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Prayer: Why Not Leave it up to God?

I’ve been told that it’s a good idea to add our personal requests to our prayers and not just recite the text of the daily prayers. However, whenever I try to do this I feel at a loss. All I want to say to God is that He take care of me. Doesn’t God know best what is good for me? What else could I possibly ask? Why not just leave it all up to Him?

The Aish Rabbi Replies:

You’re asking an excellent question which really gets to the heart of what prayer is all about. It is 100% true that God knows much better than we what is good for us and what is not. Yet, He commands us to pray to Him daily for our needs, and the Sages instituted a lengthy arrangement of prayers to ask for all our needs. Also, as you write, it is advisable not only to say the standard text but to ask God for our particular needs.

But why do it this way? Why must we be so specific? Why do we have to attempt to figure out what to pray for – only to have God say no if it’s not the right thing for us? God knows what is good for us! Why not pray one thing only – that He grant us what He knows is right? Who care what we think is right for us?!

The answer is that God did not command us to pray to Him for His sake – to notify Him what our needs are – but for ours – so that we can understand what our needs are. One of the main purposes of prayer is for us to understand ourselves. When we pray to God, we must decide what to say to Him. And this, if done properly, requires great introspection. What do we want to tell our God? What are our priorities? What is important to us in life? What are our goals? How do we want to get there? Prayer means looking into ourselves and seeing who we truly are and what we truly want in life – as well as, perhaps, what we should not be striving for and asking God about. And when we truly understand ourselves, we are ready to open up to God and ask Him for our needs.

As a result, God commanded us in prayer. To a great extent, God grants us what we need in life only after we ask for it in prayer. Although He already knows what is good for us, He wants us to know it too. And we figure that out by looking into ourselves, collecting our thoughts, and approaching Him in prayer. And when we truly understand who we are and what our mission is in life, we are so much more prepared to fulfill it – and God will grant us the tools to do so.

See here for a lengthier explanation of this notion.

There is a second related idea. God wants us to talk to Him throughout our day. He knows what we need and He theoretically could grant it to us for free. But He wants us to first come to Him and ask for it.

And the reason for this is because God wants us to involve Him in our lives. Is something upsetting you? Is your life not fulfilling? God wants you to talk to Him about it – not to your friend or to your therapist (or not only to them). He gives us challenges and difficulties in life so that we’ll turn to Him and come closer to Him – as well as recognize more strongly that all that occurs to us is ultimately in His hands.

This too is a reason God does not just want us to ask Him generically that He take care of us in the way He knows is best. He wants us to involve Him in every detail of our lives – what we are happy about, what we are upset about, what we are proud of, and what needs improvement. In prayer, God becomes not only our Master whom we stand in awe before, but our Confidant whom we can open up to and find solace in.

Finally, we do not pray generically to God because there are times when we can pray for what we feel is right for us and He will actually change our decree (for the better – never for the worse). The Sages teach us that Leah was originally destined to marry Esau, but she cried so hard to God that she not fall to such a wicked man that He eventually arranged that she marry Jacob instead. (Talmud Baba Batra 123a, Bereishit Rabbah 70:15, brought in Rashi to Genesis 29:17. This is why the Torah considered it a praise to write that Leah’s eyes were “soft” (from crying).) Perhaps turning to God and praying to Him more strongly can in itself make us more worthy – and deserving of a better decree from Heaven. Thus, we do pray for what we think is right for us – and who knows what effects that will have in Heaven?

May God answer all our prayers for the good!

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