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October 4, 2015 / 21 Tishri, 5776
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G-d Expects More From Us


Question: The Talmud (Berachot 33b) notes that it is improper to implore G-d: “Just as You have shown mercy upon a bird’s nest [with the mitzvah of shiluach ha’kan], so, too, may you have mercy and compassion on us.” Why is this prayer improper?

Answer: The following is based on a taped shiur of HaGaon HaRav Yoshe Ber Soloveitchik, z”l:

Animals and humans are treated differently by Hashem. Animals aren’t obligated to act in a certain manner. G-d sustains the animal world without any regard to its morality. As Psalm 145 states: “u’masbia l’chol chai ratzon – you satisfy the desire of every living thing.” Life for animals is the result of an act of kindness by G-d.

Human beings are not granted such grace. They have goals to achieve and standards that must be maintained.

Let us imagine a worker hired by the hour to complete a specific task. In the middle of the job, he says to his employer, “I’m leaving, pay me for the entire job.” No employer would honor his request. The fact that the employer may give large sums to charity does not mean or imply that he will pay employees more than the amount agreed upon.

So too, one cannot assume that G-d’s treatment of human beings will be the same as His treatment of animals. Animals are graced with benevolent kindness and charity since they have no Torah to uphold. Human beings, though, have rules that must be observed. Rewards are granted for fulfilling mitzvot and punishments are meted out for nonobservance.

A prayer, therefore, that asks G-d to extend the mercy He grants animals to human beings obscures the fine distinction between these two worlds. In a way, one is asking for a dilution of the efficacy of “reward and punishment” and seeking a life without standards. Accordingly, such a prayer is improper.

About the Author: Rabbi Cohen, a Jerusalem Prize recipient, is the author of eight sefarim on Jewish law. His latest, “Jewish Prayer the Right Way” (Urim Publications), is available at Amazon.com and select Judaica stores.

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5 Responses to “G-d Expects More From Us”


  2. Please tell me why you spell God like this…..G-d????

  3. Jun Sagal says:

    Peggy Sparks Browning
    Exodus 20:7
    “You shall not take the name of the Lord your God in vain, for the Lord will not hold him guiltless who takes his name in vain.

  4. Never saw it that way before. Not that I think humans should pray for mercy or favor in any case. When so many others who have a more humble, honorable spirit go hungry or suffer in other ways, it's sort of selfish to ask for favors they aren't getting. Of course that doesn't stop me from praying for mercy and favor for others. I want to smack the televangelists that tell people to pray for wealth, cars, and prestige though. We should probably spend more time thanking Him for what mercy and favor He's already given us.

  5. Gary Harper says:

    I have been taught that it is always improper to pray for something personal, unless it includes all who are in the same circumstances. And you are to still exclude yourself, so you can ask for the right thing. If you are deserving, you will be included in the answer. It is far better not to pray for any earthly things at all. Who knows what the purpose and instruction to be found in the particular circumstances are? And why question the Will of God? If this Goy prays at all, it is for revelation, and for all of man, never for myself. I make it short and sweet, for no one is impressed, least of all God. I do thanksgiving prayers, though. There is no reason not to celebrate the gifts I have received. I have everything a man could ask for; and it does not include position, material goods, or any degree of wealth. They are all transient stumbling blocks that have been cleared from my path. I have health, good food, clean water, a warm home, love, inner peace, and God to contemplate all day long. What else is there that is of any value to anyone?

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