Josh recently lost his job in the economic downturn. He had no idea where he would get the money to pay his mortgage and bills. As his meager savings were quickly being depleted, he prayed with all his heart that he would get a job. He finally found what seemed to be the perfect job and, after applying, was granted an interview. As the day of the interview grew closer, Josh prayed very hard that he would get this job. At the interview, Josh’s potential employers seemed very impressed with his credentials. It looked as though his prayers would be answered.

Two days later, an email arrived from the company and Josh opened it with excitement. It read, “Although we were very impressed with you, someone else was more impressive. Sorry, your services are not needed at this time. Thank you for thinking of us.” Josh could not help but wonder, “Was there a point in all my prayers?”

In this week’s Torah portion, Parshas Toldos, the Torah recounts how Yitzchak (Isaac) and Rivka (Rebecca) prayed for a child after being married for twenty years without children. There is an oft-cited quote of our Sages that says that G-d desires the prayers of the righteous and that is why He made Yitzchak and Rivka wait so long to have children. What does this mean? Does G-d really want people to suffer just so that they will pray to Him? Why does He need their prayers?

We all know that Hashem is just and kind. Very, very kind. Everything He does is calculated down to the finest detail. Everyone gets exactly what they deserve and no less. If so, how can you hope to accomplish anything with prayer? Do you think you will change G-d’s mind, as if He will get so fed up with your persistent nagging that He will finally give in?

Many people think of prayer as a vending machine: you put in a few requests at the top and whatever you asked for comes out at the bottom. And just as with a vending machine, where if you put in a dollar and no soda comes out, you conclude that the machine is broken and move on to the next one, so too with prayer. If you pray enough times with no result, you conclude that prayer doesn’t work.

The Chovos HaLevavos (Duties of the Heart, a classic work on personal growth by Rabbeinu Bachya) has a completely different approach to prayer, as explained by Rabbi Avigdor Miller, zt’l, in his preface to his commentary on the Siddur (prayerbook), called Praise, My Soul. His general principle is that prayer is a means to self-betterment. Our prayers are structured in such a way as to increase our recognition of Hashem’s greatness and make us aware of how insignificant and powerless we are compared to Him. We come before Hashem and say, “I know You are the only One with the ability to give me this and therefore I am turning to You.” Through constant prayer, we achieve a greater level of reliance on Hashem and build a better relationship with Him.

Says Rabbi Eliyohu Lopian, zt’l (1872-1970), this is the key to understanding how prayer is effective. We become better people through our prayers, as we explained, and therefore are deserving of more good. We are not convincing G-d to change His mind; rather, we are changing ourselves, thereby deserving to have our prayers granted.

And that is why G-d desires the prayers of the righteous. By withholding something from them, He is giving them the opportunity to elevate themselves and become better people through their prayers. It is truly for their benefit.

So Josh should not be left feeling that his prayers were pointless, because the purpose of prayer is not to “get stuff.” It is to make ourselves into better people with a deeper, stronger connection to Hashem. Rather than feeling let down, Josh can be grateful for the opportunity to develop a closer relationship with Hashem.

May we all merit achieving a close relationship with Hashem.

Shmuel Dovid Kirwan

Please follow us and share:

Want constant access to online Torah and Jewish resources?

First Name: 
Last Name: 
  • rebecca

    I want to ask somthing’ I try to be good person and help to people in Africa but why
    I am 35 years old I pray aloot fur find good guy and this look like gud want something more and I don’t understand what?
    I have a good proffsional and good life but time past and I need family but I feel like something block and my pray don’t unswe why?

  • la

    Its not just a feeling of being ignored, its a feeling of Him not liking you. your trying and trying- for Him! to get close to Him! and yet when He still doesnt answer you just dont want a relationship with Him(i know of course you do) but a part of you doesnt, you loose trust and feel manipulated. you feel scared to speak to Him.

