Special Places to Pray for Children, Zera Shimshon
My husband and I have been struggling to conceive for a few years now. We will be visiting Israel this summer. I know there are some places considered the “best spots” for certain types of prayers. Apart from the Western Wall and the Cave of the Patriarchs, where do you recommend we go?
The Aish Rabbi Replies
Before all, my wishes that your prayers are answered for the good very soon.
One place which is considered especially fitting for such a need is Kever Rochel – Rachel’s grave, located in Bethlehem on the outskirts of present-day Jerusalem. Rachel herself had great difficulty having children (see Genesis 30) and the heartfelt prayers and efforts she put in to meriting righteous children herself make her resting place an especially appropriate place for such prayers. (Years ago, visiting Rachel’s grave required entering the heart of Bethlehem, which could be dangerous. But in 2002 it was surrounded by a concrete wall and today is very secure and accessible.)
By the way, if you are offered red thread when you go there, don’t take it. Although wearing one has become quite popular today, it is really based on pagan practices and is most probably forbidden. See this past response for more info.
A second place to visit is the grave of the Tanna (Mishnaic scholar), R. Yonasan ben Uziel, which is located on a hillside outside the village of Amuka, near Safed in the upper Galilee. The Talmud (Sukkah 28a) states that R. Yonasan was the greatest of Hillel the Elder’s eighty students, and that his greatness was such that when he would study Torah, any bird which flew over his head would be burnt. (This was either because of the holy flames his Torah would create or because of the fiery angels which would gather above his head to listen to his words. See commentators to Talmud there.)
In addition, R. Yonasan translated the books of the Prophets into Aramaic (Talmud Megillah 3a). As the Talmud there records, after he did so a Heavenly Voice reprimanded him for revealing God’s secrets to the masses (i.e. the hidden meanings of many cryptic verses), but he countered that he did so entirely for the sake of Heaven, so there would less debate in Israel (about the meanings of such verses). It also records that he was prepared to translate the Ketuvim (“Writings”) as well – such as the Books of Psalms, Job and Daniel, but a Heavenly Voice commanded him to desist since by doing so he would reveal the date of the Messiah’s arrival. It is thus clear, that R’ Yonasan ben Uziel was an exceedingly great and pious scholar, and only good can come from praying at his grave.
In terms of your specific need, the custom has existed for hundreds of years to visit his grave to pray for such needs as children, livelihood, health, and finding one’s soulmate (Amuka being especially famous for this final need). Although there is no known source for this practice, the custom is well-known and there are very many near-miraculous success stories. Some suggest that R. Yonasan was either a bachelor or childless himself, and so he is especially sympathetic to people with similar needs and will help intercede on their behalf in Heaven.
Apart from places to go, there are several well-known practices which are considered especially auspicious for being granted children, such as fulfilling the mitzvah of shiluach ha’kan (sending away the mother bird (Deut. 22:6-7)), praying for another with the identical need, and being called to the Torah for the Haftorah reading on the first day of Rosh Hashanah (the story of the childless Hannah, who became mother to the prophet Samuel). The list is long (some practices being more authoritative than others), and each deserves its own discussion – which is well beyond the scope of this response.
However, I will mention one which is quite efficacious and not that well known – to study the book Zera Shimshon (lit., “the progeny of Shimshon” (the author’s name)). This is an ethical and philosophical commentary on the Torah written by an exceptionally great and pious scholar, R. Shimshon Chaim Nachmani (1706-1779). R. Nachmani was a Kabbalist who served as rabbi in various communities in northern Italy. None of his children survived him, so in order to commemorate himself R. Nachmani published two of his many works, one of them being Zera Shimshon. (Most of his writings were Kabbalistic, and he instructed that they be buried after his passing.) R. Nachmani personally promised that whoever studies his works would be blessed with righteous children, wealth and honor. Here too myriad stories attest to the effectiveness of this righteous man’s promise.
Zera Shimshon is a philosophical, somewhat Kabbalistic work, written in classic rabbinic Hebrew – not an easy work for the average person to study. However, in recent years ArtScroll has put out a beautiful edition of it, which cites several excerpts from his commentary on the weekly Torah portion.
Again, my wishes that all your prayers and efforts are answered for the good!