Halacha for Tuesday 18 Av 5781 July 27 2021

“Do Not Stand Idly by the Blood of Your Fellow”

Question: There are occasionally signs posted in the synagogue requesting that the public pray for a specific ill individual and the sign states his/her name. Is one obligated to pray for an individual one knows is sick?

Answer: The Gemara (Sanhedrin 73a) states: “From where do we derive that if one sees one’s friend drowning in the river, being dragged by a wild beast, or being attacked by bandits that one must save him? This is why the Torah teaches, ‘Do not stand idly by the blood of your fellow.’”

This means that if one sees one’s friend in a situation that he may die as a result of and one is in a position to save him, one is obligated to do so. If one does not do so, one has transgressed the above Torah prohibition.

Based on the above, some have offered that if one knows someone is sick, just as there is an obligation to save him with medications and other methods necessary to save his life, one is likewise obligated to pray for his recovery, for prayer certainly benefits the ill individual and is certainly one of the things that brings about healing and salvation from death to life.

Nevertheless, there is a distinction between these issues. The great Rishon Le’Zion Hagaon Rabbeinu Yitzchak Yosef Shlit”a writes in his Yalkut Yosef (Chapter 116) that it is more understandable that the prohibition of not standing idly by the blood of one’s fellow applies only to natural means of saving one’s life, such as if one sees one’s friend drowning in the river, one must save him. Similarly, if one knows of an ill individual and can heal him with medication and the like and one does not, one transgresses the prohibition of standing idly by one’s fellows blood. However, it does not seem that one who abstains from praying for an ill individual is liable for transgressing this Torah law and it only seems to be a manifestation of withholding kindness, for everyone is commanded to perform kind acts to others and prayer for another is certainly an act of kindness above all others.

Indeed, the Navi in Sefer Shmuel (Chapter 12) states that one who is able to pray for a friend and does not do so is considered a sinner. When the Jewish nation requested that Shmuel Ha’Navi pray for them, he replied with the issues that they would have to repent for. He added, “Moreover, as for me, far be for me that I should sin against Hashem in ceasing to pray for you; but I will instruct you in the good and right way.” Our Sages (Berachot 12b) derived from here that anyone who has the opportunity to pray for one’s friend and does not do so is considered a sinner.

Thus, when one knows that an individual is ill, one should pray for this person, even briefly. In this way, one performs the Mitzvah of performing acts of loving-kindness. We have indeed witnessed how Maran zt”l would occasionally raise his eyes from his books while studying Torah and would notice a note with the name of person that required Heavenly salvation, he would immediately pray briefly for that individual and would bless him from the bottom of his heart.

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