  • Gavi Roseman

    I don’t know what issue you are grappling with for years.
    It must be severe. You mention people searching for a shidduch or job. The longer it takes, the more frustrating it gets. The more energy you exert it prayer, the more powerful the feeling of being ignored.
    I get all that. Totally. I’ve experienced it too on some level.

    Think about this, though.
    You posted a comment and got some immediate responses.
    Those who responded didn’t solve your life issue.
    They didn’t try to.
    They don’t even know what it is!!!!

    But perhaps you were encouraged by the fact that they took notice.
    That they cared to reach out to you.
    There are people with terrible illnesses, whose lives were turned upside down, and eventually died from those illnesses. Many times they talk about the people they met due to their suffering, that provided a silver, even golden, lining to the suffering itself. It didn’t take it away. But it gave it, and their lives, a whole new level of meaning.

    We don’t know why God gives suffering.
    Sometimes we can make peace with it; sometimes we don’t.
    But when we pray to Him, we find Him.
    He listens. To each word. And He comes close.

    In special, precious, moments, we may even get the feeling that “it was all worth it,” for the warm feeling that praying gives.

    Don’t know if this helped you or not, but I do hope that doors will open quickly and that all your requests will be fulfilled.

  • Mister Srully

    I think the author’s main point is a good one and that he stated it well. I liked the self-improvement angle. I also liked what he said in the comments that we wrongly think of prayer as “saying please” so we can get what we want.

    At the same time I agree with Mr. Lipman. There are things we don’t know, things we CAN’T know if we are to be human and G-d to be Divine.

    I feel the author erred when he said that G-d is “very very kind.” I don’t think that “kind” is an appropriate adjective. It’s like saying G-d is a “nice Guy.” Instead, G-d is the ultimate truth and the ultimate good – with the stress on ultimate, a notion that transcends our limited time on this earth and the three dimensions of our existence. We don’t understand G-d’s ultimate goodness (although we do know that it includes reward and punishment in the afterlife – important factors) for we don’t possess the wisdom and perspective necessary for Divine judgment.

    Ergo, “I don’t know” (pace, Mr. Lipman) is the best way to go.

  • mr. lipman


    I’m with Shira on this..I’m not trying to bash this article, I’m really not. I just find it hard to relate to.

    It puzzles me how many people claim to know how Hashem works. Hashem wants this, Hashem wants that. Who are we really to know what Hashem wants from there really one clear rule?

    The author then goes on to say that We all know that “Hashem is just and kind. Very, very kind. Everything He does is calculated down to the finest detail. Everyone gets exactly what they deserve and no less”… we know that..did 1 million Jewish children go to the gas chambers because they deserved no more or more less? Ah you say..that’s the question of Tzadik Vrah lo..why a person who is righteous can suffer..the answer is that we don’;t know Hashem’s reasoning for everything..and you know what..that’s is more plausible to say that we don’t understand everything..but nonetheless we believe..than to say that we know why hashem did this and did that..the problem is that it’s a far scarier proposition to admit that we don’t know..than to proclaim that we know the reason Also, by knowing why Hashem did something it helps quell our fears that it might happen to us..After all, if Hashem did it for reason A,B,C..and those reasons don’t apply to me, then I am safe.

    And yet somehow, there is an everlong line of people, some of whom are gedolim, who continue to issue proclamations, as to how the Good Lord works. Our people were recently saddened by the loss of arguably one of the greatest Torah minds of recent history. And while this sage is due a great deal of respect..I am puzzled as to how he knew the reasons for Katrina, the Holocaust and a myriad of other significant occurrences.

    I honestly am not trying to bash or be sarcastic, I am inquiring – as I fail to understand how any Human being in our time can claim to have what can only be described as no less Ruach Hakodesh, because without such divine inspiration, I don’t see how any of these holy men arrive at their conclusions. Is it possible that Katrina happened because of the settlements in Israel – I guess so – but it could have happened for myriads of other reasons, one of which is nature..heracy?..although I’m not a scholar I believe that at least one commentator explains the splitting of the red sea along those same lines.

