What is prayer and why does it work?
Doesn't the Creator of the world know man's needs for good health, contentment from his children and sustenance?
If so, what is the benefit of prayers?
Prayer is an expression of a one's knowledge that there is a Creator of the world – and his belief that the Creator can help him even in cases when no one else can. A person pours out his heart to Him for help – and because the person reaches a deeper level in belief in G-d, he has more merits and is more worthy of salvation.
Moreover, the Creator planned the world in such a manner that even if in Heaven good blessings have been decreed for a person, if he does not pray for them, he will not acquire them completely. An example of this is seen by the holy Matriarchs Laya and Rachel. Laya knew that from Heaven it had been decreed that she would marry Eisav, the older brother – and her younger sister Rachel would marry Yakov, the younger brother. She cried and prayed not to marry Eisav who acted basely and that her lot not be worse than her younger sister who was to marry Yakov, the fine and righteous. Her sister Rachel, on the other hand, did not pray because she was sure that she would marry Yakov.
After they both married Yakov G-d said – She that used to cry and fast and hated Eisav's deeds and prayed to me – by right should not be distanced from that righteous man. I will give her sons first; by contrast, Rachel was barren and did not have children for many years.
A story took place in our times – the man did many deeds to give him merits for his salvation but he was not redeemed until he prayed
Even if a person does all the merit producing deeds in the world, he still has to pray
I heard of a man who came to his rabbi and asked him for a merit that would help him earn a living more easily and plentifully. He explained that because of the great pressure he had, his life was not worth living and he wanted to die. He could not bear the pressure that all the various creditors and loaners were putting upon him. His rabbi told him that he should take upon himself to be stringent in giving tithes (a tenth of his earnings) to charity, as our Sages (Masechta Shabbos) have interpreted the verse, "You should certainly give tithes" – 'Give tithes so that you become rich.' Giving tithes of one's earnings to charity is a merit that brings affluence.
The man followed the advice faithfully and gave away one tenth of his hard-earned money to charity, from any source of profit.
Much time went by but he still did not experience a change and he was still paying up debts as before, running madly from one lender to another, asking desperately for a new redeeming loan, or an extension of time, in order to keep up with his great debts and pay them all back on time. More time elapsed and he saw that his salvation had still not arrived, that there was no one to help him, and no one to whom he could turn for support. He had tried every type of advice and merit and nothing had helped him.
In this sad state he took up his ancestors' craft – he picked up the Book of Psalms and poured out his heart to the Creator, begging G-d with all his heart to have mercy upon him and take him out from his darkness to the light. He prayed that he should earn a living in ease and comfort, not to be dependent on people's gifts or loans. He kept this up for several days and indeed his fortune changed and he began to earn in a dignified and sufficient manner.
He eventually managed to pay back his debts, his good fortune continued and he became very wealthy. When a friend later asked him – "Is it true what they say that giving tithes for charity is a merit for wealth and that's how you became wealthy?" The man answered, "Certainly giving tithes to charity is a great merit, but it must be seasoned with several chapters of Psalms with a full heart, because for everything you need prayers. And even if a person performs all the merit producing deeds in the world, he still needs prayers."
The nations of the world also recognize the power of
The Nation of Israel has been given a special strength; the Creator of the world is close and hears their prayers in a special way, as it says in our holy Torah, "Who is a holy nation that has G-d close to it as our G-d in all that we call to him?" There is a well known story brought in the Talmud about one of the wealthy men of
When we look at the story we see something strange. Why did the gentile demand payment immediately on the morning of the day due? He knew that the time for payment was only at sunset. Our Sages of blessed memory explained that the gentile also knew that by the Jew's prayers he could bring about salvation – and so he started in the morning and tried to bother him the whole day so that he would not have time to pray.
Similarly it says in the holy books that when the Nation of Israel was in
Similarly we see in the Talmud (Masechta Ta'anis) that in the days of the Sage of the Mishnah Rabbi Zira the gentiles decreed upon the Jews, and had guards watching over them, prohibiting them to pray – because the gentiles know that the Jewish Nation has a tremendous power in its mouth. Consequently, we should also know our strength well and make use of it. King David wrote, "Open your mouth wide and I will fill it up" The Creator of the world tells the Nation of Israel – "Ask me for your hearts' desires and I will fulfill your wishes." May these words of be fulfilled in us.
