I’ve got a question about the minhag to daven for the upcoming month on Shabbos: Aren’t we not supposed to daven for personal needs that weren’t instituted within our tefillos? Wasn’t the prayer for Rosh Chodesh said by someone in the gemara (brochos) daily? Why do we not say avinu malkeinu (when our lives are on the line) but when it comes to shabbos mevarchim, we daven for the upcoming month?
The Gemara (Berachos 16) mentions that the prayer we recite on Shabbos Mevarchim (yehi ratzon…) was the prayer recited by Rav daily, and it includes a number of pleas that apparently relate to personal needs, such as a long and good life, a life of good income, a life without shame, and so on. How is this permitted on Shabbos, a day on which we are prohibited from making personal requests beyond the requests instituted in the original prayer service?
This question has been asked by the Aruch Hashulchan (417:9), who expresses wonder at the custom, and writes that if he would have the power to do so he would annul it, though he adds that we do not have the capacity to change prevalent customs. Teshuvos Ve-Hanhagos (Vol. 3, no. 98) cites the same question in the name of Rav Chaim of Brisk: If all our needs are taken care of on Shabbos, and it is prohibited to make requests, how do we recite the prayer for the New Month?
It is noteworthy that some actually omit the prayer, and this is the custom of Chabad (see Siddur Tehilas Hashem, based on Arizal, where the prayer does not occur). However, the almost universal custom among Ashkenazi communities is to recite the prayer, and its inclusion appears to be manifestly difficult.
Rav ChaimBerlin(Nishmas Chaim 23) suggests that because this is a general prayer for the community (rather than a personal prayer), and is said as part of the prayer service, it does not transgress the prohibition of personal requests on Shabbos. This approach appears to be somewhat strained: Can a community enact any prayer it wishes as “part of the prayer service,” and thereby avoid the prohibition? (See also Aruch Hashulchan 267:1).
However, it might be possible to suggest that the prayer is not actually a ‘prayer,’ but rather a ‘blessing,’ and this is the reason why no prohibition is involved.
We say a special prayer for Rosh Chodesh on the day of Rosh Chodesh itself. Why is an extra prayer required on the Shabbos preceding Rosh Chodesh? The Benei Yissachar (Rosh Chodesh 1:11) explains that everybody comes to shul on Shabbos, and therefore the day of Rosh Chodesh is announced. Together with the announcement, we add a prayer.
However, in a deeper sense (see Yitav Lev, Parashas Hachodesh 16), it is known that the Shabbos before any event has special significance, and provides a ‘blessing’ for the event of the coming week.
For example, this is one explanation for why the Shabbos before Pesach is called Shabbos Ha-Gadol (see Be’er Mayim Chaim, Nitzavim 9, based on the Zohar), and this is (one of the reasons) why we hold a “Shalom Zachor” celebration on the Shabbos before the bris of a baby. The Shabbos before an occasion provides the blessing for the time, and it is appropriate that people should come and give a blessing for the baby.
It appears that this principle is also true for Shabbos Mevarchim. As the name of the Shabbos implies, it is a time of blessing for the coming month, and we therefore declare the coming month, and bless it. This is not a personal prayer, but rather a blessing for the month: By virtue of the Shabbos, the coming month should be blessed with good life, with income, with health, and so on.
It is possible that because this is not an actual prayer, beseeching Hashem for our needs, but rather a ‘blessing’ for the month, it does not involve any prohibition.
See also Ratz Ke-Tzvi, Chodshei Hashanah, no. 4.