Translated by Rabbi Lazer Brody
Modern society has conditioned people with two expectations: The first is a sense of entitlement and the second is a desire for instant gratification. As such, if they encounter any difficulty in life, and then seek a solution through prayer, they think that Hashem owes them an immediate snap-of-the-fingers salvation. Such folks frequently lose faith, especially when their difficulties become even more acute after praying.
Hashem is omniscient – He knows that shortcuts and the easy way are rarely the best way.
Increased difficulties after praying are tests of faith. Do we really believe that Hashem hears our prayers? Do we really believe that He can solve our problems? If our prayers were answered instantly, we would never strengthen our emuna. We would be in big trouble in an even bigger crisis. In weightlifting, muscle fiber is not strengthened unless it withstands pressure; the same goes for emuna: It is also not strengthened unless it’s tested. Just as the biggest muscles are developed from the greatest exertion, our emuna is reinforced through successfully withstanding difficult tests of faith.
The lesson we learn from the all the difficulties that our forefathers had in life is that increased difficulties oftentimes precede salvations. This should not discourage us. On the contrary, life’s difficulties are an incentive to strengthen our resolve and seek an even closer connection to Hashem. If we don’t give up, we emerge with both strengthened emuna, which is a priceless asset for posterity, and salvation as well. The long and difficult way in this world is the short and easy way to the World to Come.
Rebbe Nachman explains the phenomenon of why life becomes even more difficult when a person begins to pray. Just as a tangible commodity has a monetary price tag, whatever we pray for has a spiritual price tag that is comprised of two factors – the number of prayers and the amount of desire. Hashem knows that once a person prays a certain amount of prayers, his prayers are liable to become rote, routine, and diluted of intent and passion. Hashem therefore sends obstacles in our way; we must now appeal to Hashem with increased fervor to overcome the obstacles. This also lets us know that we still have work to do.
Here’s an example: A person prays to overcome his anger, yet he seems to succumb to anger with even greater frequency and intensity than before he started praying. He asks himself, “What’s going on here? I’ve been asking Hashem to help me control and uproot my temper, yet I get even angrier than I did before!”
Hashem is hearing this person’s prayers and taking them very seriously. Hashem knows how much prayer is required to truly uproot anger. Hashem says, “Fine, My son. I’ll help you overcome your anger if you really want to. But first, I don’t want you to fool yourself; I’ll show you your true current level and you’ll see just how much work you have to do and prayer you must invest to accomplish your goal.” The person then sees that he really hasn’t done much about his anger, and he soon finds himself begging Hashem for a half hour every day in personal prayer just to overcome this one problem. That, of course, is exactly what Hashem wanted.
Now, take your own problem, whether it’s anger, overeating, a bad habit, or whatever, and plug it into the prayer-and-subsequent-difficulty template. Hashem will enable you to understand just how much hard work and prayer you’ll need. If you don’t lose heart, you’ll see miraculous gains. Patience, desire, and perseverance are the key words. We’ve seen people time and again who’ve made phenomenal personal gain by praying to overcome a negative character trait for a half-hour a day for ninety days straight. It’s not easy, but it’s more gratifying than anything. Few things strengthen our emuna more than seeing our prayers answered, especially when we prayed for something that seemed impossible.
A woman came to me with a terrible overeating problem. She had tried virtually every diet, every specialist, conventional and alternative medicine, every pill and every herb. Nothing worked and she just continued to gain weight. I explained to her that only Hashem can help her, suggesting that she commit to an hour a day of personal prayer, half of which should be devoted to her overeating problem. She did. Sure, she had her ups and downs. But, after every binge and failure, she strengthened her resolve. She began walking for an hour a day while talking to Hashem. Within a year, she had lost 80 of her original 250 pounds and now weighed 170 pounds. Her entire self-image and joy in life took a dramatic turn for the better.
Life is truly more beautiful with emuna, when you don't give up. Nothing of value comes easy. But, the Evil Inclination’s constantly attempts to show setbacks - which we must endure in order to strengthen ourselves - as a sign that life is negative and hopeless. A person must struggle to keep his or her nose above the stormy waters of sadness and depression that are forever trying to drown his optimism and peace of mind.
One bright beam of emuna, knowing that Hashem does everything for the very best and answers our prays at the right time, is enough to shatter the Evil Inclination’s mirror of gloom. Take that bright beam and add it to a daily hour of personal prayer, and wait and see how life becomes so much more beautiful.