Prayer Essentials

For the week ending 2 November 2013 / 29 Heshvan 5774

The Prayers of the Righteous

by Rabbi Yitzchak Botton
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Through the ages the prayers of the righteous have shielded the Jewish people from much harm and have been the source of success and salvation, both for individuals as well as the nation. What is the power behind their prayers? Why are their words so cherished by G-d?

The Sages compare the prayers of the righteous to a pitchfork. They explain that just as a pitchfork turns over the dirt from one side to another, so too the prayers of the righteous turn G-d’s attribute of strict judgment into mercy.

What is the difference whether G-d looks at us with eyes of mercy or strict judgment?

Let us imagine a child who has been misbehaving the entire day. Would it be wise for him to mention a toy he wants for his Chanuka present while he is being punished? When G-d’s attribute of strict judgment is aroused, a person’s flaws and misdeeds are brought to His attention. If, instead, G-d’s attribute of mercy is aroused, his flaws will be overlooked and his good deeds will be emphasized.

We find in the beginning of Parshat Toldot that for ten years Yitzchak and Rivka had been trying to have a child. After ten years of fruitless efforts it became clear that Rivka was barren. In fact, Rivka lacked the organs necessary for childbearing (Zohar). Yitzchak began praying to G-d for his wife to conceive.

On the surface this story seems out of order. How many couples have enough trust in G-d to begin praying after finding out that they just wasted ten years trying to accomplish something that was, in reality, impossible? In an era when most people put all their hopes in medical experts, the righteous put their trust in G-d. They know that the words of prayer are real and powerful, and can change things. They know that the key to children, wealth, health and everything else lies in the Almighty’s hands. To whom, then, does one turn when something is impossible? To the One Who spoke and created the world. And what did Yitzchak ask of his G-d? He prayed for the Almighty to create within Rivka the necessary organs for childbearing.

The prayers of the righteous are a testimony to the perfect faith they have in G-d. It is a testimony to their unwavering acceptance of G-d’s will, even when things do not seem fair and just. It is well-known that G-d relates to us in the same manner in which we relate to Him. G-d, therefore, responds to their prayers favorably, overriding His attribute of strict judgment, and showering them and those whom they pray for with abundant mercy. In the merit of their perfect faith G-d transcends the laws of nature and performs countless miracles for His people.

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