Sunday, December 16, 2007

Praying during a Famine

The Gemora records an incident (Kesuvos 106a):In the days of Rav Yosef there was a famine. The Rabbis asked Rav Yosef, “Will the master beseech God for mercy?” He replied, “If Elisha, with whom, when his students had departed, there still remained two thousand and two hundred students (who depended on him for their sustenance), did not offer up any prayers for mercy in a time of famine, should I (who have fewer students) offer prayers for mercy?

The commentators ask: Why didn’t Elisha and Rav Yosef pray for rain? Didn’t we learn in Meseches Taanis that there is a mandatory obligation for a series of fasts in the time of a famine?

The Maharsha answers: This was not actually a famine; there was a minimal amount of rain and the price of produce was extremely high. It therefore, was not regarded as a severe famine, and the series of fasts described in Taanis would not apply.

The Pnei Yehoshua answers: This was not the proper time for prayer since the Gemora states that it was a time of “Divine anger.”

The Chasam Sofer answers: The Gemora is referring to cases where the correct time for rain has already passed. It is not regarded as proper to pray for a miracle. We do not pray that Hashem should alter the normal course of nature.