Prayer Essentials

For the week ending 5 September 2015 / 21 Elul 5775

Shemoneh Esrei: Sixteenth Blessing - Part 2

by Rabbi Yitzchak Botton
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“From before You, our King, do not turn us away empty-handed, for You hear the prayer (i.e., requests) of Your people Israel with compassion.”

Why does G-d listen to our requests?

One aspect of the “lowering” of the Infinite One is His enabling us to approach Him through prayer, since without His permission it would be forbidden to approach G-d with our requests. This is an aspect of G-d’s Kingship (Malchut): Just as a king allows his people to approach him with their requests, G-d allows us to approach Him with ours.

Free Will in Prayer

But why do we need to ask G-d for what we want? If He knows what is best for us, shouldn’t we just leave it up to Him?

“In the way that a person wishes to go, in that way he is led.” Since G-d made man a free-thinking person with different wants and desires, the ultimate expression of His kindness is to allow man to pursue and attain those wants and desires. Part of that allowance is man’s ability to ask G-d for what he wants, even if in reality something else is in fact better for him.

The reason for this is that it is a greater kindness to allow man to ask for what he wants, since G-d made man in such a way that having the opportunity to ask for and receive what a person truly wants will satisfy him much more than being given the same thing without a choice.

Imagine coming home after a long day at school. You ask your mother or father what’s for dinner. The answer is “Pasta. I hope you like it, because that’s all you’re getting.” Now imagine this scene. You come home and ask what’s for dinner. This time the answer is, “I was just about to start preparing it. Do you want to tell me what you would like?”

G-d, out of His great humility, allows man to state his requests. In fact, in many cases the end result of what a person receives can be influenced by his own requests and suggestions. This is part of the kindness of G-d, to accommodate the wants and desires of man. In relation to this idea the Sages have taught, “Where you find G-d’s greatness (i.e., kindness), there you find His humility.” We even find that G-d’s compassion extends to the wicked, granting them their desires as well, despite the fact that they misuse that which He gives them. This is in accordance with the verse, “Your mercy extends on all of Your creations.”

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