeed repented.”

We learn from this incident that we should pray that wicked people should repent – that they learn what is true in life and then be able to do the right thing.

Regarding Jewish people who are far from observing a Torah lifestyle, many Halachic authorities are of the opinion that such Jews are not considered wicked at all – since their lack of knowledge is from no fault of theirs (Rambam, Peirush Hamishnayot Chulin 1-2, Binyan Tziyon 2-23). One should therefore never pray that such a Jewish person be harmed– even if his lack of knowledge has brought him to choose a different path for himself.

Regarding any groups who feel antipathy toward G-d or the Torah lifestyle, we should pray that they perceive the truth as it really is, and that they come around to appreciating that truth and embracing it, making it part of their lives.
With Blessings,
Rav Nachum


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