The Power of Prayer
As far as doubts regarding the power of prayer are concerned, some say that when a decree has been issued, it is useless to resort to prayer. Yet in the absence of a decree, a prayer should not go against the Creator’s will.
What is the advantage of reciting Hashem’s praises and giving Him thanks?
In Parsha Eikev we read, “To serve the L-RD your G-d with all your heart” (Deuteronomy 10:12).
It is also written, “Beware lest you forget the L-RD your G-d by not observing His commandments, His ordinances, and His decrees that I command you today, lest you eat and be satisfied, and you build good houses and dwell therein, and your herds and your flocks multiply, and your silver and gold increase, and all that you have increases, and your heart will become haughty and you will forget the L-RD your G-d, Who took you out of the land of Egypt. … And you may say in your heart, ‘My strength and the might of my hand have gotten me all this wealth.’ Then you shall remember the L-RD your G-d, that it was He Who gave you strength to make wealth, in order to establish His covenant that He swore to your forefathers, as this day” (Deuteronomy 8:11-14, 17-18).
Targum Onkelos states, “Then you shall remember the L-RD your G-d – He gave you the ability to raise cattle and become prosperous.”
The Goal of Prayer
The goal of prayer is to establish emunah (faith) in the soul of man in order to become a vessel to receive blessings.
In order for the wellsprings of abundance in the supernal world to spread upon a person, he must pray with the intention of receiving this abundance. If Heaven decrees that a person should become prosperous, but he does not do what is necessary to receive it (i.e., working the earth by planting, cultivating, watering, etc.), then he will not become prosperous until he does his part. The good intended for a person will only come about when he acts in accordance with the dictates of the Torah.
Rabbi Jacob bar Iddi pointed to a contradiction. One verse states, “Behold, I am with you. I will guard you wherever you go” [Genesis 28:15], but another verse states, “Jacob became very frightened” [ibid 32:8]. He thought that some sin had occurred.
Similarly it has been taught, “Until Your people pass through, O L-RD, until this people You have acquired passes through” [Exodus 15:16]. Until Your people pass through, O L-RD – this is the first entry [into the land]. Until this people You have acquired passes through – this is the second entry. Hence the Sages say, “The intention was to perform a miracle for Israel in the days of Ezra, even as it was performed for them in the days of Joshua bin Nun, but sin caused [this miracle to be withheld]. – Berachot 4a
Rashi states: “After the promise, sin occurred.”
A promise is not kept in case of sin, for sin prevents promises from being fulfilled.
The Children of Israel came into the land at the time of Joshua, and they also returned to the land at the time of Ezra, following the Babylonian exile.
Thus the Children of Israel merited a miracle in their favor.
They came with a strong hand during the time of Joshua, but not during the time of Ezra, because of sin.
They left only with the permission of Koresh, and they were under the control of Koresh and Achashverosh during the reign of the Persian Empire.
The Conclusion of the Kuzari
Prayer is to the soul as nourishment is to the body. The blessing of a prayer lasts until the time of the next, just as the strength derived from the morning meal lasts until supper. The longer we delay praying, the longer the soul suffers the consequences. We tarnish it by the fact that we are too absorbed by our material pursuits. One who wants to rectify his soul and experience good must, at the time of prayer, purge himself of all that troubles him.
A Decree Annulled – Sefer HaYekarim
If one turns from his evil ways, he can change a decree in his favor. This is why it is said that one who changes his name can annul an evil decree. Obviously, he must also improve his conduct.
This is why a person who completely changes his ways and puts aside his evil desires becomes an entirely new person. In fact a decree meant for him as an evildoer no longer has any power over his new character.
Hence a person who prays sincerely and with all his heart has the ability, through this prayer, to annul all evil decrees. Thus we cannot ask, “How can a person change G-d’s will by praying,” for the fact that a person is going to pray is already taken into account by G-d. Therefore G-d awaits and wants to hear a person’s prayer in order to grant it.
A Higher Level
Prayer is the goal, and the impetus for prayer serves as the means.
It is written, “The Children of Israel cried out to the L-RD” (Exodus 14:10).
Because the Jewish people realized that they were surrounded by obstacles on three sides (the sea on one, their enemies on another, and wild animals on a third), they raised their eyes and cried out to Hashem. Why did the Almighty put them in such a situation? It was in order to knock at the doors of their heart and awaken the power of prayer within them, for G-d yearned to hear their prayers.
For example, a young woman is being chased by some wicked men. A king passes by and she cries out to him, asking to be saved from her attackers. The king saves her, and after a few days he asks her to marry him, but she refuses. Although he loves speaking to her, she wants absolutely nothing to do with him. He therefore brings her assailants back to pursue her once again. She then cries out to the king, and he again saves her and tells her that he loves to converse with her.
When the Children of Israel were still in Egypt, they raised their eyes to Hashem and asked Him to save them. After the Almighty delivered them from Egypt with a powerful hand, He wanted to hear their prayers. Nevertheless the people kept quiet. G-d therefore caused Pharaoh to pursue them, and at that point they cried out to Him. In response G-d said, “I love to hear your prayers.”