כל המתפלל בעד חברו והוא צריך לאותו דבר הוא נענה תחילה
One who prays for a friend, and needs the same thing, he is answered first – Bava Basra 92a
There is a very obvious question to ask on this famous and oft quoted Gemara. Why should the person davening take priority and be answered first? This is exacerbated when we note that the person davening made no mention of himself at all.
There are several points in this Gemara that require clarification.
The Gemara used the phrase והוא צריך – the person praying must be facing the same problem – this is important to note. This is however, just a point to note, and not a reason for the Gemara’s statement.
We can suggest that in answer to the first part of the question, the reasoning for the Gemara, is that the person has performed a phenomenal act of chessed – commonly translated as loving kindness, but a good word for it is altruism. The definition of the term is that the person had no other motives for what they did – and here is a person who is in the same situation as oneself, and the person praying has put himself on the side entirely and devoted a prayer to see someone else get helped. So we must say that it is the power of the underlying chessed, and not the power of the prayer itself, that is the reason behind the Gemara. As such, it would seem that one who prays for another person with this Gemara in mind is not really performing an act of chessed at all, and would find that this does not work. Undoubtedly the prayer is itself important, but one will not see the effects about which the Gemara speaks.
The second part of the question, where the person praying was mentioned that he would find himself answered first, in answered by what the general nature of any tefilla is. There is a concept that a תפלה של רבים – a group prayer – is more potent and powerful than a תפלה של יחיד– an individual’s prayer, and this has many reasons to it. Furthermore, there are many resultant halachos about davening with a minyan
When a person prays for another individual, they are adding to the pool of tefillos. To illustrate this: we say in Shemoneh Esrei every day the prayer of “ולירושלים” – that Jerusalem should be rebuilt in our days – what about the 2,000 years worth of our ancestors prayers requesting the same thing? They passed away before seeing their prayers answered, but could one suggest their prayers didn’t help? G-d forbid! The Beis Hamikdash will be rebuilt, one brick at a time. It is certain that our ancestors will receive their due credit for helping us get there.
This is why there is no such thing as a group prayer going to waste – a prayer for a member of the community’s recovery from sickness, a shidduch for a neighbour, success in business for a friend – even if we don’t see our prayers answered the way we would like, they still count to the pool of group tefillos. Like our ancestors will receive their reward for helping Jerusalem be rebuilt, we are credited for these prayers – so really, when praying for someone else, our name is on that prayer, so really, the person praying never needed to mention himself.
There will always be a tremendous value on davening for another Jew in need.