By Rabbi Yerachmiel D. Fried
I’m trying to understand to what extent one has the ability to affect the desire of God through their prayers. The follow-up questions are, naturally, “How?” and “How much?”
I find myself thinking about how Leah apparently cried herself to a point of becoming visually impaired because she didn’t want to marry Esav, and lo and behold! She got to marry Yaakov.
Is this entire question chutzpadik? Am I meant to have enough belief and trust that the desire of God is perfect and only wonderful for me anyway, so accept it?
Allow me to rephrase your question, as I believe it is a very deep one, fit for us to focus our thoughts upon. We, as Jews, believe that whatever God does to us and for us is for the good — not only for the good but it’s the absolute best thing for us, whether we perceive it to be so or not (which is usually the case). Our puny, myopic perspective of the trees doesn’t come close to the Al-mighty’s towering perspective of the forest, the big picture, in which many things which seem to be the greatest calamities are in truth, from the perspective of eternity, literally the best thing that could happen to us. In this world we may never understand how this is so, especially with regard to specific tragedies or even non-ideal situations. Only in the next world will we be shown the entire reel of the video of history and will it become apparent to us how all that transpired, nationally and individually, was part of a bigger picture, the Master Plan of the Al-mighty.
This being our belief, how do we reconcile the mitzvah of prayer, through which we beseech God’s will to change the present situation? Why would we even want to change God’s will, if He allows us to do so through prayer, if we believe His will is the ultimate good?
I think the answer is that we don’t change God’s will through our prayers; rather, we change ourselves to connect with His will in a different way, and then our judgment changes because we have become someone else. That’s one reason the Hebrew word for prayer, tefillah, comes from the word v’yefallel, which means to judge; we can judge ourselves and our relationship to God through our prayers and, with a new level of connection, change our judgment. It is true that we have complete faith that what is happening to us is for the best. But if what’s happening doesn’t feel very good, the precept of prayer teaches us that we truly do have a way to change things and what’s best for us can become something very different.
Leah understood prophetically that she was meant, as the elder sister, to be wed to Esau, who was the elder of the two brothers. When she became aware of what Esau represented and how he conducted himself, she could not accept that her future held a life with such a personality. Leah poured her heart out in prayer to such an extent that even physically she became a different person, and her soul was elevated to new plateaus, thereby changing her destiny to merit to wed Jacob.
How is it that a person changes through prayer? On the surface it certainly seems that we are the same person before and after we pray with and additional mitzvah added to our spiritual profile; in what way are we different?
Judaism defines life in terms of our connection to God. One can go through life exercising all the biological functions of life and be considered spiritually dead if their existence is purely physical. It’s quite difficult to be that far gone, but it can happen. There are infinite levels between that and the prophet who is living an open and obvious connection to the Al-mighty.
When one realizes their situation needs Heavenly intervention and turns their heart Heavenwards, that heart and soul become connected on a deeper level; in essence that new connection reveals a new, deeper and more spiritual person, who has transcended the need to be in that previous situation and can now enjoy the fruits of a very different judgment.
Rabbi Yerachmiel D. Fried, noted scholar and author of numerous works on Jewish law, philosophy and Talmud, is founder and dean of DATA, the Dallas Kollel. Questions can be sent to him at firstname.lastname@example.org.