Prayer Essentials

For the week ending 1 February 2014 / 1 Adar I 5774

Prayer Fundamentals - Part 1

by Rabbi Yitzchak Botton
Become a Supporter Library Library

I believe with complete faith that the Creator, blessed is His name – to Him alone is it proper to pray and it is not proper to pray to any other (one of “The Thirteen Principles of Faith”).

It is hard for us to understand how, in ancient times, people worshiped idols. We often ask: “Who would be foolish enough to pray to a bunch of rocks?” But are we really so different from them?

How idol worship began

Although the first generation of idol worshippers believed in G-d’s existence, and that He was ultimately in control of the world, they mistakenly concluded that the intermediaries that G-d placed in the upper worlds — such as the sun, moon, and the heavenly hosts — had the independent power to choose whether or not to help someone. The physical idols they prayed to represented the celestial beings above. Hence the goal of the worshiper was to cause whichever intermediary he was worshiping to grant him more wealth, power, or whatever pleasure he was seeking.

The generations that followed made a further mistake, thinking that God, after creating this world, abandoned it totally in the hands of the intermediaries that He created. They concluded that there was no point in praying to G-d; rather all requests needed to be directed to the intermediaries. Eventually people began to forget that G-d existed, which resulted in the birth of atheism.

My success depends on me ― today’s idol worship

After seeing the mistakes of our predecessors it is easy to say, “Of course G-d is in control. Of course we must pray to Him”. But do we truly live our life according to those beliefs?

In a time of need, to whom do we place our trust? Is it the lawyer who saves a person from a false accusation? When on the job do we place our trust in the strength of our own hands? “With my brains I will surely succeed. Who’s a better salesman than me?”

In the end, all our efforts equal nothing more than an empty vessel. It is only G-d who can fill it. The fact that we are able to provide a vessel is in itself a result of G-d’s kindness, in order to give us a feeling of self-worth. However, without G-d’s blessing the vessel would forever remain empty, while with G-d’s blessing a person will succeed no matter what.

From the above it is clear why we must place our trust in G-d, praying for His assistance. But there is yet another benefit in praying. When one asks G-d for help, he actually strengthens his own belief that it is in fact G-d’s help that makes the difference.

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