The rebbetzin of Rav Tzvi Hirsch of Rimanov burst into her husband’s room, tears flowing from her eyes.
“Please excuse me, but I simply can’t hold myself back anymore,” she exclaimed. “You daven for the whole world. Everyone comes to this room and begs you to daven for them, to intercede on their behalf, and you always comply. Can you not daven for your own daughter who is so sick?”
The rebbetzin’s request wasn’t an idle one. Rav Tzvi Hirsch and his rebbetzin tragically lost a number of their children to illness. The background behind this story is that one of their daughters was deathly ill, but the rebbetzin noticed that her husband was continuing with his regular schedule as normal and didn’t appear to be investing any more time and effort into his tefillos than he regularly did. She was flabbergasted. How could her husband, who was the most merciful of people, be so apathetic to the fact that his beloved daughter’s life was in danger?
The rebbe turned to her, eyes welling with mercy, and said, “Imagine how it would have looked if Hashem came to Avrohom Avinu and said, ‘Please take your only son who you love and sacrifice him to Me for a korban olah,’ and Avrohom would have gotten up and davened for Hashem to rescind His decree.”
Of course, to give such an answer, a person has to be on an extremely exalted level of avodas Hashem that he knows without a doubt that this is what Hashem wants from him. Indeed, because Avrohom overcame his natural desire to cry out to Hashem, he opened up the gates of mercy for his descendants forever. We say it every year during the Mussaf Shemoneh Esrei of Rosh Hashanah, when we beg Hashem that “just as Avrohom overcame his natural mercy to do Your desire with his entire heart, so too, Hashem, please overcome Your anger (even if it is deserved) and let Your mercy overcome the natural order of things…”
Rav Tzvi Hirsch obviously understood that this is what Hashem wanted from him and was able to answer with the above response.
Tefillos Are Never for Naught
What do we do, however, when we have a difficultly? Our job is davka to daven, and to daven as if our life depends on it. Hashem wants us to daven. He may have even sent us the difficulty in order to push us to daven.
Many people wonder: What happens when we daven so hard for someone and our tefillah is not answered?
A child of mine once asked me, “Totty, I davened so hard for a certain person to get well and that person passed away. Hashem didn’t listen to my tefillos?”
While of course we can never know why Hashem does what He does, one thing is certain: The tefillos weren’t for nothing. They are never for nothing.
Not only that, but Hashem often brings a difficulty because He wants us to daven.
There is a fascinating exchange between Hashem and Avrohom Avinu in this week’s parsha that warrants contemplation. Sedom was an evil place. Hashem decides that the people and the entire city need to be destroyed. Before taking that drastic step, He says, “Should I hide from Avrohom what I am about to do?” Hashem then tells Avrohom what He plans to do.
The Torah continues with a dramatic parsha detailing, step by step, how Avrohom Avinu, the pillar of chesed and mercy, stands before Hashem and uses every tactic of tefillah that he can think of to save these resha’im. He begins, “Perhaps there are 50 righteous people, 40, 30, 20, 10… Hashem, You add Yourself to the minyan…” After that no-holds-barred tefillah, with Avrohom using all his power to save them, what happens? Hashem leaves and destroys Sedom.
What happened to all of Avrohom’s tefillos, davened with such passion and mercy? Were they for naught? Were they useless? The Tiferes Shlomo asks this question and answers that certainly they were not for nothing. In fact, they were extremely potent. He explains, according to Kabbolah, what happened to the neshamos of all the people of Sedom as a result of Avrohom Avinu’s tefillos on their behalf.
The primary lesson for us is that there is no such thing as a tefillah that goes to waste. It may not manifest itself in the way that we wanted, but it is there, powerful and potent.
The True Purpose of Tefillah: Connection
Many times, we don’t have to come on to a Kabbalistic explanation to see the potency of tefillos. Rav Elimelech of Lizhensk, in his Sefer Noam Elimelech (Parshas Behar), writes that often, Hashem sends us difficulties just so that we will see how our davening releases the brocha immediately.
Because, after all is said and done, it is connection that Hashem wants. And connection is what is so lacking today. There has never been a generation that has been so connected yet so disconnected all at once.
Just like Chazal teach that Hashem gave our avos difficulties because He so deeply desired to hear their tefillos and wanted an even deeper connection with them, so too, with us, the connection is what is so important.
The mistake that many people make, however, is that they think that to truly connect with Hashem, it has to be mitoch tzarah. You don’t have to cry from pain to connect with Hashem. You can cry from happiness and gratitude. Hashem wants us to think about Him and think about what He does for us. Imagine if we just start tallying up all of the tovos that Hashem does for us – our health, our families, our friends, our parnassah. Certainly, no one has a perfect life, but the fact is that for some reason, we always focus on what we don’t have rather than on what we do have.
Perhaps, every one of us can compile a short list of the good things that we have, including even the most mundane of things, and we can even utilize the negatives to reinforce the positives.
For example, when a person has a debilitating toothache (after taking care of it and going to the dentist), perhaps the time has come to thank Hashem for the fact that one’s teeth usually don’t ache. They feel just fine. When a person gets the flu, he should think for a second how lucky he is every day when he is healthy.
There is so much brocha in each of our lives, and all we have to do is connect with Hashem and take the time to appreciate His brocha and thank Him.
Talk to Hashem
Lately, when I drive, I have been noticing that other drivers in the lane next to me or in the street opposite me seem to be talking to themselves. They look like lunatics. Of course, they are on the phone, using their car’s hands-free feature.
That got me thinking. Since talking to oneself doesn’t look so crazy anymore, because everyone assumes that you are on the phone, perhaps the next time you are in the car by yourself, take the time to actually talk to Hashem.
Talk to Him, but first thank Him. Start tallying up all of the tovos, all of the good things, that He does for you, and try to enumerate them. Really. This isn’t a joke. One of the best ways to develop a relationship with Hashem is by actually talking to Him. Because talking forges connection. You can also ask Him for what you need, but before you stick out your hand and ask for a handout, it is probably best to thank Him and appreciate Him.
Yes, you will feel a bit funny at the beginning, but in this generation, when we are connected to everything except our inner selves and our Creator, we must do whatever it takes to forge that connection, hopefully through appreciation, rather than just supplication.
There has never been a generation that has been so connected yet so disconnected all at once.