Question: I am, thank G-d, quite well off and I donate large sums of money to Tzedakah. I now have a situation on my hands and I requested that Hashem remember all of the acts of Tzedakah that I do and, in this merit, save me from this issue. A friend of mine commented that it may be forbidden to say this. Is this correct?
Answer: The Gemara (Berachot 10b) states: “Rabbi Yochanan said in the name of Rabbi Yose ben Zimra: One who relies on one’s own merits will be answered in the merits of others and one who relies on the merits of others will be answered in his own merit.” This means that if one prays to Hashem’s salvation in the merit of good deeds one performs, if one’s prayers are accepted, it will not be in one’s own merit, for such a prayer is not so preferred by Hashem. On the other hand, if one prays that Hashem answer him in the merit of others, such as one’s forefathers and the like, this is an exceptionally worthy prayer in the eyes of Hashem.
Indeed, the Gemara states that Moshe Rabbeinu requested from Hashem that He answer him in the merit of others, as the verse states, “Remember (that which you swore to) Avraham, Yitzchak, and Yisrael, your servants.” Eventually, Hashem answered Moshe’s prayer in his own merit, as the verse states, “He would have destroyed them would not Moshe, His chosen one, have confronted Him in the breach before Him.” On the other hand, King Chizkiyahu prayed to Hashem to heal him in his own merit, as the verse states, “Please remember that I have walked before You with truth and a complete heart and I have done the good in your eyes; Chizkiyahu wept greatly.” When Hashem answered him, He replied, “I will protect and save this city for My sake and for the sake of My servant David,” meaning that Hashem answered him in King David’s merit, not his own.
Maran Rabbeinu Ovadia Yosef zt”l (in his Ma’or Yisrael, Berachot ibid.) writes that King Chizkiyahu did indeed invoke the merits of his ancestors and did not completely rely on his own merits; however, most of the prayer to Hashem was based on his own merits, for there was almost no king more righteous than him and the fact that he mentioned his forefathers’ merits was only secondary to his own. On the other hand, Moshe Rabbeinu, in a classic show of his tremendous humility, did not mention his own merits at all.
Based on the above, we can infer that when one prays to Hashem, it is inappropriate to mention one’s own merits, for we are very far from fulfilling Hashem’s will as He expects from us.
Nevertheless, the saintly Ari z”l writes that when one prays at a time of tragedy, one should indeed mention one’s own merits, for this will cause the prayer to be more readily accepted. This is quite difficult to understand though as it seems the Ari’s words are contradicted by the above Gemara.
While discussing this very issue, Maran Ha’Chida in his Sefer Chomat Anach (page 19c) quotes a discourse from Hagaon Harav Yehuda Havilio zt”l regarding what Yaakov Avinu said when he prayed to Hashem: “I am unworthy of all of the kindness and all of the truth You have performed for your servant” and Yaakov was actually hinting that he performed many acts of Tzedakah, and as a result, he lost much of his wealth due to his many acts of Tzedakah. This would seem to support the opinion of the saintly Ari z”l that when praying to Hashem during trying times, one should, in fact, mention one’s own merits.
Maran Ha’Chida adds a point here that resolves any difficulty: “I, the lowly one, derived from here that when one mentions one’s own merits during trying times, this should be done in a hinting manner (as Yaakov Avinu did; he did not mention his merits explicitly), for if one mentions one’s merits explicitly, the Heavenly prosecutors will claim that these Mitzvot were not performed as they should have been.”
Thus, when one has fallen on hard times, one should certainly mention one’s merits while praying to Hashem, if one indeed has such special merits, however, one should not exclaim explicitly, “Hashem, remember that I have done Mitzvot, performed kindness, studied Torah,” and the like, for the Gemara states that it is improper to do so. However, doing so in a hinting manner which can be understood multiple ways is permissible and advisable, for instance, if one studied large amounts of Torah and one requires a speedy recovery from an illness, one may exclaim, “May it be Your will Hashem that You heal me completely from any malady so that I may continue to study Torah.” The same applies to other areas as well.
May Hashem accept all of our prayers willingly, Amen.