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Rabbi Bulka's Weekly Question

Why do so many prayers go unanswered?

How do we actually know that the prayers have not been answered? No is also an answer; not the answer desired, but an answer nevertheless, and maybe even a better answer. What you really mean is, "Why are so many prayer requests not granted?"

In response, take, as an example, the lottery. Everyone wants to win the lottery. And the reasons seem quite obvious. With all that money, one can buy a house, go on a vacation, help family members, give to charity, etc. But a funny thing happens on the way to end goal.

The sudden abundance often has a toxic impact on those who win. Money becomes the focus. Disputes arise on how to spend it. Worry abounds about being harassed as a person of means. Protective strategies are implemented to head off potential complications. Life gets distorted, to the extent that many lottery winners rue the day they won.

Back to your question. Undoubtedly, many people prefer to win the lottery, and have surely prayed to win. Judging by the odds, the overwhelming majority of people, indeed the overwhelming majority of those who pray for a lottery win, do not ever win. Have the prayers requests been granted? No. But that does not mean the prayers have not been answered. The answer is most often no, and that answer may actually be for the better.

One further point. There are some who believe that it would be great for all believers, and for faith in general, if all prayer requests were granted. In reality, it would be a disaster.

If indeed every request were granted, then everyone with a need would pray, and presto, it would happen. Then, people would become believers for all the wrong reasons, i.e., their being granted material requests.

It is best that many requests are not granted, such that faith is detached from material gain, and indeed stands on its own, unconditional and unyielding.

Originally published in the Ottawa Citizen on May 18, 2013

Wed, May 23 2018 9 Sivan 5778