By Rabbi Yaakov Rosenblatt
Prayer is an utterly intriguing endeavor. It plays an integral role in many
people's lives, a significant role in the lives of countless others - and is
instinctive to all people in the face of trying circumstances.
I remember the first time I really prayed, as a young child. I had a
significant speech impediment that I became more conscious of as I grew and
would often ask G-d to help me speak more fluently. "Please let me have an
easier time," I would ask, "participating in class and conversing with
The Torah relates that three of our Four Matriarchs were unable to bear
children. The sages of the Talmud explain that G-d purposely created them
so, since "G-d desires the prayers of the righteous." It was because G-d
wanted the Matriarchs to ask Him to fulfill their desire for children, in
other words, that He created them with this profound lack. Indeed, the
sages continue, special people are often handed special challenges as a
means of fostering their relationship with G-d.
Admittedly, a difficult concept to understand.
Indeed, it goes to the very essence of Jewish belief, that G-d is one and
that He is infinite, unlimited and omnipotent, empowered in every way.
Nothing can occur beyond His control, because, quite simply, there is
nothing that can exist independent of Him.
Like most of us, I have always had a difficult time comprehending the
concept of "the infinite." In the world around us, everything takes on
definite dimensions, both in time and space. It is difficult to understand
a realm in which such barriers do not exist.
However, although my mind had a difficult time understanding it, my soul
understood it instinctively. All souls do.
For a soul is, in essence, a spark of the Divine. It can never be satisfied
by the pleasures offered by the physical world. It always wants more,
desires something greater. It yearns for an experience that is unlimited,
an experience that is "complete." It yearns to touch the infinite, to touch
Part of the expression of that yearning is prayer. And yet the endeavor
remains baffling. If an infinite and omniscient G-d knows exactly what we
need and want, and has chosen not to give that particular thing to us, how
can asking Him for it possibly have any value?
In "The Art of Jewish Prayer," Rabbi Yizchok Kirzner, of blessed memory,
conveys the traditional Jewish understanding: "The purpose of prayer is not
to change G-d. G-d does not change... [Rather, prayer is an opportunity] to
transform ourselves into more developed people through having to ask G-d to
fulfill our physical and material needs. Prayer is a vehicle through which
we can forge a relationship with G-d and make Him a reality in our lives
rather than an abstract concept."
And by creating a world in which every individual has unfulfilled needs G-d
has created the opportunity for human beings to relate to Him.
Our infertile Matriarchs were spurred by their conditions to create that
relationship through continuous, soul-searching prayer. And when they
achieved their incredible closeness with G-d, as it happened, children
followed. G-d's purpose in making them unable to conceive had been
Yet not all prayers are answered in the affirmative like those of our
Matriarchs. There are times when the wish we express in our prayers is not
granted. In those cases, G-d simply deems it better for us to not have what
we desire. Our prayers in such cases are no less meaningful, no less
creative of a relationship with the Divine, and, if we are sufficiently
sensitive, we come away from the experience able to view the things we lack
in a new light. No longer do we experience our deficit as arbitrary but
rather as something G-d has decided to withhold, for our ultimate good.
And so, prayer is always beneficial, whether our prayers effect the hopes
they contain or not. The "praying field" is a level one; and everyone
Jews are commanded to pray, to connect with the Infinite, each day (Jewish
men thrice daily). By doing so, we become better able to place the
challenges of the day into perspective.
I personally pray at a local synagogue not far from my home. It's a
wonderful congregation with a very special atmosphere. Morning prayers
usually take 50 minutes, and the afternoon/evening prayers about half an
When I lead the service, though, it sometimes takes a little longer.
Because, you see, I still have my speech impediment.
AM ECHAD RESOURCES
Rabbi Yaakov Rosenblatt, a member of the faculty of the Dallas Area Torah
Association, is the author of All I Need to Know, I Learned in Yeshiva,
(Targum Press, 1995) and Maharal for the Layman (soon to be published by