by R. Daniel Mann
Question: I regularly daven that my friend will find a shidduch. May I do so, mentioning her name, on Shabbat?
Answer: After seeing ostensibly conflicting sources on making requests of Hashem on Shabbat and seeing some distinctions that poskim raise, we can address your question about your friend’s shidduch needs.
The Yerushalmi (Shabbat 15:3) forbids davening for needs on Shabbat. It asks on this rule from the part of Birkat Hamazon in which we ask for sustenance and answers that this is tofes berachot (most explain this means that the requests are part of a set beracha, not a special request). Most authorities (see Chiddushei Harashba, Shabbat 113b; Mishna Berura 288:22) explain that Shabbat is a day of happiness, and davening for needs highlights the pain in his life. Midrash Tanchuma (Vayeira 1) says that this is the reason we remove the middle thirteen berachot of Shemoneh Esrei, as when going through the standard requests, one may feel the poignancy of a given need. Another approach sees the matter as related to daber davar, not talking about things that are extraneous to the focus of Shabbat (see She’eilat Yaavetz I:64).
The gemara (Berachot 21a) provides an apparent side reason for the lack of Shemoneh Esrei’s middle berachot on Shabbat – “the Rabbis did not want to toil people due to the honor of Shabbat.” Therefore, if one started a weekday beracha on Shabbat, he completes it. This implies that other than taking time, the section of requests is not objectionable.
Other sources focus on danger-related needs. The gemara (Ta’anit 19a) cites opinions on steps of “calling out” one can take due to security concerns, including “screaming” in prayer if marauders have surrounded the city, as opposed to blowing shofars. The gemara in Shabbat (12a-b) reports that it was with a sense of “no choice” that the Rabbis permitted visiting the sick on Shabbat. The gemara (ibid.) also discusses the language one should use regarding the ill – blessing him within the totality of sick people and stating that we do not pray too forcefully on Shabbat.
We will review some distinctions raised to navigate when requests are more likely to be permitted. 1. When the request relates to a minor and/or future need it is not upsetting (Mahari Bei Rav in Shut Avkat Rochel 12). 2. In the other direction, when the need is great and, particularly, cannot be pushed off, it is permitted to call out to Hashem. While this primarily relates to life-threatening situations (Shulchan Aruch and Rama, OC 288:9-10), it can also apply to a severe shortage of food (ibid.). 3. Regarding the sick, even if the matter is not immediately life-threatening, a Mi Sheberach may be done using the correct formula (Mishna Berura 288:28; see above). 4. If the subject of the request is not present, emotional distress is less likely (Mahari Bei Rav ibid.). 5. It may be permitted to request divine help with something it is permitted to do on Shabbat (B’tzel Hachochma V:41 – apparently a minority opinion; see Dirshu 288:33 in the name of the Chatam Sofer).
Let us analyze your case. According to most distinctions, it would be forbidden to make the specific request for your friend. If you are davening regularly, she is presumably, in your subjective eyes, already in a concerning state. On the other hand, assuming she is, baruch Hashem, healthy, she is not in an acute situation that warrants davening on Shabbat before it is “too late.” Tefillot of this nature do not need to be consecutive to be effective, and davening with feeling six days a week, while showing respect for Shabbat on the seventh, will iy”H be effective. On the other hand, some (minority) opinions may permit it (based on distinctions 4,5), especially if you word the request to follow the Mi Sheberach language. If you generally make the request after reciting Tehillim privately, the best solution is to leave out the request and recite the Tehillim, with her (and/or other needs) in mind as a recipient of the z’chut (Halichot Shlomo, Tefilla 14:(19) permits this).