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April 21, 2014

Andrew Silow-Carroll: Passoverkill? Suggestions to make next year's seders even more culturally sensitive

Sara Israelsen Hartley: Seeking the Divine: An ancient connection in a new context

Christine M. Flowers: Priest's execution in Syria should be call to action

Courtnie Erickson: How to help kids accept the poor decisions of others

Lizette Borreli: A Glass Of Milk A Day Keeps Knee Arthritis At Bay

Lizette Borreli: 5 Health Conditions Your Breath Knows Before You Do

The Kosher Gourmet by Betty Rosbottom Coconut Walnut Bars' golden brown morsels are a beautifully balanced delectable delight

April 18, 2014

Rabbi Yonason Goldson: Clarifying one of the greatest philosophical conundrums in theology

Caroline B. Glick: The disappearance of US will

Megan Wallgren: 10 things I've learned from my teenagers

Lizette Borreli: Green Tea Boosts Brain Power, May Help Treat Dementia

John Ericson: Trying hard to be 'positive' but never succeeding? Blame Your Brain

The Kosher Gourmet by Julie Rothman Almondy, flourless torta del re (Italian king's cake), has royal roots, is simple to make, . . . but devour it because it's simply delicious

April 14, 2014

Rabbi Dr Naftali Brawer: Passover frees us from the tyranny of time

Greg Crosby: Passing Over Religion

Eric Schulzke: First degree: How America really recovered from a murder epidemic

Georgia Lee: When love is not enough: Teaching your kids about the realities of adult relationships

Cameron Huddleston: Freebies for Your Lawn and Garden

Gordon Pape: How you can tell if your financial adviser is setting you up for potential ruin

Dana Dovey: Up to 500,000 people die each year from hepatitis C-related liver disease. New Treatment Has Over 90% Success Rate

Justin Caba: Eating Watermelon Can Help Control High Blood Pressure

The Kosher Gourmet by Joshua E. London and Lou Marmon Don't dare pass over these Pesach picks for Manischewitz!

April 11, 2014

Rabbi Hillel Goldberg: Silence is much more than golden

Caroline B. Glick: Forgetting freedom at Passover

Susan Swann: How to value a child for who he is, not just what he does

Cameron Huddleston: 7 Financial Tasks You Should Tackle Right Now

Sandra Block and Lisa Gerstner: How to Profit From Your Passion

Susan Scutti: A Simple Blood Test Might Soon Diagnose Cancer

Chris Weller: Have A Slow Metabolism? Let Science Speed It Up For You

The Kosher Gourmet by Diane Rossen Worthington Whitefish Terrine: A French take on gefilte fish

April 9, 2014

Jonathan Tobin: Why Did Kerry Lie About Israeli Blame?

Samuel G. Freedman: A resolution 70 years later for a father's unsettling legacy of ashes from Dachau

Jessica Ivins: A resolution 70 years later for a father's unsettling legacy of ashes from Dachau

Kim Giles: Asking for help is not weakness

Kathy Kristof and Barbara Hoch Marcus: 7 Great Growth Israeli Stocks

Matthew Mientka: How Beans, Peas, And Chickpeas Cleanse Bad Cholesterol and Lowers Risk of Heart Disease

Sabrina Bachai: 5 At-Home Treatments For Headaches

The Kosher Gourmet by Daniel Neman Have yourself a matzo ball: The secrets bubby never told you and recipes she could have never imagined

April 8, 2014

Lori Nawyn: At Your Wit's End and Back: Finding Peace

Susan B. Garland and Rachel L. Sheedy: Strategies Married Couples Can Use to Boost Benefits

David Muhlbaum: Smart Tax Deductions Non-Itemizers Can Claim

Jill Weisenberger, M.S., R.D.N., C.D.E : Before You Lose Your Mental Edge

Dana Dovey: Coffee Drinkers Rejoice! Your Cup Of Joe Can Prevent Death From Liver Disease

Chris Weller: Electric 'Thinking Cap' Puts Your Brain Power Into High Gear

The Kosher Gourmet by Marlene Parrish A gift of hazelnuts keeps giving --- for a variety of nutty recipes: Entree, side, soup, dessert

April 4, 2014

Rabbi David Gutterman: The Word for Nothing Means Everything

Charles Krauthammer: Kerry's folly, Chapter 3

Amy Peterson: A life of love: How to build lasting relationships with your children

John Ericson: Older Women: Save Your Heart, Prevent Stroke Don't Drink Diet

John Ericson: Why 50 million Americans will still have spring allergies after taking meds

Cameron Huddleston: Best and Worst Buys of April 2014

Stacy Rapacon: Great Mutual Funds for Young Investors

Sarah Boesveld: Teacher keeps promise to mail thousands of former students letters written by their past selves

The Kosher Gourmet by Sharon Thompson Anyone can make a salad, you say. But can they make a great salad? (SECRETS, TESTED TECHNIQUES + 4 RECIPES, INCLUDING DRESSINGS)

April 2, 2014

Paul Greenberg: Death and joy in the spring

Dan Barry: Should South Carolina Jews be forced to maintain this chimney built by Germans serving the Nazis?

