To Donate Click Here

Hear Our Prayers


This week’s parasha we read the pasuk: “Which great nation has G-d so near to it, as the Lord our G-d is at all times that we call upon Him?” This week’s article will focus on common issues we often wonder about prayer, some of which we may not have ever voiced, but nonetheless plague us. Are all prayers answered, or only those uttered by Gedolei Hador or exceptional tzaddikim? Why might we feel stuck, as if our prayers aren’t being answered? Are unanswered prayers a reason to give up and stop praying? How can we continue praying for something, even if years go by and our request remains unanswered? If our challenges are meant to help us grow and are “all for the best” as everyone tells us, why pray to change them just because we can’t see the full picture? Should we be concerned prayers could harm us if improperly worded? Of this and more in the coming article.


Moshe Rabbenu praises the Jewish nation with the words: “What great nation is there that has G-d so near to it, as the Lord our G-d is at all times that we call upon Him?” (Devarim 4:7). One of the Jewish nation’s great advantages is their closeness to G-d, Who gets closer to them every time they call out to Him. Does G-d really answer every prayer? Does any prayer go unanswered? In this article we will learn what the Torah tells us about this topic.

Righteous People’s Prayers

Does one have to be a tzaddik for his prayers to be answered? The Midrash (Devarim Raba 2:11) describes a conversation Moshe Rabbenu had with Hashem:

Moshe Rabbenu said: “If the day comes when Am Yisroel is in danger and there is nobody to beg for mercy for them, answer them immediately.” Hashem answered him: “Moshe, at every hour that they call out to me I answer them, as it is written in the pasuk: ‘For what great nation is there that has G-d so near to it, as the Lord our G-d is at all times that we call upon Him?’ ”

This Midrash is perplexing. If there is nobody to beg for mercy for the Jewish people, whom will Hashem be answering? And how was Hashem’s reply the answer to Moshe’s request?

Rabbi Azarya Piggio, in Gidulei Teruma (Bina Le’Itim 61) explains that there are two manners in which Hashem’s Will plays out in the world: “…I will favor when I wish to favor, and I will have compassion when I wish to have compassion” (Shemos 33:19). The Midrash explains (Devarim Raba Va’eschanan 1): “One who has mercy, I will act with mercy with him, and one who does not have – I will grant him a matnas chinam – free gift.” There are two kinds of people – those who have merit to bring Middas Harachamim into the world, and those who don’t have that merit, to whom G-d grants them what they pray for as free gifts.

In the Midrash, Moshe Rabbenu askes Hashem that even when there is no longer anyone in the world to activate the Attribute of Mercy in whose merit, prayers will be answered, G-d should nevertheless deliver them from their troubles. And Hashem answered him: At every moment that they call out to Me, I will answer them and grant them their request as a free gift.

The two form of interactions are present here – compassion, to those worthy of it; and a gift – to those unworthy.

To gain deeper understanding of this conversation, we will take a closer look at the terms used here: Asking for Mercy, and Calling Out to Hashem. The pasuk in Tehilim reads: “The Lord is near to all who call Him, to all who call Him with sincerity” (Tehillim 145:18). How does one call out to Him with sincerity?

Rabbi Shimshon Pinkus zatal, in Shearim B’Tefilla, defines various forms of prayer based on the ten terms used for prayer in the Torah. In the chapter titled “Calling Out to Hashem” he defines this form of prayer as a pointed call to Hashem, with full knowledge that He is listening (as He always does). Calling out to someone means we want to connect with him in order to ask him for something. Calling out only occurs when the person the call is directed to is within hearing distance and is tuned in to listen out for us. The more we feel that we are talking to Hashem – so much more He stands by us and listens to our call.

Chazal tell us that our prayers go unanswered because we don’t “invoke G-d’s Name properly”. What does this mean?

Rabbi Pinkus explains it with the parable:

A wealthy man walks out of a building carrying a large sum of money. Suddenly, out of a dark alleyway, three thugs jump at him and demand his money. Calling out to passersby to come to his aid illustrates the general meaning of Calling Out to Hashem – the passersby may answer and may just walk away. They owe him nothing because they just happen to be passing by at the time.

