Praying for Spiritual Matters
We have quoted in the past Maran Rabbeinu Ovadia Yosef zt”l’s words regarding one of the “Harachaman” texts customarily recited in Birkat Hamazon, “May the Merciful One sustain us in permissible ways as opposed to forbidden ones,” that although our Sages teach us that “everything is in Heaven’s hands besides for fear of Heaven,” nevertheless, one may indeed pray about issues related to fear of G-d, i.e. that one merit growing in Torah learning and fear of Heaven, for Hashem is the One who helps man overcome his evil inclination and prayer can sometimes help one to overcome his evil inclination more than usual.
Based on this, if one, G-d forbid, has a child, relative, or friend who has strayed from the proper path of Torah observance, one may pray for him and beseech Hashem that He infuse this individual with a spirit of purity and that he merit repenting before Hashem.
Based on what we have discussed in the previous Halacha that one may insert one’s own personal requests into the Amida prayer, if one wishes to pray for someone to repent, one should insert this prayer into the blessing of “Hashivenu Avinu Le’Toratecha” (the fifth blessing of the Amida prayer), for this is the blessing which discusses the topic of repentance.
One should insert the text of one’s prayer before concluding the blessing, meaning that before he recites “Baruch Ata Hashem Ha’Rotzeh Bitshuva, ” one should add, “May it be Your will, Hashem our G-d and the G-d of our fathers, that You dig a tunnel under Your Holy Throne to accept the repentance of all of the sinners of Israel, and similarly may You cause so-and-so (insert name) son/daughter of so-and-so (insert mother’s name) to repent fully, for Your right hand is outstretched to accept those who are repentant.”
This point is further elucidated in the Gemara in Masechet Berachot (10a) where Beruria, wife of Rabbi Meir, told her husband that he should not be praying for the wicked to die; rather, he should pray for them to repent, as the verse states, “May sins perish from the earth,” and not “May sinners perish.” We see from here that one should pray for wicked people to repent. This is what we pray for during the Days of Awe (Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur) by saying, “And everyone shall unite into one group to perform Your will with a complete heart.”
Our leader, the great and holy Gaon, Rabbeinu Moshe Alshich, who was a disciple of the saintly Ari z”l, had a son who strayed from the Torah’s path. Rav Moshe was truly pained by this and asked the Ari z”l to pray that his son repent and return to the proper path. The Ari z”l instructed him to pray for his son in the blessing of “Hashivenu,” and even proceeded to give him a special Kabbalistic Kavanah (deep concentration on a Holy name) for this matter.
Rabbeinu Chaim Vital writes that upon following the advice of the Ari z”l for some time, Rabbeinu Moshe Alshich saw results and his son returned to the Jewish religion after converting out of it. (This incident is quoted in Yalkut Yosef, Tefillah, Volume 2, page 64.) It is especially auspicious when a mother or grandmother prays from the depths of her soul for her children and grandchildren to grow up on the path of the Torah, for a woman’s prayer is very precious to Hashem when it comes from the bottom of the heart accompanied by the proper emotions.
Rabbeinu Sa’adia Gaon zt”l writes that any prayer which is not for a personal materialistic purpose and is merely for the honor of Hashem, for instance, when one prays for Jews to repent and the like, is especially accepted by Hashem. Even if the one praying is not worthy of having his prayers answered, Hashem still accepts this prayer since he has prayed for the honor of Hashem, the One who accepts prayers and desires repentance.