    I do believe in a God that is just and do believe that there is a rhyme and reason to this universe..I also believe that no matter how steeped one is in his mastery of Shas and Halacha, it is impossible for any mortal being to say why God does’s dangerous and does no good at all..Its ok to say ” I don’t know”

    I look forward to your response and sincerely appreciate all the wonderful work you and your organization does for Klal Yisrael

  • David Mescheloff

    I understand how you feel, Shira. Sometimes it DOES feel as though you are speaking to a wall. In fact, the Torah and prophets say that sometimes (but not always!) G-d prefers to relate to us “b’hester panim”, hiding His face. So “speaking to a brick wall” is, in fact, precisely how it is supposed to feel! Many Jewish thinkers have struggled with what this might mean. Some have suggested that one should know that it only SEEMS “like talking to a brick wall”, for G-d could never really stop looking at us. Even if He might seem to be doing so, out of some sort of anger – it is actually much like an angry but loving parent, who pretends to ignore his child (which is actually worse than any active punishment in a certain sense; being ignored is the worst!), but watches him from a distance or out of the corner of his eye, to be sure no harm befalls his child. Others have suggested that this feeling actually enables one to go past relating superficially only to “G-d’s face”. Thus one SHOULD be dissatisfied with prayer that feels that way, just as one would be dissatisfied with a human relationship in which the other side ignores you and pretends to respond “like a wall”. One has to dig deeper into one’s self, so that one come into contact with G-d’s “more internal” places. Others still have suggested that we are to understand the feeling that we are speaking to a wall specifically as a divine vote of confidence in us! It is as if G-d is saying, “I’ve given you all the skills, all the right values, and all the strength that you need in order to deal with this. I know you can do it! So stand on your own two feet, and deal with this on your own!” This is a little like how we behave towards grown children, knowing that we’ve given them all they need to deal with whatever issue may be in question, stepping back and “giving them space”, and refusing to do for them that which they can and should do on their own, for their own spiritual growth. Regretfully, I cannot elaborate on any of these in the space of a “talkback” to an internet article. Just don’t give up, just as you wouldn’t give up if you were having relationship problems with another human being who was relating to you strangely, but with whom a relationship is important to you. Sometimes a little personal counselling may be in order, from a counselor or therapist who believes in prayer and knows how complex the issues surrounding it can sometimes be. Persistence, thinking about your own side in the relationship, struggling with it – these are some of the answers to your three questions. One last hint: sometimes it helps even to add to your prayer a reference to what you are feeling: “I feel as though you are ignoring me, G-d. But I’m not going away. I’m just going to keep praying to you until I feel we are connected and close. So, please, help me with …”

  • Shira

    I’m not trying to bash this article, I’m really not. I just find it hard to relate to.

    Sometimes, you really need something, you need help from Hashem. It’s really frustrating when you daven for years and nothing happens. It feels like you’re talking to a wall. Almost like Hashem not there. It’s almost like you’re getting ignored. I know Hashem exists, I do, but this is so frustrating.

    It’s so hard to feel like you’re becoming better because you really need help asap. Let’s say you need a job or a spouse.

    I’m not trying to insult Hashem. I feel like I don’t want to daven because I feel like I am speaking to a wall.

    I know my thinking might be a little flawed and probably wrong.

    Here is what I want to ask:

    How do you feel closeness to Hashem when you feel ignored?

    How do you change your thinking?

    How does prayer make you become a better person and closer to Hashem?

    Thank you for your time.

    • Chaim Rubenstein


      Hashem NEVER ignores us, although we may feel ignored. In the story, “Josh prayed very hard that he would get this job.” Josh was correct to want the job and to ask Hashem for help. However, the help Hashem gave him may not be what Josh wanted. Hashem knows what is best for each of us. If this job was not best for Josh, then Hashem helped him, regardless of how it looks to Josh. Maybe it was the wrong job. Maybe it was the wrong environment for Josh. Maybe it was just the wrong time. We don’t know why Josh lost his job, but that is what Hashem wanted. We cannot fathom why Hashem does things, but by accepting everything as his will, we become a better person. If we change our thinking to accepting Hashem’s will, even if we don’t like it or understand it, we come closer to him.

