Rebbe Nachman of Breslev teaches us that prayer is like a powerful hunting bow in our hands; we must learn to use it safely and effectively (see Likutei Moharan I:2). When our forefather Jacob referred to his “sword and bow” - his weapons – Unkulus and Rashi tell us that he was referring to his “prayers and supplications”.
My beloved teacher Rav Shalom Arush, may Hashem bless him, elaborates on Rebbe Nachman's above-mentioned teaching and explains that there are two sides to prayer – praises of The Almighty and personal requests. Praises of The Almighty work like a sword with immediate effects. On the other hand, our personal requests work like a bow, for there's a delay between the instant when we pull the bowstring and when the arrow hits its target. In like manner, we rarely see our personal requests answered immediately.
Many people ask me why Hashem doesn't grant them their heart's wishes. Consider the following examples:
* A person goes on a date and becomes totally infatuated. He/she begs Hashem that the match should be successful. Hashem knows that it's not that person's true soulmate, and certainly not for the best, and therefore doesn't grant the request.
* A person begs for financial success; Hashem knows that if that person would have a lot of money, he'd not only become arrogant, but he'd drift far away from Hashem and from observing His commandments.
* A person prays for a new Audi or Mercedes, despite the fact that his income doesn't justify such a purchase. Hashem knows that such a car will invoke neighbors' jealousy and even an IRS audit, for the tax people want to know where he got the money to purchase such a car...
* A person prays day and night that Hashem should help him to be accepted at a certain professional school or place of employment; Hashem knows that this would be a terrible move on the long run.
* A woman with two healthy children begs Hashem for another child, yet has terrible health complications after the third child is born.
The examples are endless.
Rebbe Nachman was once traveling down a country road with his beadle Rebbe Chaikel. They were about to pass by the dilapidated hovel of Rebbe Chaikel's cousin, a very destitute individual with a wife and many hungry children. Rebbe Chaikel begged Rebbe Nachman to stop by the house for a moment; Rebbe Nachman reluctantly agreed.
They entered the cousin's pitiful-looking home, and Rebbe Chaikel – in a whisper – implored Rebbe Nachman to bless the cousin with material abundance. Rebbe Nachman shrugged his shoulders and said, “I'm not the wharehouse of material abundance.”
Chaikel was insistent. “If that's the case, Rebbe, then may I bless him with your permission?”
“Do as you wish,” replied Rebbe Nachman.
Chaikel took a bottle of water and began sprinkling drops in all four corners of the broken down shack: “Abundance in the north, abundance in the south, abundance in the east, abundance in the west...”
Chaikel's cousin began to trade in dry goods and soon became a very rich man.
One day, several years later, Rebbe Nachman was looking out the window of his study. Chaikel's cousin, already a rich merchant, was running by. Rebbe Nachman called Chaikel to the window. “Look what happened to your blessing, Chaikel – your cousin doesn't even have time to look at the color of the sky...”
The cousin had indeed turned his back on prayer and Torah study once he began making money. Rebbe Nachman knew that financial success would be detrimental to the cousin's soul correction and ultimate mission in life.
Like arrows, our personal requests from Hashem should be aimed at “bullseye”, which means that for our prayers to be answered, they need to be on target from a spiritual standpoint. On a practical level, here are a few key guidelines to assure that our prayers will be effective.
* We should ask Hashem to fulfill our requests only on condition that they will – if fulfilled – be for our ultimate good.
* We should ask Hashem to help us do His will, and not necessarily our will.
* We should clarify in our minds and hearts that our request is just as beneficial for soul as for body.
* We should evaluate our motives in seeking what we want, making sure that they are in keeping with Hashem's commandments.
If we keep the above four points in mind, our requests from Hashem will surely be on target. May we all be effective “archers”, with all our heart's wishes answered for the very best always, amen!
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