Introduction: Rabbi Chanina ben Dosa lived in Palestine in the mid-first century A.D., and was a friend and colleague of Yohanan ben Zakkai, the founder of the Academy at Yavneh (Jamnia). He was especially famous for his total piety, being considered a completely righteous man (bBer. 61b); “one for whose sake God shows favor to his entire generation” (bHag. 14a).
Our rabbis say, once upon a time Rabban Gamliel’s son got sick. He sent two men of learning to Rabbi Chanina ben Dosa to beg him mercy from God concerning him. He saw them coming and went to a room upstairs and asked mercy from God concerning him. When he had come back down he said to them, “Go, the fever has left him.” They said to him, “What? Are you a prophet?” He said, “I am not a prophet nor am I the son of a prophet. But this I have received from tradition: if my prayer of intercession flows unhesitatingly from my mouth, I know it will be answered, and if not, I know it will be rejected.” They sat down and wrote and determined exactly the moment he said this, and when they came back to Rabban Gamliel he said to them, “By the Temple service!1 You are neither too early nor too late but this is what happened: in that moment the fever left him and he asked for water!”
Once again when Rabbi Chanina ben Dosa was going to study Torah with Rabban Yochanan ben Zakkai, the son of Rabban Yochanan ben Zakkai became ill. He said to him, “Chanina, my son, ask mercy from God for him and he will live.” He put his head down between his knees2 and asked mercy for him, and he lived. Rabban Yochanan ben Zakkai said, “Now if ben Zakkai fastened his head between his knees all day long, there would not be any attention paid to him.” His wife said to him, “What? Is Chanina greater than you?”3 He replied, “Of course not, but he is like a servant before the king and I am like a prince before the king”4 (bBerakoth 34b).
1. A kind of oath; “By God!”
2. Indicating especially strenuous praying.
3. At this time, ben Zakkai was the Ruler of the people, just after the great rebellion A.D.
4. He can go in with requests anytime.