      Think of a situation where a child wants to do something. Her parents do not want her to do it, but the reasoning is too complicated for the child to understand. They just say no, or give a simple and unsatisfying reason. The child is upset and does not understand why the parents are not giving her what she wants. Don’t they love her? Don’t they care? Of course they do. Hashem loves and cares for us, even if we cannot understand his ways. Hashem ALWAYS answers our prayers, just sometimes the answer is no. We need to accept the no as the best for us at this time. We can still pray, but maybe we should pray a little differently. Instead of Josh praying for “this job”, he should pray for “the best job for me.”

      Why did Hashem make Yitzchak and Rivka pray for 20 years to have children? Maybe because the time was not right for their children to be born. They still had faith in Hashem, and still prayed, for all those years. I know that you will have more questions when you read this. Great! Questions are what our faith is all about. As our sages say, Find yourself a teacher (Pirchei Avos, Chap. 1, Mishna 6) and ask him all your questions.

      – Chaim

      • m.a

        This article is a long time ago. But when you compare Titchak and Rivka, our life spans are not so long, so when we pray my case 15 years of healing, being a baal teshuve with my family..losing a house, school issues, no job, yes, we question it. We are shomer shabbos, and truthfully, I wanna run away. But where. It is so hard to enjoy your blessings of your wife and kids, whenyou can’t even support them for whatever reasons. I thought we were forgiven on Yom Kippur. I didn’t even know Hashem growing up. Im on depression meds due to this. I read the emunah books, help books, Gemoras-Art Scroll over the years. just nothing. There is no answer, we just don’t know. I can not snap out of it. All theyears this has been going on.

    • admin

      Shira, thank you for taking the time to read and comment on my article. I will try to answer your questions with another parable. A child asks her mother for a lollipop and the mother tells her to “say please.” The child says please but the mother, perhaps on the phone or busy with something else, does not give her a lolly. After saying please a few times without being given the lolly, the child feels ignored.

      We tend to think of prayer as “saying please,” something we have to do in order to get what we want, and that is why when we pray for something and don’t get it, we feel ignored. But that is not what prayer is really about at all. I believe that if you can first eliminate this mistaken assumption about what prayer is (one which many of us have), it will be much easier for you to change your perspective and understand how prayer can bring you to a closer relationship with Hashem.

      There are actually a number of ways in which we become better people through prayer. One is that we are increasing our faith and bitachon. Throughout our prayers, we are constantly reinforcing for ourselves the belief that everything is in Hashem’s Hands. This is the essence of prayer- turning to Hashem in a recognition that everything comes from Him. We also are making ourselves humbler people by recognizing how small we are compared to Hashem and how much we depend on Him for everything we have.

      Utilized correctly, prayer can be an avenue to increase our appreciation of and gratitude to Hashem. In fact, some of our prayers are thanksgivings and not requests at all. The entire Amidah prayer can be turned into an exercise in appreciation for what we do have. In general, we tend to focus on what we are lacking; if we would only focus on the incredible good that Hashem gives us, it would be much easier for us to feel grateful and closer to Him. When we daven the bracha of Refaeinu, asking Hashem to heal the sick, we can use that as an opportunity to appreciate our good health, and so on with each blessing.

      There is of course much more to say on this topic, but in short, prayer can make you into a person of stronger faith, of greater humility and increased gratitude to Hashem. I’m not saying that it is automatic or easy. Prayer is called an “avodah,” something we have to work at. But with a changed perspective, we can reach great heights through our prayers. I hope that this answer was helpful for you.

      Shmuel Dovid Kirwan

Leave a Reply