If the passerby is his good friend or family member the victim’s call becomes more directed, and he expects to be answered. And if the passerby is a policeman whose job is to ensure public safety, the victim’s call is even more pointed.

If he is a hired bodyguard, the victim’s call takes on the tone of a demand.

Chazal tell us that even one unworthy of having his prayers answered — for whatever reason — will still be answered if he calls out to Hashem knowing that He is listening. The more aware one is of G-d’s function as Doctor, Grand Matchmaker, Fertility Specialist, or Benevolent Benefactor, that much more pointed is our call to Him. In return, Hashem will be that much closer to heed our call.

The epitome of directness is when one calls out, “My G-d!” invoking the Divine manner in which G-d interacts with Yisroel, providing direct and private protection, intervening directly for every single Jew. When we call out to Him with full knowledge that it is His job and interest to bring every single Jew to his final destination – eternal life — He becomes our “private bodyguard”, and our call to Him is that much more direct. Of this kind of call we read in this week’s parasha: “For what great nation is there that has G-d so near to it, as the Lord our G-d is at all times that we call upon Him?” (Devarim 4:7).

Purposeful Challenges

The following question touches upon the sensitive topic of nisyonos, or challenges. It appears again and again, taking on many shapes and forms. We will try to present it here in the starkest terms to explain what prayer is, and what purpose it serves in our general picture of life and its challenges.

We often get the message that all our challenges in life have a purpose, and they are intended to strengthen us and make us better, more refined people. Indeed, we need to be challenged in order to grow, as the saying goes, “Nothing grows without rain.” So how, or why, should we ask G-d to remove those precious challenges? How will we grow if they disappear through prayer? Imagine a young boy whose father paid a fortune for his son to attend a body-building boot camp who takes one look at the exercise machines and calls his father, “Dad, this is too hard for me! Do me a favor; move away those machines!”

To answer this question, we must differentiate between different types of challenges.

One is a specific challenge, when something seems to be blocking us from going forward – be it a financial difficulty, lack of business success, feeling stuck in an important relationship, etc. . In this case, serious people take account of their actions to see what needs to be corrected, and rectify them but the lazier ones go for the shortcuts – segulos, ayin hara removal, or pop-spirituality in attempt to bring in a yeshuah.

But the blockage can be simply removed through prayer. Chazal tell us that when G-d created the first man, the world was devoid of plants. Although it was all ready and waiting, having been being created on the Third Day of Creation, it remained under the surface of the earth. Nothing could break through and grow without Adam Harishon’s prayer for rain. Without Adam Harishon’s prayer nothing could grow. And, as soon as he prayed, the first rain fell. And — just like that — the whole world was covered with all the grown trees, plants, flowers, and fruit that G-d had created.

Often, blessing is just ready and waiting for us, and the blockage is not a challenge necessary for muscle building but simply G-d’s waiting for us to call out to Him. Once we pray, He will bring in all the abundance that he prepared and is waiting for us.

Then there are other situations. Sometimes, there IS a decree, one we must withstand for our benefit. Here the question is – why pray? Why ask the Good Trainer to remove those obstacles?

Rabbi Moshe Shapiro zatal would often say: when we pray we connect with Hashem. Once we connect with Hashem, we are no longer the same people we were before. Every success and failure; every difficulty and obstacle is from Hashem, a prompt and an invitation to connect to Him. Once we ask Him to remove it, we become a whole new person, often — one who no longer needs that particular obstacle. Prayer itself made the necessary change because one who is closer to Hashem may no longer need that challenge.

Difficulties and challenges offer us two roads to achieve personal perfection – either the hard way, by withstanding the challenge; or through prayer and understanding that the challenge is meant to bring us closer to Hashem. Two roads to the same place.

Why Prayers Are Unanswered

Often, we find ourselves asking for the same thing, again and again. A couple waits and yearns for years on end to become parents; a man or woman waits year after year for their destined match. And the question hurts and burns them every time their hopes are dashed – why are my prayers unanswered?

Iyun Tefila

The Gemara (Brachos 55a) describes an interesting prohibition, one called Iyun Tefilla — expecting G-d’s salvation immediately after praying for it, as if G-d is, so-to-speak, obligated to fulfil our requests. The Gemara (Bave Basre 164b) notes that Iyun Tefila is one prohibition that people transgress every day because they naturally expect G-d to grant them what they asked of Him. What can we explain to ourselves when our prayers seem to be ignored?