By me everything is fine– why do I have to pray?
The answer to this is found in the Talmud, Masechta Shabbos.
"A person should always ask for mercy that he does not get sick, for he becomes ill even with a light disease, he is told: 'Bring a merit and you will be freed.' And if the disease becomes more serious – he should feel that he is being taken to the gallows for judgment; because whoever is taken to the gallows for judgment – if he has great advocates, he is saved – and if not, he is not saved."
We learn from our Sages' words that it's not worth one's while to depend upon his strength for his good situation to continue forever without him praying for it. This can be compared to a parable:
A person inherited a large sum of money that would suffice him as livelihood for several years without him having to work for a living. The man consequently went about, doing nothing to earn money and bought whatever he saw and heard about, spent his time in hotels enjoying himself, using his credit card non-stop, depending upon his large bank account. He didn't bother to check the state of his account to see if perhaps the money was running out and he would soon be left with nothing, without any source of income – and worst of all – remaining with his habit of spending money and fulfilling his wishes limitlessly.
One day the bank manager called him and told him – "My friend, your account already has a large overdraft. Please come immediately to pay up the debt." Our friend heard this terrible tiding like thunder on a clear day and felt totally lost and hopeless. "How will I buy bread tomorrow, not to speak of paying up the debt? I have no profession, no source of income and even if I start looking now, there's great unemployment and I have no chance of finding a job immediately. Not every profession suits me and even it does the salary would be tiny and enough for bread and water." He reprimanded himself – "Why did I think that my inheritance would last forever? I should have used my years of plenty to build up a business that would bring in a large income so that I could continue living on the high standard of living that I had for these years, with a small amount of effort." He missed the train. Now in his state in order to establish a business he would have to raise money and obtain great loans with the bank being an important partner, entailing great risks.
The comparison is obvious. Sometimes in the merit of a good deed that one did or in the merit of one's parents or grandparents a person merits gifts from Heaven, but one must know that his treasure can be lost, whether from a bad investment or due to unforeseen damages from within or without – such as a disturbing illness that doesn't let him enjoy his riches, or troubles raising his children that make his life bitter to the point that he doesn’t even enjoy his food, G-d forbid. Therefore the wise person prays to the Creator regularly, or he asks Torah scholars and rabbis to constantly pray for him for all his needs, praying for the Creator to give him a good life, always. If G-d forbid a person is lazy and a loss, trouble or illness befall him thereafter and only then does he begin praying – he needs great merits at that time, as it says in the Talmud- "Bring a merit and you will be freed."
DOES prayer HELP EVEN WHEN NATURALLY THERE IS NO HOPE?
Our Sages, of blessed memory, have revealed to us that prayers have the power to redeem even if in a natural manner there is no more hope. The strengths and merits of prayers are very great and they are able to save even unnaturally – especially if the prayers come from a pure mouth (Maharsha, Kedushin); and the saying of the sages – "Even if a sharp sword is on a person's neck he should not despair of mercy" is well known.
The writer merited hearing a frightening story from the person who experienced it and this symbolizes the truth of the aforesaid. "I am a Holocaust survivor", the man retold, "and I lost most of my family. I myself was hanging from the noose by the Nazis, may their memory be erased, but I prayed to the Creator to save me and I had faith in Him even in those critical moments when I was close to death that He would certainly hear my prayers. Suddenly the battalion's commander appeared and yelled at the executioner to take me off rope and I was saved with G-d's mercy – and I subsequentlybuilt up wonderful generations of family."
Every year this man makes a feast of thanksgiving to G-d and tells his story in public so that people hear and understand his lesson – that G-d has no restraints from saving us and we must pray to Him and have faith in Him.
Similarly Rabbainu Bichaya (One of the Rishonim Sages who lived about eight hundred years ago) wrote that the power of prayer is tremendous and can change Nature. He added that troubles and hardships befall a person to make him pray to G-d, because G-d longs to hear the voice of prayer from His children.
Meaningful Prayer from the depths of the heart
It is retold in the Talmud, Masechta Rosh Hashanah, about two people who were condemned to the gallows for the same crime. One was saved and the other wasn't and the Gemara asks – Why? And the answer given was that the first was saved because he prayed earnestly and the second did not pray meaningfully and was therefore hung. The lesson learnt from this story is that a person must go deep into his soul because he has immense power in his prayers and he can save himself, his family and his surroundings from many troubles and burdens if he just prays with a full heart.
