5 Shvat 5781 / Monday, January 18, 2021 | Torah Reading: Bo
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Vayeitzei - Persistent Prayer    

Vayeitzei - Persistent Prayer

Sometimes we get discouraged because we have been praying for so long and still don’t have results. Be determined and keep trying! Every prayer matters!


One of the major themes in this week’s Torah portion is Yaakov (Jacob) getting married to Rachel and Leah and the birth of eleven of Yaakov’s twelve sons. After suffering with infertility, Rachel gives her maidservant Bilhah to Yaakov as a wife. “Bilhah, Rachel’s maidservant, conceived again and bore Yaakov a second son. And Rachel said, ‘Sacred schemes have I maneuvered to equal my sister, and I have also prevailed!’ And she called his name Naphtali” (Chapter 30, Verses 7-8). Rashi comments that the name Naphtali alludes to stubbornness, (because Rachel said) ‘I have stubbornly pleaded many torturous pleas to G-d that I may be the equal of my sister.’ (The translation of Rashi is from the Metsudah Chumash) 


After quoting Rashi’s explanation of the name Naphtali, Rabbi Natan says that this teaches us how much we need to pray a lot and engage in personal prayer every single day. We need to be very persistent to keep praying, just like Rachel did, even though it may feel like our prayers are having no effect. Sometimes, a person feels far from his own words because he sees that it has been days and years that he’s spending time praying and (it seems like) he still hasn’t accomplished anything. Nevertheless we need to be very determined, just like a stubborn person who does something without reason; so to in the service of Hashem, Rebbe Nachman teaches that you need to be very determined, and the main area where someone needs to be determined is in prayer and supplications to God. Even if your prayers will feel many times like they have no taste or smell, meaning that you won’t feel any deep connection or any connection at all to the prayers – don't give up! Keep going, because G-d is full of mercy at all times and surely, he hears your prayers (Likutei Halachot, Laws of Tefillin, 5th teaching). 



Rebbe Nachman teaches that through prayer a person can obtain everything - every good spiritual level and every blessing (Likutei Moharan II, 111). If that is true, then why does Rabbi Natan teach us how persistent we need to be to strengthen ourselves in prayer and not give up? With this awareness that through prayer we can accomplish any positive goal that we want and merit blessings in our life, why do we need to be tireless and keep praying?  


Rabbi Natan explains in another teaching that there are two types of negative influences which can confuse a person and weaken his efforts to pray. The first one tricks a person into believing that all of his prayers are in vain and that they are having no effect, G-d forbid; the second type happens when a person begins to see that Hashem has heard his prayers in certain matters, there are rays of hope; therefore he (mistakenly) thinks that he doesn’t need to continue praying and he stops altogether. Everyone experiences many difficulties and challenges in life, and therefore Rabbi Natan says, we need a lot of salvations all of our lives to overcome the challenges we face and reach our ultimate goal of knowing and revealing Hashem in the world (Likutei Halachot, Laws of Inheritance, 4th teaching). 


This teaching of encouragement by Rabbi Natan really struck me and helped me to look at personal prayer in a new way this week. I feel many times in personal prayer like I’m not doing anything, and not accomplishing anything. I’m confused and my thoughts wander. I want to focus and connect to my heart and express myself, but it’s hard. However, this lesson taught me that what matters most is commitment and consistency - be determined and keep trying.  


So, I tried this week to just listen to what is going on inside of me, and then take a look at the day which passed and express it in a simple way before G-d, without expectations. When I felt stuck or lost, I would just tell Hashem, ‘I’m lost right now, my heart is closed, please help me.’ Rabbi Natan’s words encouraged me that even if I get lost and feel disconnected, even if I feel like my heart is closed and I have no idea what to say, it’s okay and it’s even good. Because every word, every prayer, and every song we sing before Hashem, every scream and every sigh makes a difference. The Sages teach in the holy Zohar that even the good will that a person has, even if he’s not able to actualize it, is never lost and it has a positive influence in the world. 


Our prayers are heard and every prayer matters. Be persistent and never give up! 


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