Does Prayer Really Work? December 2020

Updated: Dec 31, 2020

The Hebrew word for prayer is tefillah which comes from the word l’hitpallel, a word literally meaning “to judge yourself.” Prayer is something we do to change ourselves, not to change G-d. G-d is not a giant vending machine where, if we put in the right change we get the right result. Rather, G-d is the spiritual dimension of our existence. Each of us shares the breath of G-d within ourselves. And prayer helps us change ourselves. We pray to G-d for strength and courage. We pray to G-d for wisdom and insight. We pray to G-d for serenity and peace. We pray to G-d for clarity before difficult decisions. We pray to G-d for help in making the right medical decisions, finding the right doctors, building the determination to cope with disease. We pray not to change G-d but to change ourselves. Is prayer only to change ourselves? What about praying for someone who is sick, perhaps someone we do not even know personally? Does such prayer work? At least some scientists seem to claim that such prayers can help heal. Our sages teach us that there exists a spiritual dimension to reality that we are just beginning to understand. Our minds dwell in that spiritual dimension. And yet, our minds affect the material world around us. Our mind tells us to raise our hand, and, miracle of miracles, our hand goes up. The spiritual can affect the material. So too, prayer may have affects in the physical world that are difficult to comprehend. Perhaps things can change in mysterious ways because people pray.

I visit different hospitals as a rabbi. I always offer to pray with the patients I visit. It is fascinating that people who are atheists when they are healthy find room for prayer when they are sick. Perhaps they realize, on some spiritual level that we do not quite understand, that prayer really does work. May G-d accept all our prayers for health, happiness, and well-being and let us say, amen!

Revised and edited by Rabbi Schonblum from the teachings of R. Menachem Mendel Schneerson zt’l.

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