By Rabbi Yair Hoffman
Every day the headlines are blaring the latest testimony in the House impeachment process. Jews who recognize and are appreciative of the president’s actions are certainly praying for Mr. Trump’s welfare — beyond how they pray for any other leader. Why is this so? Because many feel that no other American president has done more for the overall safety of people in Eretz Yisrael than President Trump. He recognized Yerushalayim as the capital of the State of Israel, helping to ensure that it remains in Jewish hands. He recognized the Golan as part of the State of Israel, helping to promote the safety of the residents of Northern Israel. He has also changed the policy of the United States in terms of recognizing the legality of the areas in Yehudah and Shomron that Klal Yisrael has resettled.
This brings up a fascinating question. From a Torah point of view, is there an obligation for the president himself to pray to Hashem?
At first glance, we may be tempted to find an answer to this question from a verse in Isaiah (57:7): “For My house is a house of worship for all the nations.” However, there are two problems with answering the question with this verse. First, it does not state that there is an actual obligation to pray. Second, there is a debate between Rashi and the Radak as to whether it refers to gentiles who joined the Jewish faith or to gentiles in general. Rashi indicates it is the former, while the Radak writes it is the latter. It should also be pointed out that even according to Rashi, it could just be limited to the Beis HaMikdash but not to the concept of prayer. Thus, we must move on.
In Melachim I (8:41), the verses indicate that when a gentile comes to pray in the Beis HaMikdash, his prayers will generally be answered. The commentaries (Rashi, e.g.) explain that the reason is because if he made the effort to come to the Beis HaMikdash and his prayers seemed to remain unanswered, it would result in a chillul Hashem. There is no proof from this, however, that there is an obligation of prayer. We do see from these pesukim, though, that they certainly may pray, and that in regard to prayer at the Beis HaMikdash their prayers are more likely to be answered than those of Jews.
The Gemara in Sanhedrin (56a) lists the seven obligations incumbent upon gentiles. Yet it does not list the obligation to pray. Perhaps we may conclude, then, that the president is exempt from prayer. On the other hand, the Gemara later on (58b) concludes that the listing only refers to passive matters and not to anything proactive. Prayer would be proactive, so there may not be proof in its absence from the listing.
Rav Saadya Gaon, in his Emunos V’Dei’os (3:1), writes that the intellect must conclude that it would be improper for the Creator to have created His creations and just leave them on their own. Rather, He must have commanded them in serving Him and thanking Him for having created them. This would indicate that the president should be praying. However, we do not necessarily find that there is an obligation to pray beyond thanking G-d for having created him.
We find a fascinating Rabbeinu Bachya in Devarim (4:2). He writes, “And from an intellectual perspective, every creation is obligated to serve his Creator and to praise him, but not to the level that Jewish people are obligated to — as it states in Pesachim (118b), ‘All the nations shall praise Hashem.’ Certainly we must do so because his chesed has so overwhelmed us.”
Still, we only find an obligation to praise Him, not necessarily to request things of Hashem.
Rav Moshe Feinstein, zt’l (Igros Moshe O.C. Vol. II #25), writes that during a time of crisis, an eis tzarah, gentiles have an obligation to pray. He cites as examples if there is a sick person in the household or if one has a need to make a living. Rav Feinstein implies that the obligation stems from the very nature of emunah, belief in G-d.
General Debate About Tefillah
Many people are aware that there is a fundamental debate between the Rambam and the Ramban about the nature of our obligation to pray. The Rambam writes that Jews are obligated by the Torah to pray at least once per day. The Ramban writes that, generally speaking, the obligation to pray is rabbinic in origin — except during an eis tzarah. When it is a time of crisis, the Ramban holds that there is a Torah obligation to pray.
In This Case
One may argue that the impeachment effort does not necessarily fit into the category of an eis tzarah, a time of crisis, for the president. I can think of two reasons for this. The first is that the latest polls show no one really cares what the results will be, because no one will change their minds based upon the conclusions of this inquiry. The second reason is that this impeachment inquiry only pertains to the House of Representatives. When the measure reaches the Senate, which is dominated by Republicans, it will fail.
This author would like to suggest that the parameters of “eis tzarah” are also defined by the perspective and worldview of the person concerned. It is not just an objective state of crisis but one that is defined by the worldview of the president.
The president is certainly bothered by the inquiry. The fact that he tweets about it almost daily shows that it is a matter that concerns him. Thus, it seems that he should be praying to Hashem to help him overcome it. The efforts made toward impeaching him, from an objective perspective, certainly undermine his legacy, thus constituting an eis tzarah.
Rabbi Hoffman can be reached at Yairhoffman2@gmail.com.