Prayer Essentials

For the week ending 22 July 2017 / 28 Tammuz 5777

Life Can Change on a Prayer

by Rabbi Yitzchak Botton
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Above the Stars

In parshat Lech Lecha G-d tells Avraham to “Go outside” and see the stars. According to midrashic interpretation, G-d said to Avraham, “Go out from your astrology” — meaning, “Abandon your astrological calculations that you have seen by the signs of the zodiac, which indicate that you are not destined to bear a son.” (Gen. 15:5 and Rashi)

Based on the above, the Talmud explains that through prayer the Jewish People Avraham’s descendants also rise above the stars which can affect their destiny. Avraham and Sarah were barren, yet they prayed to G-d and were blessed with a son. Yitzchak also prayed, and a barren Rivka conceived. Through the power of prayer we too can merit to see miracles (see Rashi to Shabbat 156a).

How amazing it is to know that each of us has within ourselves a power so strong that nothing can stop it — except ourselves that is. How do we stop it? By not using it. Prayer is a great gift. It is as if G-d Himself is telling each one of us: “Pray to Me from your heart and I will listen, just as a loving father does to his child.” When it comes to prayer, the service of the heart, we all are qualified. Scholar and child, righteous and wicked, we all have a voice.

In fact, in the moment of prayer even a wicked person can be uplifted and transformed. King Menasheh, one of the most wicked people who ever lived, guilty of the most severe sins against G-d, was taken captive. In an attempt to escape a violent and painful death he prayed to all of the false gods that he worshiped, without being answered. With no other option he decided to pray to G-d. Through his prayer he was not only rescued through an open miracle, but according to Rabbi Yehuda he was also granted a place in the World-to-Come. We see that the power of prayer can break all boundaries.

Persistence in Prayer

The Midrash relates the great power of persistent prayer. G-d says: Even if a person is not worthy enough to have his prayer answered and to receive kindness, yet if he prays increasingly, with many supplications, I will act kindly towards him. For it is written, “All of the ways of G-d are kindness.” (Midrash Tanchuma, Vayera 1)

Rabbi Yehudah HaChassid echoes this idea: Sometimes a person isn’t worthy for G-d to accept his prayers. Yet, through the power of his abundant prayers and much weeping, beseeching G-d for mercy, even though he lacks merit and good deeds, G-d may accept his prayers and grant his requests. (Sefer Chassidim 130)

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