The Efficacy of Prayer

Last Thursday morning, hours before the attack at Mercaz haRav, there was a tefillah rally at the kotel featuring a number of well known rabbis. On Avodah, R’ Eli Turkel repeated this provocative question:

My wife spoke this morning with a former terrorist victim (lost husband and 2 sons).
She asked my wife that thursday morning there was a public prayer at the kotel with important rabbis. That night was the tragedy at yeshivat Mercaz haRav.
What good is all these prayers?
What do you answer this woman?

The mishnah warns, “Al tehi ke’avadim hameshamshim es harav al menas leqabeil peras – Do not be like those servants who serve their master for the sake of getting rewarded.” In my humble opinion, this it true of prayer no less than any other mitzvah. Praying in order to get something misses the point.

Remember being a child, and your father just yelled at you, and you may not even be quite sure what you did wrong? But then, when the scolding is over, you need a hug just to know that everything is okay between you.

Tefillah in a time of troubles, is about reaching out to Hashem when you feel alone. If this closeness and acknowledgement of His role in what you need happens to eliminate the role of the pain or lack in one’s life, that’s a happy consequence. Not the purpose.

So, to answer the woman’s question in a way that is sensitive to her pain: The efficacy of the prayer is in the reaching out to G-d itself. Turn to Him to that you don’t have to shoulder it alone. So that your pain serves a higher purpose — remembering with Whom he is interacting. Remembering that the tragic has a role in His purpose and in our lives’ meaning. That it doesn’t defy a loving relationship but in some way we can’t understand comes from it.

This is why it is specifically when we are in the depths of pain that minhag Yisrael calls on the mourner to cry out the truth that everything serves a greater plan — the ultimate revelation of G-d’s Greatness.

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