THE STRENGHTAND MERIT OF RASHBY, THE POWER OF crying
In the holy Zohar it says that if a person prayers and cries with so many tears that he cannot say the words of the prayers with his lips because he is crying so much – he is promised that his prayer will be answered.
Rabbi Yonatan Eibshitz also wrote in his book Ya'arot Dvash, "Fortunate is he who prays with tears and a broken, dejected heart, for that will not be unanswered. And in the exile what can we depend on and what will protect us, if not for prayers and pleas from the depths of our hearts…"
If a person prays now with intent, crying and tears he raises up all the prayers from the past few years that had been with him and had remained feeble without rising to the Heavens. Now through this earnest prayer all the other prayers rise upwards to G-d.
Why does it sometimes happen that one prays and the salvation is delayed or does not come at all?
The first source in the Torah of someone praying repeatedly for a specific redemption is Yitzchak our Patriarch. He prayed profusely to the Creator that he and his wife be redeemed from their barrenness and merit children, as it says, "And Yitzchak prayed to G-d…" It says in the Medrash that he poured out his heart "in riches". Just as a rich man has a lot of money, so was he rich in his prayers and did not despair. And indeed, the prayers paid off and they were redeemed with healthy children.
In the holy books it says that a person's troubles are not the reason for his prayer; prayer is the reason for one's troubles. This means that the Creator brings a person to a sorry state because He wants to hear the sound of his prayers.
On the verse, "Hope to G-d, strengthen… your heart and hope to G-d" the Medrash interprets: Repeatedly hope and the time will come when you will be answered. It says in the holy books that the reason prayers are delayed in being answered is because of the passage through the worlds. When the abundance from the Upper world goes down to the lower world, it passes an untold number of worlds and in each world one is judged again whether he is worthy for this good; with every prayer that one prays he brings the abundance down more until he is worthy to receive it; and for every type of abundance the Creator has set the amount of worlds that it must pass. Therefore, a person should not despair and should pray again and again. In the Talmud our Sages ob"m call prayers one of the four things that need constant strengthening and all one's might – and the main thing is not to despair.
ONE MUSTN'T DESPAIR
He waited forty years until he found his match was married and his wife gave birth to twins when he was 71 years old.
An original and true story that took place in November 2009 (Kislev 5770) in
This true story strengthens our faith and hope that one mustn't despair from praying and even if decades have passed and one wasn't answered, there is still a good chance of being redeemed.
There was a fine believing Jew in Bnei Brak who at the age of thirty had already been divorced twice, without any children. This man waited and hoped in great expectation to find his match and have children. He prayed much for this wish but his prayers were not answered. The man did not despair, even though forty years had gone by from the time he was divorced. When he approached the age of seventy he found his match, a lady around fifty years old – and when he turned seventy one and his wife fifty two, twin boys were born to them. The story seems unreal but it’s true (- the editorial board has the details of the man and his exact address). The event was publicized in the entire city and we are now publicizing it all over the world to hopefully encourage the discouraged that "The salvation of G-d comes in the blink of an eye."
ARE THERE SPECIAL PLACES WHERE PRAYERS ARE ACCEPTED OR ARE THEY ACCEPTED FROM ANYWHERE
Prayers can be accepted from anywhere. Nevertheless, there are holy places that, because of their holiness, cause the prayers to be more likely to be accepted. One example is the
ARE THERE SPECIAL TIMES FOR PRAYERS OR THEY ALWAYS ACCEPTED?
The prayers that our Sages ob"m set for us – Shacharit the morning prayers, Mincha the afternoon prayers and Arvit the evening prayers – have their set times. In contrast, private prayers do not have a set time and any time a person wants to pray, he may do so. There are, however, times and occasions of grace when prayers are more likely to be accepted such as after midnight until the morning. In addition, prayers recited during public prayers are more likely accepted, for then the power of the group helps greatly. Likewise, there are special times during the course of the year such as during the month of Elul (before Rosh Hashanah) and the Ten Days of Repentance (between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur), during Jewish holidays, and on days when miracles occurred to the Jewish Nation in the past – for then there is a likelihood on those days that miracles can be renewed in our times as they had occurred in years gone by.
Are prayers of every person accepted or only of the righteous?
