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Wednesday, 25 June 2014

Prayer: Do you feel like you're talking to a brick wall?

Taanis 14

Why do most people find prayer so difficult?

The answer is simple.  We are frustrated because at some point in our lives we davened and davened (prayed) and nothing changed.  Maybe you were davening for an ill loved one to recover and they did not.  Maybe you were davening for career assistance and the dream job that would have solved all your problems never materialized.

You poured out your heart before the Almighty.  You spent hours concentrating on every word.  And then – it was all for naught.  And so the next time you’re called upon to pray for something, you think, ‘Why bother?  All that effort for what?’

The problem is that most people do not appreciate the function and process of prayer.  If we would, then we would not give up.

The Mishnah teaches: For the following woes we cry out even on Shabbos – for a city that was surrounded by a foreign army, for a river that overflowed [and threatens to flood the shores] and for a ship that is caught in stormy seas.  Rabbi Yossi says, “We may cry out for mortal assistance but not for Divine assistance.”

Rashi elucidates Rabbi Yossi’s position:  We generally avoid beseeching G-d for our needs on Shabbos, unless it is of urgent necessity and we need Him to respond immediately.  In the situations in this Mishnah, which are major calamities, we are not sure that G-d will respond to our prayers and therefore we should not profane the Sabbath unnecessarily. 

All prayers are answered.  But not all prayers are answered the way we want them to be answered.  Rabbi Yossi here goes so far as to prohibit prayers that will unlikely have the results we seek.  But if there’s no guarantee that G-d will respond to our prayers, why bother praying on Sunday or Monday?

The answer is that prayer is a mitzvah.  Rabbi Matisyahu Salomon likens it to the mitzvah of esrog.  What happens when you shake the lulav and esrog on Sukkos?  I have no idea.  But I believe something happens, otherwise I wouldn’t waste my time and money on it.

Mitzvos between man and his fellow man are visible.  We can easily see the consequences of giving tzedakah or helping an old lady cross the street.  In contrast, the consequences of mitzvos between man and G-d are not readily discernible. 

Prayer is one such mitzvah.  When calamity befalls us, the Torah instructs us to pray.  That is the mitzvah.  Sometimes the consequence of that mitzvah is that the Heavenly decree is annulled or ameliorated.  But sometimes it’s not.

That doesn’t mean, however, that the prayers went unanswered.  Just like any mitzvah, you will be rewarded for your efforts in this world and the next.  Just perhaps not the way you desired and anticipated.  That’s beyond our comprehension; it is G-d’s purview.

Don’t give up on your prayers!  They are turning worlds over!  You may not always see the results but the Almighty wants to hear your voice!  It’s not easy to pray, but rest assured that G-d is always listening!

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