Mayra Bitsko: Save me! An alien took over my child's personality

Frank Clayton: Get happy: 20 scientifically proven happiness activities

Susan Scutti: It's Genetic! Obesity and the 'Carb Breakdown' Gene

Lecia Bushak: Why Hand Sanitizer May Actually Harm Your Health

Stacy Rapacon: Great Funds You Can Own for $500 or Less

Cameron Huddleston: 7 Ways to Save on Home Decor

The Kosher Gourmet by Steve Petusevsky Exploring ingredients as edible-stuffed containers (TWO RECIPES + TIPS & TECHINQUES)

Jewish World Review

Prayer: Nagging the All Knowing to man's will?

By Chief Rabbi Dr. Warren Goldstein


Man to sky from Bigstock




South Africa's Chief Rabbi answers a question that many people of faith wonder about but few dare to ask

JewishWorldReview.com | Many misunderstand the nature of prayer, thinking that our davening to the Divine is like a child nagging a parent --- for example, when a child asks for a sweet and the parent knows it's in the child's best interest not to have it, but after the child cries and screams for long enough, the parent gives in, against his or her better judgment.

This superficial understanding does not cohere in the context of prayer to the Creator. He does not change His mind, so to speak, on a whim; He is never mistaken nor does he simply "give in" because He is tired of our "nagging." What, then, is the point of asking the All Knowing for what we want if He has already decided if and what He is going to give us? It's not as though He is going to change His mind and give us what we want just because we asked for it.

To sharpen this question, think about the first prayer service we recite immediately after Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement. We have just concluded Yom Kippur . The gates of heaven are said to be closed as everything has been decreed for the year; it is written on Rosh Hashanah and sealed on Yom Kippur. And yet immediately afterward, we ask the Divine for health and sustenance.

Rabbi Yosef Albo, one of our great philosophers of the Middle Ages, gives an enlightening perspective on this in his book Sefer Ha'ikarim, in which he discusses three cardinal principles which form the philosophical foundations of Judaism: belief in the Divine, belief that He gave us the Torah at Mount Sinai, and belief in the principle of reward and punishment.

One of the topics he discusses is prayer, and he answers the question raised above using the following example: Does a farmer, for whom everything has been decreed on Rosh Hashanah and sealed on Yom Kippur, not have to plant anything? Can he just sit back and relax since anyhow it has already been decreed whether or not he will have a successful harvest? Certainly not. While it may have been decreed that he will have a bountiful harvest, his success is dependent on his efforts. This, says Rabbi Albo, is the model for understanding prayer.

Before discussing this further in the context of prayer, let us first understand what this means in the context of other areas of life --- for example, earning a living.

As we know, our livelihood during the year is determined on Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur.

DIVINE DECREES ARE CALIBRATED ACCORDING TO OUR EFFORTS
Rabbi Albo explains that our livelihood is calibrated. The Divine's decrees are not black and white, either one gets a million dollars or one gets nothing, regardless of what one does. Rather, the decree is calibrated according to one's actions.

In other words, to use the example of the farmer, if one puts in the effort and ploughs his field and does whatever is necessary -- reaping, employing workers, finding buyers -- then one will have a successful harvest and earn a decent living; and if not, he won't. (Of course, it could be that for some people, their particular decree is that their crops will fail even if they put in the effort; and for others there may be a special decree that they become wealthy without lifting a finger --- for example, by winning the lottery. That is certainly possible. However, the decrees in heaven take our efforts and actions into account and can be calibrated accordingly.)

HAVING FAITH AND DOING OUR SHARE
There is an interesting responsum of Rabbi Moshe Feinstein, one of our great Jewish legal authorities of the twentieth century, which explains this point a bit further. The sage was asked whether one can take out insurance policies. If it is decreed in heaven that one's house is going to burn down, is one allowed to "go against the decree" and take out insurance?

Rabbi Feinstein's answer to this question sheds light on our discussion as to what prayer really is. He says there is a basic principle in the Talmud, ain somchin al ha'nes, "one does not rely on a miracle."

In fact, one cannot even ask the Divine to perform a miracle. He quotes the Talmud which says that since the gender of the child is determined by the fortieth day of gestation, one is not allowed to pray for the gender of the child past the forty-day mark because this constitutes asking he Creator to perform a miracle and change the laws of nature. The Divine runs the world in accordance with the laws of nature, and we cannot ask Him to break His own laws and perform miracles.