Rabbi Meir Altusky shlita answers the question with a parable from the field of construction:

Suppose we are watching construction workers begin to build a building. They spend a whole day digging foundations, and the next day they’re already building outer walls, doors, a roof. Their work-rate tells us that the building will probably be a small shack or temporary dwelling.

If we see workers spending two weeks digging and pouring the foundation, we know the building will be a nice little house.

But if the foundation digging takes months, we know the building will be tall and sturdy, perhaps even several floors high.

If the digging takes a full year, the building will probably be a big skyscraper, tens of stories high.

But if the workers dig and dig almost endlessly, you know the building will be a real monument, one which will change the entire skyline.

When Chana asked Eli the prophet to show her young child mercy and let him live, Eli promised her a better son than him. But Chana declined his offer, stating: “For this child did I pray” (Shmuel I 1:27). The Mashgiach, Rabbi Don Segal shlita explains that while Eli, with his prayers and piety, could grant Chana a new, perfect child, Chana didn’t want a different child. In order for her child to become Shmuel Hanavi he needed all those prayers that she prayed for him during those long, lonely years. Every prayer, every mitzva she dedicated towards meriting bearing a child was another foundation on which that great edifice of Shmuel Hanavi was built.

The more prayers, the more mitzvos, we do is digging that much deeper for the foundations of the buildings that will be built – the marriage, the child, parnossah, yeshuah.

Rabbi Yosef Shalom Elyashiv’s parents were childless for 11 long years before their only son was born, a son who went on to be the towering Torah giant who lit up the world for 102 years of Torah and kedusha. That edifice had deep foundations – those of many long years of prayers and mitzvos.

Our Patriarchs and Matriarchs were all barren for many years before their children were born because their prayers were necessary to bring into the world their children with their energies and abilities, to build the Jewish nation. The holy Avos and Imahos had to invest dozens of years of prayers before they were answered.

We don’t know when the right time is for our prayers to be answered, but it will surely come, at the right time. Until then, we must do our hishtadlus: pray and do mitzvos. None of them are lost – they all serve as the foundations for the great building that will be built.

Harmful Prayers

An interesting Midrash mentioned in Esther Raba (7:24) gives rise to a question that plagues many – can prayers be answered in a negative way?

The Midrash tells of a man who was walking along the road who became tired. He prayed, “Hashem send me a donkey.” Immediately, a Roman passed by whose mare had just given birth to a foal. The young donkey couldn’t walk too well, and the Roman demanded the Jew carry it on his shoulders. The poor tired Jew said, “Oh, for my prayers have been accepted, but my request was not expressed properly. I said I needed a donkey, but I didn’t say I need one to ride on, therefore I received one to carry upon my shoulders.”

Could improperly expressed prayer be granted in a ways we don’t want?

It is important to note here that this Midrash, while certainly true, does not appear in the Gemara or Yerushalmi, and for a reason. Compared to other Midrashim that appear many times, this Midrash only appears once, and not in context of prayer but in order to teach another lesson entirely – to define different kinds of prophesies.

This midrash, therefore, should cause no distress. When we pray, we ask Hashem to, “Open our mouth and may our lips say Your praise”, and we end with a prayer that our words be “desired and our intentions wanted” before Hashem. We must trust in Hashem that if we didn’t manage to express our request properly, He will answer it nonetheless for our best desires. We must only put our effort into calling out to Him with full knowledge of His interest and closeness to us, letting go of all fears and thoughts that cause us to stray away from Him.

This Midrash refers to those who try to so-to-speak “force” G-d to do their will, using special kabalistic knowledge to have their request granted. They must ensure their prayers are uttered precisely, because in this case, even a slight slip of a tongue can cause great damage. However, for the layperson, G-d promises, “and his banner (ודגלו) over me is love” (Shir Hashirim 4:2). The Midrash explains ודגלו  as ודילוגו – “his skipped”. Those skipped and mixed-up words will be answered with all of G-d’s love for us, and granted. Indeed, no prayer goes unheeded.

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *