A woman came to me and expressed: “I prayed to God to heal my mother, but God didn’t answer my prayers.” I responded to her by explaining that God doesn’t always answer our prayers, heartfelt as they may be. But maybe she, and we all tend to expect something of God that our tradition never intended. Yes, I too pray for loved ones and people who are dear to me, even as my “rational” mind tells me that God does not always answer our requests. In fact, in Judaism, the purpose of prayer is not so much to ask for what we think we lack, but to become aware and appreciative of what we have. And when we are feeling weak and overcome with trouble, the Jewish attitude toward prayer is that we appeal to the One whom we call God for the strength to confront and endure our trails, even as we know that a “Divine Arm” does not always reach down from heaven to heal us or to resolve the challenges we confront.
I love the story of a man who wants desperately to find God. So what does he do? He fasts for a few days as a gesture of purification, and then he climbs a mountain where he shouts out to God, seeking a response. Finally, exhausted from his praying, he gets to a place where he can rest and there he continues his fervent prayers. But again, he receives no response.
At last, exasperated, the man cries out, “God! God! Where are you?”
And God responds: “You went the wrong way my friend! I’m down here, with the people!
The message of the story: Our God-given purpose involves our reaching to other people, and being a source of light, and strength and love for them. Yes, we Jews believe that “God speaks to us through other people, and the goodness and kindness that we show to others. This may not be the God whom we wish existed, but it is surely a God who can make a profound impact upon our world through each of us.
Rabbi David Greenberg