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Monday, 17 February 2014

Prayer - Can we change G-d's mind?

Sukkah 14
Does G-d change His mind?  Can we change G-d’s mind?  When we pray for the healing of an ill person, what are we praying for?

The Torah employs a strange expression to describe the way Yitzchak and Rivkah prayed to G-d for a child.  The Torah says “vaye’etar,” which we translate as “and he prayed.”  When he is answered, the Torah says “vaye’atar,” the passive form of the verb, denoting that G-d was “prayed of.”  The regular word to pray is l’hitpalel.  And if G-d answered the prayers, it should simply have stated vayakshev – and He heeded.   What is this extraordinary word “vaye’etar/vaye’atar”?

Rabbi Elazar relates it to the word “eter” which means a ‘pitchfork’ and explains that “just as a pitchfork turns the grain on the threshing floor over and over from one place to another, so too the prayers of the righteous turn over the attitude of the Almighty from the attribute of toughness to the attribute of mercy.”

We cannot change G-d’s mind.  That’s not what we’re trying to achieve with our prayers.  But sometimes G-d wants us to work a little harder to drawn down His blessing.  Just like the grain on the threshing floor was already there before I used the pitchfork, G-d’s attribute of mercy is ever-present.  At times, though, G-d wants us to pour out our hearts to Him to locate that merciful ‘grain.’   And if you can picture the piercing of the pitchfork, so too must we be prepared to pray with such intensity and meaning that our prayers pierce through the Heavens.

It’s important to point out that we can’t always improve a harsh decree.  In Avram and Sarai’s case, the only hope available to them was to create a new identity in the names of Avraham and Sarah.  Sometimes the decree is completely sealed and no matter how much we pray, there is no revealed attribute of mercy on the threshing floor to find. 

That is why the Torah uses this special expression regarding Yitzchak and Rivkah. In their case, there was hope, there was opportunity.  But G-d wanted to hear their prayers pierce the Heavens.   In Judaism, the pitchfork is not for the devil, it is the most effective tool in each and every one of our arsenals to draw down G-d’s mercy in a revealed manner.

Today, I pledge to pray with my pitchfork.  I shall pour out my heart to G-d with the same intensity with which I would perform tough manual labour.  And then, if there are grains of mercy on the threshing floor, I know that G-d will be “prayed of.”

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