For the week ending 22 May 2010 / 8 Sivan 5770

Prayer Power

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From: Stacia
Dear Rabbi,

I don't understand why I should pray, if G-d already knows whatever it is that I need. (I have prayed before in my life, spontaneously, and at times I have been answered positively. But my question is still, why?)

Dear Stacia,

Imagine Adam, the first human, opening his eyes for the very first time. How do we picture it? He sees a beautiful lush garden, a panoply of color, a gorgeous array of flowers, vegetation, and trees. The first moment of man is a visual delight, a celebration of existence.

Wrong! Let's try again.

The Sages teach us that Adam opens his eyes and sees a bleak and barren world. No colors. No flowers, vegetation, or trees. He is surrounded with desolation, an earth forlorn in hues of brown and gray. Adam looks deeply into himself and understands that in order to survive he must nurture and build the world around him. This will ultimately justify the purpose of his creation. He looks at the miserable earth and recognizes his total inadequacy to fulfill his task. He feels a deep emptiness, an existential void; he has been created incomplete for his task.

Adam looks Heavenward and he does something that represents the most basic instinct of humanity, something that connects all of mankind in every culture and in every age. Even a thief who breaks into a house will do it in order not to get caught. It will be perfected by the Avot (Abraham, Isaac and Jacob) and purified by the kohen gadol (high priest) as he enters the Holy of Holies on Yom Kippur. He does something that connects him to the last tear shed for the coming of mashiach.

He prays.

Within moments, the rains come pouring down; earth's goodness bursts forth and becomes the glorious Garden of Eden.

Man has prayed. God has answered.

The rest of history follows in much the same pattern. The word "Adam," man, has the same root as the word "adama," earth. Man, who is made from adama, justifies his existence by bringing out the potential of the adama. Thousands of years later, you and I are still "planting seeds" in the earth, justifying our own existence. How is this expressed in practice? We build a home, raise children, and concern ourselves with the improvement of society. As Jews, we study Torah and build the world through chesed (acts of kindness) by caring for those in need. And we, too, feel inadequate.

Why, though, did G-d create us with deficiencies which we must pray to fulfill?

The answer is astonishing. Although it seems totally counter-intuitive, all our problems are in fact nothing more than a means to have a relationship with G-d. Every challenge, pain, and moment of suffering, from the anguish of Adam when he opened his eyes for the very first time to the agony of the birth pains of the messianic era, they all exist so that man can connect to G-d. The act of prayer is not a solution to man's inadequacy; rather, man's inadequacy is an opportunity for prayer.

Our challenge is to internalize this crucial point. When life seems to be good we sometimes see prayer as a chore, part of our daily ritual which we squeeze in between brushing our teeth and breakfast. When life seems to be bad we rush to our prayer books to solve our problems. Yet all life's events are just roads to prayer. When the road is smooth, G-d is challenging us to acknowledge that we can take nothing for granted, that we are totally dependent on Him. And when the road is rocky, G-d is giving us the opportunity for extra intensity in prayer, to achieve an even higher level of closeness to Him.

  • Source: Rigshei Lev by Rabbi Menachem Nissel

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