16 Aug Why Do Some Prayers Go Unanswered?
As Jews, we are taught that when we need something we should pray to Hashem for His assistance. But, what do we do when we have prayed hard and it is not helping? Why is it that sometimes our prayers aren’t effective?
There are many possible reasons for this troubling phenomenon. Firstly, there are times that our mouths aren’t up to the task of being the proper vehicle to suitably convey our requests to Hashem. If, G-d forbid, we scream habitually at our spouse, speak lashon hara or use foul language, this deadens the potency of our mouth. As we are taught, “Ein kateigar naaseh saneigor – The prosecutor cannot also be the defender.” Thus, if we sully our speech with gossip about others, telling lies, revealing secrets or engaging in quarrels, we lose our power to successfully petition Hashem with tefillah. For this reason that the metzora, the biblical leper, has to cry out to passers-by, “Tameh, tameh – I am contaminated, I am contaminated.” This is not simply to alert people to keep their distance from him. Rather, it is also a plea that others should pray for him since the metzora, who is a ‘motzi ra,’ one who speaks evil about others, has lost his power to effectively pray for himself.
Another reason why our prayers are sometimes not helpful is because we don’t put enough kavanah, concentration, into our requests. It’s good to remember the words of the Chovos HaLevovos: Prayer without kavanah is like a body without a soul. Now, a body without a soul is otherwise known as a corpse so, to be blunt about it, prayers without proper thought are prayers that really belong in the morgue. It is no wonder then that such prayers will be oftimes ineffective.
Next, in order for our prayers to have maximum potency, they need to be said in a minyan, a quorum of ten people. When one davens b’yechidus, alone, it is not guaranteed that Hashem will listen to his prayers at all.
Then, there’s another issue. Sometimes our prayers aren’t answered because we haven’t filled the quota that Hashem expects of us for this specific need. We find that Moshe Rabbeinu prayed five hundred and fifteen prayers to Hashem to enter into Eretz Yisroel. The Medrash knows this since the gematria of v’eschanan (the description of Moshe’s beseeching) equals five hundred and fifteen. Similarly, in order not to fall into the clutches of Esav, we find that Leah prayed so often that her eyelashes fell out from an abundance of tefillos. And, in the same vein, the Gemora asks why our matriarchs were barren and answers “Mipnei she’misave HaKodosh Boruch Hu l’tefiloson – For Hashem desired their many prayers.”
In this area, our relationship with Hashem differs from our relationship with our fellow man. In dealing with others, we might ask something once – or maybe even twice. After that, if we ask a third time, we run the risk of being considered a pest. By the fifth time, our friend will be sorely tempted to get an unlisted number. However, when it comes to Hashem, we are taught to ask and ask and ask and ask again. Indeed, the Gemora wonders what a person should do if he prays and isn’t answered – and definitively advises, “Yachzor v’yispallel – Pray again,” citing the verse, “Kavei el Hashem, chazak v’ameitz libecha, v’kavei el Hashem – Hope to Hashem, take courage, be strong of heart, and pray to Hashem again.” So don’t be daunted if your prayers so far are unheeded. Redouble your efforts and keep on praying.
We must also realize that sometimes our prayers are successful and they create a shefa bracha, a possibility of blessing. But the reason why our request didn’t yet occur is because we haven’t made the proper hishtadlus, attempt. Perhaps, indeed, Hashem has the shidduch waiting or the job right around the corner. We just need to properly go out and find it. As well, there are times that Hashem hears our prayers but says “No,” either because we are lacking sufficient merits or because what we think is good for us really isn’t.
Finally, the Gemora in Masechtas Kala Rabosi [chapter 3] suggests a strong method to help our prayers become more effective. The gematria of shalom, three hundred and seventy-six, is the same gematria as shavei’a, to cry out. Thus, says the Gemora, “One who seeks peace will have his prayers answered.” The more we assume the role of a peacemaker, the more potent our prayers become.
May it be the will of Hashem that He fulfills all our requests for the good, and blesses us with good health, happiness, and everything wonderful.