Can You Pray for Someone to Die?
by Rabbi Aron Moss
Question of the Week:
I have been praying for a very ill friend to get better from his sickness. But it seems that things have taken a turn for the worse. At this stage nothing short of a miracle can save him. And he is suffering so much. As difficult as it is to say, can I pray that he die and suffer no longer? Or do I keep praying for a miracle?
This is an excruciating dilemma. When it comes to questions of the beginning and the end of life, we need higher guidance to know what is right. For this we have the teachings of our sages. They deal with these questions through the prism of Torah wisdom.
The Talmud records a story of the great sage Rabbi Yehuda, who was suffering from a terminal illness. As his life was teetering on the edge, his students stood around his bed, praying for him to recover. It seemed that their prayers were having some effect, as Rabbi Yehuda held on to life.
But his maid, who saw first hand the pain he was enduring, went up to the rooftop of his home and offered the following profound prayer:
"The mortals down here on earth want to keep Rabbi Yehuda with them. The angels in heaven want Rabbi Yehuda to join them. May the angels get their way."
She then threw a jar off the roof, and it smashed on the ground, distracting the students from their prayers for a moment. At that moment, Rabbi Yehuda died.
Our sages praise this maid for her wisdom. While it is forbidden to actually do anything to hasten someone's death, it can be permissible and proper to pray for them to die. When only a miracle can bring healing, and the patient is suffering terribly, asking G-d to take them to their rest is the right thing to do.
Miracles do happen. But we don't pray for them. We pray for the wellbeing of the patient, in this world and in the next. Sometimes the angels need to get their way.
Talmud Kesubos 104a
Ran on Nedarim 40a
Igros Moshe Choshen Mishpat II 74d