By Rabbi Yerachmiel D. Fried
Dear Rabbi Fried,
With regard to what you wrote me about prayer that one could, through prayer, potentially change the way they fit into the “master plan” of God, I have a question: What if I aspire to fit into a certain place and I’m simply not fit to fill that place? Is my praying in vain?
— Hadassah B.
In the Jewish Weltanschauung of prayer, the concept of “praying in vain” is, in fact, an oxymoron. The way we view prayer is that an individual should pray as intensely for what they feel they want or need but leave it up to God whether to, or not to, grant that prayer. This is because only He knows if the request is ultimately for the good of the beseecher.
For this reason, we add a line (from Psalms) at the end of the Amidah prayer: “May the expressions of my mouth and the thoughts of my heart find favor before you, God, my Rock and Redeemer.” The question has been raised, why is this line inserted at the end of the prayer and not at the beginning? The answer given is that after we pray we ask God to answer only those prayers which are truly for our good and fit into His will; please do not answer my prayers, even if they came from deep within the heart, if what I requested is ultimately not for my own good!
The question then remains — what happens to those prayers which are uttered from the heart but are not for one’s good?
We addressed this question this past summer with regard to the untold thousands of tearful prayers uttered for the rescue of the three teenagers in Israel, only to find out that after weeks of praying they were already murdered and buried; were all those prayers for naught? We explained that God has a “bank” for prayers in Heaven where they are all deposited. At times they are withdrawn for the sake of what those prayers were beseeching. At other times, when the answer is “no” to that very request, those prayers remain in the “bank,” very dear and close to God’s heart, waiting for a different time when they will be needed and withdrawn at that time. This became so clear when, after the boys were discovered, thousands of rockets rained upon Israel with barely any casualties. All those heartfelt prayers were then withdrawn, protecting the citizens of Israel from what should have naturally been impending doom!
I first learned this lesson from an incident which happened many years ago, when two members of a very non-religious kibbutz entered the Talmudic academy Kollel Chazon Ish in Bnei Brak and asked to study with the rabbis. Shocked by the request, two rabbis approached the sage Chazon Ish asking what to do; he replied, “Go study with them!” Afterward, the rabbis asked the Chazon Ish, how could it be that two kibbutzniks from Hashomer Hatzair secular kibbutz should come to study Torah? He answered: “I’m going to tell you an important idea. All the secular Jews you see today in Israel had holy Bubbies (grandmothers) who cried, and Zaidies (grandfathers) who prayed that their offspring should be righteous, observant Jews. But then came along different movements in Europe which swept away their children, and many of them decided to join these movements and rebel against their religion. When one utilizes their free choice to rebel, all the prayers and tears won’t change them against their free will. But not a single prayer or tear gets lost; they’re all stored in a great Bank in Heaven, waiting to be utilized at the right time. Now that we have a generation that never decided themselves to rebel, but are simply carrying on what their parents decided, it’s no longer their own choice to do so, so now all those tears and prayers will pour out from Heaven to help this generation return back to their observance. And if you saw two yesterday, tomorrow you’ll see 20, then 200, then 2,000, then you’ll see an entire generation returning back to the ways of their ancestors.”
Keep praying; it will never be in vain!
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 email@example.com.