(Of course, there have been times in Jewish history when the Almighty changed the laws of nature and performed tremendous miracles --- for example, at the Exodus, with the ten plagues and the splitting of the sea. But those are the exception to the rule; in general, He does not run the world through miraculous means but through the laws of nature and we may not rely on miracles.)

Rabbi Feinstein adds that to earn a living without working hard is akin to relying on a miracle, because the decree, given after Adam and Eve sinned in the Garden of Eden, was "by the sweat of your brow you will eat your bread." This decree was for all future generations, which means that the normal, natural way of earning a living is through hard work --- "by the sweat of your brow." Rabbi Feinstein says that one who expects to earn a living without putting in any hard work is actually relying on a miracle. This is wrong, because He requires us to put in all reasonable efforts in order to earn a living. Thus, although there is a decree at Rosh Hashanah time regarding livelihood, says Rabbi Moshe, we still have to do our part, according to which His decree is calibrated.

True, there are some people who earn money even though they do not put in any effort; that may have been decreed at Rosh Hashanah. And there are some people who do not earn enough money, even though they put in a lot of effort; that, too, may have been decreed at Rosh Hashanah. There is a variety of decrees which we can never fully understand, but our responsibility is to work in accordance with the natural laws of the universe and put in our effort, according to which there is a calibrated response in heaven. We do not know what the decree holds but we have to do our share.

Regarding the question of insurance, Rabbi Feinstein ruled that it is simply part of responsible financial planning --- whether it is life insurance, fire insurance, or a retirement policy. The Divine granted financial planners the wisdom to develop the concept of insurance. Structuring our financial affairs in a responsible way is simply part of putting in the requisite effort. One cannot argue that if the house is meant to burn down, it will, and therefore no action should be taken. One must be responsible, take the right precautions and take out the right policies to be able to recoup the loss of a possible fire. Though the fire was decreed from heaven, the financial loss is not necessarily inevitable because He requires us to do the responsible thing and take out insurance.

Thus we see that although there are decrees which are issued on Rosh Hashanah and sealed on Yom Kippur, they are linked to our actions. Coming back to the discussion regarding prayer, Rabbi Albo says that prayer is the same: decrees are linked to our prayers. Meaning, a certain decree may have been issued, but He built into the original decree that it is dependent on our praying. The All Knowing does not change His mind because we nag him. Rather, He issues the decree in such a way that our prayers can change its outcome.

For example, suppose Heaven forbid there was a decree of ill health for a particular person. It could be, based on what Rabbi Albo says, that although the decree has been given, the person will be healed by praying. Or, it could be that, unfortunately, even with prayer, the person won't be healed. That, too, could have been part of the original decree. But we are required to pray, because it can affect the outcome of the decree --- not because it's causes the Divine to change His mind, so to speak, but because prayer was part of the original decree.


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CHANGING OURSELVES THROUGH PRAYER
Furthermore, Rabbi Albo says, through the process of prayer we actually change who we are, and that in itself has the ability to change the decree. When we pray to the Divine, we are transformed and uplifted. In fact, Rabbi Albo compares prayer to the process of repentance.

Prayer, like repentance, changes who we are. It could be that a certain decree was issued, but if a person repents the decree might be changed in the merit of his or her repentance. The purpose of prayer is not to change His mind but to change us .

The Divine issued the decree based on who the person was at that particular time. If, through the process of prayer, one has changed, if one has become uplifted and closer to Him, then it is as though he or she is a new person and consequently the decree may change --- not because the All Knowing changed His mind, rather because the person has undergone a process of spiritual transformation.

Prayer is a golden opportunity which He has given us to become new people, to change ourselves and become closer to Him and thereby affect heavenly decrees.

Prayer is about changing who we are. When we change ourselves, we have the ability to change the world.

There is always hope and the possibility of changing His decrees, not in the sense of making the All Knowing change His mind, but because the very nature of a decree is that it can be changed. In other words, He may have put the challenge of the decree before us so that we change it through our prayers.

The Divine, in His kindness, has given us a framework which is responsive to our actions; and it is up to us to pray, transform ourselves, and thereby influence our fate.


Previously:


Rosh HaShana: The Birth of Freedom
When economics becomes a disastrous utopian delusion
The Holistic Healer --- and doctors
In the army now . . . and always
Living with ideals --- in reality
Expansion Of Spirit
Laughter And Destiny
Truth Stands the Test of Time


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The author is the Chief Rabbi of South Africa and the author of "Defending the Human Spirit: Jewish Law's Vision for a Moral Society," which explores the Torah's legal system compared to Western law. In using real court cases he demonstrate the similarities and differences between Judaism's view of defending the vulnerable and Western legal practice.






© 2013, Rabbi Dr. Warren Goldstein

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