Prayer for Missing Items : Shedding Light on a Time-Proven Segulah

Prayer for Missing Items

The Custom Shared Across the World…

In the early 1700’s, a young scholar from Eretz Yisrael whose Torah works would find a home in virtually every Jewish community across the world set forth on a voyage that would take him from North Africa to the heartlands of Germany. This young Rav – already an accomplished mekubal – crisscrossed across Europe, raising funds for the poor of the Holy Land. This would not be his only journey: he would set out
once more on the same mission later in the century.

The travel diary that he kept tells of the Torah giants he encountered, the learning he acquired, and the rare sefarim he discovered – and took notes on — in libraries all along his way. But his journal also paints a vivid picture of the kehillos he visited, all of which differed in custom, dress, and the challenges they faced. One minhag, however, he testified was shared by every place: the practice to donate money or oil (for illumination of shuls) in the merit of R’ Meir Baal Hanes in any time of distress.

So wrote Rabbi Chayyim Yosef David Azulai, better known by the acronym of his name as the Chida. But Rabbi Eliyahu HaKohen of Izmir, whose beloved ethical work the Shevet Mussar was printed numerous times in the same century, wrote similarly: when one has lost an object, the prayer for lost items which invokes the name and merit of Rabbi Meir will help with its retrieval if said immediately.

…And Across Time

Today, 300 years later, this custom still remains firmly rooted in Klal Yisrael. The prayer for missing items that beseeches “G-d of Meir, answer me!” can be found on refrigerator magnets worldwide and online as well; Google fields innumerable daily searches for “Rabbi Meir Baal Haness donate” or “Reb Meir Baal Hanes donate”. Representatives of the kupah of Rabbi Meir – the organization that disburses funds contributed by people who recited the prayer for lost objects – receive calls on a constant basis requesting the text of the Rabbi Meir Baal Haness prayer for lost objects.

The Power of the Prayer, The Power of the Segulah

The efficacy of the segulah – a treasure that rewards all connected to it — still abounds.

  • An expensive ring worth double its weight in sentimental value was lost; at work, when the prayer for missing items was said and tzedakah was given, the ring was found.
  • When a man lost his tefilin at a flight stopover during Pesach vacation, he quickly reached out to Rabbi Meir Baal Haness Charities: after he completed the prayer for lost objects, an airline notorious for its lack of customer service incredibly agreed to search for the precious bag until it was recovered.
  • A badge necessary for entry into work somehow disappeared from the table it had been placed on – until, of course, the prayer for lost things was said.
  • An item that had simply disappeared all of a sudden – after recourse to the lost item prayer — tumbled out of a shoe.
  • A young mother undergoing a difficult pregnancy constantly turned to this tefilah; her healthy baby boy now carries the name “Meir”.

And in Israel, those quick and often panicked Google searches for “Reb Meir Baal Haness donate” or “Rabbi Meir Baal Hanes donate” result in hachnosas kallah and the building of new homes in Klal Yisrael that otherwise would have been incapacitated by crushing poverty – truly a treasure trove of mitzvos and merit whose worth cannot be estimated.

Source of the Prayer

The words of the prayer for lost objects, as the Chida stressed, are not a magic formula to be mindlessly said: the intent and kavanah that lie behind the prayer for missing items are what ultimately make it so powerful an entreaty. When we request aid from Hashem, why is it so significant to do so in the merit of the holy Tanna Rabbi Meir?

On the simplest level, the answer can be traced to an incident in Rabbi Meir’s life: in the process of rescuing his sister-in-law from a fate more terrible than death during a spate of harsh persecution in Eretz Yisrael, Rabbi Meir had to convince a Roman legionnaire to look the other way. Rabbi Meir taught the man the words “G-d of Meir, answer me” – and showed him, right then and there, how wild dogs turned and fled at the sound of that sentence. Duly convinced, the guard let Rabbi Meir and his sister-in- law escape to safety. When that soldier was duly sentenced to death for his one act of mercy, he pronounced the prayer, and the hangman’s noose miraculously snapped. In reciting the prayer for lost objects that concludes with those same words used so many centuries ago in the time of the Mishna, we are then simply praying that the merit of Rabbi Meir – whose Torah and
deeds have filled pages of text — stand in our stead even though we may be unworthy.

