|Can You Pray for Someone Else to Make Good Life Choices?
G-d promised the people that they would have their own land flowing with milk and honey but the people were afraid and asked Moses to send a reconnaissance mission with the following goals:
See what the land is and the people living on it; are they strong or weak, if they are few or many. How is the land in which they live, is it good or bad? How are the cities in which they reside, are they open or fortified? How is the soil, is it rich or poor, does it have trees or not? (Numbers 13:18-20)
This seems to be the most responsible thing to do so that they will know how to wage battle and for any other nation a reconnaissance mission would’ve been in order. However, for the nation who had witnessed miracle after miracle in Egypt and at the Red Sea, it was peculiar that they wouldn’t simply rely on G-d’s promise.
Twelve spies went on the reconnaissance mission to Israel, ten of which gave a negative report and tried to dissuade the people from going. Joshua and Caleb were different and the Talmud asks why? Caleb went to pray at the burial place of the Patriarchs and Matriarchs in Hebron to ask that he be saved from the evil scheme of the spies but Joshua did not need to go pray at the burial place in Chevron because Moses had already prayed for him (see verse 13:16). The Chofetz Chaim asks an obvious question; why did Moses pray only for Joshua and not for Caleb?
There are two reactions when witnessing bad behavior. (1) To protest as soon as possible or (2) to wait for an appropriate opportunity to speak with the person to explain the wrongdoing in order to influence them to change their ways. Each approach has an advantage and a drawback. The first ensures you won’t be influenced by the bad behavior or evil you are encountering because your immediate protest is a method to distance yourself from the bad conduct. The downside is that your words will probably be worthless in influencing the wrongdoer. The second approach (waiting for the right opportunity) is that your words will more likely have an effect; the disadvantage is that by remaining silent in the face of bad behavior or even evil, one may become desensitized to it, especially if he or she constantly witnesses it. Even worse, the bad behavior might eventually become light in your eyes. For example, if during lunch, one or two people regularly trash talk others at work, if you say something right away, the person will get defensive, especially if friends and others are there. But if you wait for the right opportunity, you might find yourself listening to the trash talk and eventually get used to it.
Joshua was the prime student of Moses, who knew that Joshua’s character type was that of the first approach. He knew that Joshua wouldn’t be persuaded to join the spies in their evil ways because he would protest loudly and reject them from the start. Still, Moses needed to pray for Joshua’s protection from bodily harm, which might happen when the other spies heard his rebuke (and would be afraid he would spoil their plans).
Caleb had a character type more appropriate to like the second approach (the one who waits for the right time to rebuke the wrongdoer). As such, he needed protection from being influenced by the scheming of the other ten spies. Moses couldn’t pray for him because one can’t pray for someone else not to make a poor decision because that would interfere with the other’s free will.
Caleb needed protection from making the wrong choice but he would have to fight that battle himself. How? He prayed from the depths of his heart at Chevron, the burial place of the Patriarchs and Matriarchs. Caleb is a template for the need to pray not to be influenced or seduced by our surroundings (and make a choice we will regret); no one else can do it for us.Which of the two-character types do you have? We all want to stand for the right cause but some people protest and try to fix the situation immediately while others wait for the right moment. We are sometimes surrounded by people who are not a good influence on us or our family but due to circumstances beyond our control like school, neighborhood, or job we don’t say anything even though we might be surrounded by crude and callous people. Caleb had led a good and honest life yet still he needed to pray that he wouldn’t be influenced by the spies and is a model for the rest of us to pray on a regular basis not be influenced by negative surroundings. It’s not enough to be disgusted by some of the things we are exposed to, we need to pray—focus and vocalize our thoughts— that they don’t win us over. If you’ve never done it, give it a try. Good Shabbos Read More