Personal Prayers on Shabbat

I’ve heard that we are not allowed to pray on Shabbat except for the standard prayers in the siddur (prayer-book). Is this so, and why? I am recovering from an addiction, and an important part of the program is to pray every day. Would this be okay?

The Aish Rabbi Replies:

I wish you much success in your recovery first of all. May your prayers be accepted, and may God help you in your efforts.

What you wrote is only partly true. There is a general rule that we may not pray for physical matters on Shabbat, although it is fine to pray for spiritual ones. We are, however, allowed to say the standard Shabbat prayers of the prayer-book (as well as in Birkat HaMazon (Grace After Meals)), even though they include many requests related to physical matters. It is only that we should not add additional personal prayers for non-spiritual needs.

There are two reasons for this brought in Jewish law. One is that it is a form of speaking about our own affairs on Shabbat which the Prophet Isaiah forbade (58:13). The second is that discussing our physical problems is liable to make us sad, which will contradict the spirit of Shabbat.

Neither of these reasons apply to praying for spiritual matters since they are not the mundane matters forbidden by Isaiah, and mentioning them is much less likely to upset us.

One exception to this is praying for a person who is gravely ill. That we may do even on Shabbat since preserving life takes precedence over almost all the laws of the Torah.

In your case it would definitely be proper to pray even on Shabbat. As I’m sure you know, addictions can be quite serious and life-threatening, and it’s important that you keep the healing process going. Since, however, addictions are typically not an immediate danger to life, it is proper to add: “It is Shabbat from crying out, and healing will speedily arrive” (“Shabbat hi mi’lizok, urefuah kerovah la’vo.”) The lead rabbi of this service, Rabbi P Waldman, suggested a beautiful variation of this for you, to add to the end of your prayers:

“Though it is Shabbat, and we may not pray for the ill, I ask for the strength and courage to continue to stay away from addiction, which is the cause of spiritual and physical dangers, and to thereby be relieved of the addiction soon.”

Again, our wishes that you have a complete recovery very soon.

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