King David ob"m said in the Psalms, "G-d is near to all who call out to Him, to all those who call him truthfully." Therefore, when a person has troubles and his prayers come from the depths of his heart, there is a great chance that his prayers will be answered, if he takes upon himself to improve his ways – and thereby the gates of prayers will not be locked, excluding him. At that time if a person arouses himself to cry and he cries with many tears asking the Creator to accept his prayers, his salvation is bound to occur, as our Rabbis ob"m said, "The gates of the tears are not locked."
Nevertheless, the prayers of Torah scholars and righteous people have special power and merits due to the purity of their tongue and their sanctity. They are cautious not to sin and they make themselves holy with the holiness of the Torah – so their prayers are likely to be accepted. This is the source of people asking Torah scholars and righteous people to pray for them to be blessed with good tidings.
THE PRAYERS OF INNOCENT CHILDREN
It is brought in the Talmud that the prayers of innocent children have tremendous power to nullify difficult decrees that have been decreed upon an individual person and upon the whole world, as it says in the Psalms, "From the mouths of babes and sucklings You have founded strength to stop enemies and revengers". Why? Because children are free of sins and pure of any impurities – therefore, the prayers from the mouth of those who have sinned is incomparable to the prayers from the mouths of those without sin.
AN EXEMPLARY STORY FROM OUR TIMES ABOUT THE GREATNESS OF THE PRAYERS OF INNOCENT CHILDREN
A man came to the home of the great Rabbi Chaim Kamievsky with his seven year old son and asked to tell his story: This boy, who studies in a school in Bnei Brak, unfortunately became stricken with cancer. At a certain stage, when it became obvious that he would have to begin radiation treatments, the parents told their child that because of the treatments that he would have to undergo, all his hair would fall out.
At first the boy was not so alarmed, but after thinking about it a while he began crying bitterly and told his parents, "About the hair on my head I don't care, but how can I still be called a "Jewish child" without any side-locks?!" and he cried bitterly – "But the side-locks?"
The father continued telling the Rabbi: "My son turned his face to the wall and began praying fervently to G-d, – 'Merciful Father, I am certain that everything that You are doing to me is for the good. I am sure of that. There is no one who has more mercy on me than You. May father and mother tell this to me all the time, as well. Therefore I accept the illness that You have brought upon me in total love and I am willing to begin the difficult treatments with my complete heart, because I am certain that therein You will not forsake me and not leave me. You will be with me and will protect me.'
'I am willing to sacrifice the hair of my head, even though I will be terribly embarrassed. I am willing and ready for everything – truly everything. But my side-locks?!' And here the boy burst out in terrible crying. "The side-locks?!" – How can I give them up?! That is the appearance of a Jewish child! And I want to continue looking like that!'
'I beg you, my Father, Father in Heaven, please leave me at least my side-locks! The side-locks should not fall out during the radiations!'
"The boy continued praying for a long time and we, the parents, stood by him and cried with him," the father told the Rabbi.
"And, look, "he pointed to the boy, "the unbelievable miracle happened! I brought the boy so that the Rabbi should see the great miracle that G-d has done with me, with his own eyes. Just as a father has mercy on his son, G-d listened to the prayers that came out of a pure heart and even though all my son's hair fell out – the side-locks stayed in their place as always!"
The father described how the doctors were very moved, not believing their own eyes. They never remembered such a case where only the side-locks stayed without falling out. The Rabbi was very moved to hear the story and he called his family members to see how a pure prayer from the depths of a little child's heart is accepted in Heaven.
Do the prayers of one person help another and what is the source of the blessings of the righteous?
In our holy Torah we see many times that the leaders of the Nation prayed for others. Moshe prayed for the Jewish Nation that they come out of the exile and he prayed for Pharaoh that the plagues leave him. Likewise, he prayed for the Jewish Nation – that the Creator should produce food and drink for them in the wilderness. And he prayed for them during their war against Amalek – and on many other occasions. And the Creator heard their prayers. Moreover, our Sages of blessed memory revealed to us that G-d is very fond of people praying for the salvation of another person, to the point that they said, "He who prays for his friend will be answered first."
Likewise we find the concept of the blessings of the righteous. Our Patriarch Yitzchak blessed his sons Yakov and Eisav. Yakov blessed Ephraim and Menashe, and Moshe blessed the Jewish Nation before he passed away.