Lessons of the Prayer

Yet there is more to the prayer for lost things than that: as R’ Menachem Azariah of Fano explained in the sixteenth century, the lost item prayer alludes to the fact that tzadikim – the righteous – are closely bound to Hashem; they are, in a sense, considered “Hashem’s House”. When we acknowledge the close relationship existent between G-d and His servants, we are inspired to emulate the righteous in whatever way possible by drawing closer to Hashem, the One to whom we direct the prayer for lostitems.It is fitting, then, that it is customary to donate to poor in Israel after reciting the prayer for finding lost items.

Rabbi Meir loved Eretz Yisrael, and devoted his life to furthering Torah and chessed amongst the people of the Holy Land. Tzedakah – charity – is an act of loving kindness taught to us by Hashem, and which consequently draws us closer to Him.

There are, however, other reasons offered as sources for this segulah and its power. R’ Yechiel Michel Stern notes that it is Rabi Meir who the Gemara Brachos cites as the source for the teaching that Hashem is merciful to us – His children – even when we are undeserving. Perhaps then, he suggests, we invoke Rabbi Meir’s name in the prayer for missing items to recall this lesson taught to us by Rabbi Meir: no matter how unworthy we may be, Hashem’s mercy for Klal Yisrael nonetheless endures.

R’ Menashe Klein cites another possible source for this custom: the prayer for lost objects, he explains, is commonly said at a time of distress and worry. Shlomo HaMelech in Mishlei teaches us that “one who has a worry should discuss it with others [acheirim]”, and the Gemara Horayos – in a very different context – mentions that another name for Rabbi Meir in Torah She’Ba’al Peh is the term “acheirim”; many times, the “others who hold” a position on a halacha actually refers only to Rabbi Meir. If, as Shlomo HaMelech states, the best way to resolve a problem is to discuss it with “acheirim”, seeking mercy in the the merit of Rabbi Meir – “acheirim” – in the words of the prayer for lost things certainly offers a solution to any issue.

Tzedakah, Tefilah, Teshuvah…and Segulah

The prayer for lost objects is commonly referred to as a segulah – literally a treasure which, though perhaps disclosed to the seeker, nonetheless remains mysterious in so many ways. How does it logically follow that donating tzedakah – charity – after reciting this prayer has so many times proved to be the happy end of a story?

The Chasam Sofer, who left to his family a compilation of segulos transmitted to him from his teachers, once explained that there is nothing magical about segulos in Judaism; though we may not understand how the text of a prayer helps us in incredible ways, Hashem has in fact encoded the possibility for such “cause and effect” mechanics into the natural processes of the world. When, the Chasam Sofer continued, Hashem will enlighten our eyes, we will be able to grasp how naturally and logically a segulah – like the prayer for lost objects – can seemingly reveal reality in a new dimension. Yet always, the focus must remain on the Giver of all who fulfills the entreaties of the righteous and those who turn to Him.Tzedakah, as our sages teach us, saves from death and all kinds of tragic eventualities. The person who quickly taps into Google the text “Rabbi Meir Baal Haness donate” and then follows through by reciting the prayer for missing items and contributing tzedakah to the poor of Eretz Yisrael thereby couples together tzedakah and tefilah. When the prayer is recited with proper intent, repentance ideally results: the seeker draws closer to His Maker, casting down the barriers of everyday life that sometimes impede genuine connection. With tzedakah, tefilah, and teshuvah intertwined, it is not difficult to understand the power of the prayer for lost objects as a treasure available to all of Klal Yisrael.