Prayer: Is He Listening?

Question

Dear Rabbi,

I read that Judaism teaches that God is can do anything. So I pray to Him to help me succeed. The problem is, He doesn’t seem to hear. Why is God not answering my prayers?

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Answers

  1. An important question that many people ask: “Why is God not answering my prayers?”

    First, I commend you for realizing the need to pray to God for help in whatever you do. Praying to God is a mitzvah mentioned many times in the Torah. For example, “I command you this day…to serve [Me] with all your heart.” (Deut. 11:13). Our Sages ask, “What is service of the heart?” And they explain, “It is prayer.” And this is true even more in times of distress. (Num. 12:9)

    The Torah warns, “Beware…lest you say in your heart: ‘My strength and the might of my hand have gotten me this wealth’.” (Deut. 8:17) It is helpful to remember that while we need to make our own efforts to get what we want, ultimately our success is from God. Praying to Him for success helps us to remember this. Conversely, since success depends on God, He may decide, either for our own good or because we lack merit, not to answer our prayers and not give us what we want.

    Jewish sources teach that one who is persistent in their prayers will ultimately be answered. Expecting God to always answer our prayers, though, is wrong and can cause anguish when the prayer goes unanswered. In such a case, what should one do? Our Sages suggest studying Torah, which will increase one’s merit and likelihood for the prayers to be answered. And then pray again, as the verse suggests, “Wait on the Lord (to answer your prayer), strengthen your heart (with Torah and good deeds), and wait on the Lord.” (Psalms 27:14).

    That being said, often God actually answers and it is we who do not hear. Once, a person fell overboard and was in danger of drowning. The person in the water prayed to God, “Save me!” Another person rowed by and offered to pull the drowning person aboard. “God will save me,” the one in the water replied. Then, a sailboat passed and threw him a rope. Again: “God will save me.” A large ship then approached and lowered a ladder. Once again: “God will save me.” Eventually, the person tragically drowned, and, standing before the heavenly tribunal, demanded, “I had faith in God. I prayed to Him. Why didn’t He answer me? Came the reply: “He actually answered you three times – but you were not listening!”

    Best wishes from the AskTheRabbi.org Team