The Purpose of Prayer
There was never any question as to who was right and who was wrong. When
Korach challenged Moses for the leadership of the Jewish people, it was a
brazen attempt to usurp a position to which he had no right. Hashem had
chosen Moses to be the leader of the Jewish people, grooming him from
infancy for that exalted role. Korach had no such legitimate claim.
How did Moses react to this challenge to his authority? In this week’s
portion, we read that he prayed to Hashem that He spurn the sacrificial
offerings of Korach and his followers. “I have not appropriated so much as
a donkey from any of them,” Moses concluded in his prayer, “nor have I
done them any harm.”
The question immediately arises: Why did Moses have to defend himself
against Korach in his prayer? Even if Moses had been less than perfect,
Korach would have been rejected by Hashem as a usurper.
Let us consider for a moment the concept of prayer. A person is gravely
ill or in serious financial trouble. In desperation, he turns to the
Creator and begs Him for relief in this time of crisis. But surely, the
crisis itself has been brought into being by the same Creator. How then do
we have the temerity to ask Him to reverse Himself? What gives us the
right to ask Hashem to heal us when He is the one who deliberately made us
ill? Are we asking him to admit that He made a mistake, Heaven forbid?
Obviously not. What then is the point of our prayer?
Let us consider one more point. Our Sages instituted the requirement to
pray to Hashem thrice daily. We ask for his help a thousand times a year,
regardless of whether or not we have any pressing needs at the time.
Clearly, there is a deeper purpose to prayer.
The commentators explain that the overriding mission of our lives during
our brief sojourn in this world is to connect with Hashem, to develop a
close relationship with Him, to bring ourselves to transcendent levels of
spirituality for all eternity. How do we accomplish this?
One of the most direct avenues to Hashem is prayer. Through prayer, we
open our hearts to Him every day, three times a day. We turn to Him as our
loving Father in Heaven and pour out all the pain, the fear, the yearning
and, yes, the joy that floods our hearts. If we truly engage our emotions
in our prayer, if we experience an uplifting personal connection, then our
prayer connects us to Him, regardless of whether or not we receive a
positive response to our request. Prayers that result in personal growth
are successful prayers. Sometimes, that very personal growth can effect
changes in the divinely ordained order of things, but the efficacy of the
prayers does not depend on these changes.
When Korach challenged Moses for the leadership of the Jewish people,
Moses immersed himself in prayer, seeking comfort in a deeper closeness
with Hashem. This led him to profound soul searching and, in his great
humility, to a thorough examination of his treatment of Korach’s
congregation. But even so, he could not recall doing anything to provoke
this rebellion. These words then were not an argument and a justification.
They were the natural result of true prayer.
A desperate woman approached a great sage. “My child was born with a
terrible deformity. Please help me! What shall I do?”
“I want you to pray for your child,” said the sage. “Pray at least once
every day, and for at least an hour each time.”
“And will He then perform a miracle for me?” asked the woman.
The sage spread his hands. “Anything is possible. We will see.”
A month later, the woman returned, her face wreathed in a serene
smile. “The prayer has really helped,” she said. “My child’s condition has
not changed, but I have. I can accept it now, and go on with my life.”
“Ah,” said the sage. “Then He did indeed perform a miracle.”
In our own lives, we often have occasion to pray to Hashem to extricate us
from one crisis or another. Hopefully, our prayers will be answered in the
way we want, and we will be spared pain and anguish. But even if Hashem
decides not to grant our request, our prayers do not have to go to waste.
If we pray in the proper frame of mind, our prayers will inevitably enrich
us spiritually and bring us closer to Hashem. They will help us rise above
the vicissitudes of the transitory world and become connected to the
eternal truths of the universe.
Text Copyright © 2008 by Rabbi Naftali Reich and Torah.org.
Rabbi Reich is on the faculty of the Ohr Somayach Tanenbaum Education Center.