Tuesday, January 14, 2020

If everything God does is good, why bother praying?

Brachos 12

“The cry of Sodom and Gomorrah has become great,” declared the Almighty to Abrahm, “Since their sin has become very grave, I will descend now and wreak destruction upon them.”                            
Abraham approached and said, "Will You even destroy the righteous with the wicked? Perhaps there are fifty righteous men in the midst of the city; will You even destroy and not forgive the place for the sake of the fifty righteous men who are in its midst?  Far be it from You to do a thing such as this, to put to death the righteous with the wicked so that the righteous should be like the wicked. Far be it from You! Will the Judge of the entire earth not perform justice?"

Rabba bar Chinena the Elder quoted Rav: Anyone who has the opportunity to beseech for mercy for his fellow and does not ask is called a sinner.

What is the purpose of prayer?  If I believe that everything Hashem does is for my best, then why ask Him for anything?  Whatever He does is for the best, whether or not I recognize it with my mortal eyes!  A true believer shouldn’t need to pray and ask G-d for anything.  One should simply believe that our Father in Heaven will provide everything we need.  And if it appears not to be the case, it is simply because we do not discern Heaven’s ways.  But eventually, all will become clear – sometimes during our lifetimes, other times, not until we reach the Olam HaEmes (the World of Truth).

So what is prayer all about?  It’s an opportunity to communicate with the Almighty.  Even the most righteous person needs a moment to talk out their issues.  Only once you’ve talked it through with G-d, can you really internalize your acceptance of His will, in such a way that will be stable and permanent.  Otherwise you run the risk – just like in any relationship – of just swallowing your hurt and accepting all the agony that comes your way.  The problem with that attitude is that you’re merely sweeping your feelings under the rug – eventually the rug is going to pile up and you’ll trip over it when you can’t take it anymore.  Unthinking acceptance isn’t enough – you need to have a good chat with G-d about His treatment of you and your loved ones.  Only once you’ve talked it through will you truly be able to internalize your sincere faith that He has a plan for your life.

But when that happens, and you’ve accepted that He has a plan, what is there left to pray for?  Says Rav: Pray for Divine mercy for your fellow.  If you see someone else in pain, struggling with health issues, financial problems, relationship difficulties, you need to pray for them! 

Does that not imply that you’re not accepting G-d’s plan for your fellow? Not at all. Firstly, it’s one thing to be at peace in your own relationship with Heaven, it’s quite another to look at your friend and judge their spiritual relationship.  But here’s the more poignant reason to pray for someone else: praying for others causes you to think about their troubles and consider ways you might be able to help them.  If you’re beseeching G-d to have mercy, it awakens your personal drive to find ways to attain mercy for them.

And that’s actually built into Rav’s statement in the Gemara.  The initial reading seems to suggest he is talking about beseeching Divine mercy in the form of prayer.  But the literal meaning implies any and every request for mercy!  If you see another person suffering and you know that you might be able to assist by interceding on their behalf, you are duty-bound to act.

All too often, sadly, we don’t think about other people’s needs and how we can ameliorate their troubles.  We’re too busy thinking about ourselves.  But when we habituate our prayers to focus on the needs of those around us, we automatically become attuned to thinking about ways we can achieve more merciful results in their lives.

The more you focus on helping others, the more the Almighty will focus His attention on smoothing your path through life.  May you maintain an open and frank conversation with our Father in Heaven and offer to partner with Him, as He tends to His beloved flock, by seeking ways to intercede on their behalf! 

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