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Why does Hashem answer some prayers and not others?

I understand that there might be varieties of how Hashem answers or doesn't answer prayers.

I'm not asking for personal opinions, I want to learn what the rabbis have taught in regards to this issue.

  • Rabbi Moses: וַיֹּ֕אמֶר לֹ֥א תוּכַ֖ל לִרְאֹ֣ת אֶת־פָּנָ֑י כִּ֛י לֹֽא־יִרְאַ֥נִי הָאָדָ֖ם וָחָֽי׃ – Dr. Shmuel Jan 28 at 12:59
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    Hashem answers all prayers. Sometimes, His answer is 'no'. – Salmononius2 Jan 28 at 13:44
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    @Salmononius2, I agree with you, but when I say the same thing that you just said, somebody tells me that sometimes, Hashem says neither yes nor no, but either wait or silence. I have no rabbinic support for this. – ninamag Jan 28 at 17:24
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    @ninamag I've definitely seen that thought expressed many times over, but haven't had a chance to find a primary source text, which is why it's left as a comment (for now). – Salmononius2 Jan 30 at 17:29
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Hashem answers every prayer, but sometimes the answer is "no".

With that trite but true truism out of the way...

Rabbi JB Soloveitchik teaches that the point of petitionary prayer is to turn to one's Parent in times of need. That alone defines "successful prayer". Getting what you request is secondary.

But in other contexts he notes that the usual verb for prayer, lehitpallel, is in the reflexive, something we do to ourselves. Before Rabbi Soloveitchik, Rabbi SR Hirsch made the same observation. Successful prayer is thus a transformative one. Including the transformation that may be the one from someone who shouldn't have X, the requested item, in their lives, into someone who ought to. It could be that X was withheld until now in order to illicit that prayer. Or that getting X without turning to G-d would cause damage via egotism and thinking one was more accomplished or more capable than in reality. Or perhaps the old, unprayed, version of the person wouldn't be best-served by X for some entirely different reason that somehow changes through the process of prayer -- Hashem's equations are quite a bit more subtle than our intellects.

  • @Micha_Berger, where is your rabbinic support for your first sentence "Hashem answers every prayer, but sometimes the answer is "no"."? – ninamag Feb 6 at 3:16
  • Who said there was one. As I said, it was a truism you hear a lot that I thought beared getting out of the way. – Micha Berger Feb 6 at 3:29
  • you referred to it as a "true truism". Who said it was "true"? – ninamag Feb 6 at 3:44
  • Ashrei, the quph pasuq. The closing (mei’ein hachaasimah of Birkhas Shomeia Tefillah in Shemoneh Esrei. Less famously, R She,uel bar Nachmeini and R Yehoshua ben Levi at Yerushalmi Berakhos 5:5, vilna 41a. – Micha Berger Feb 6 at 4:51
  • i need exact links, so I can read these, please. – ninamag Feb 6 at 6:45
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The question: Why does Hashem answer some prayers and not others?

I am not saying that the following is an absolute answer, but Rashi appears to be saying in "Tehillim - Psalms - Chapter 17" that Hashem answers those who take refuge in Hashem.

Reference: Psalms 17:7 https://www.chabad.org/library/bible_cdo/aid/16238#showrashi=true

To me, this means, those who take refuge in Hashem receive answers as opposed to those who do not take refuge in Hashem; and therefore, such people (the latter ones) do not receive an answer to the situation they find themselves in.

I can imagine somebody might also ask, "what does it mean to take refuge in Hashem"? Well, that is a different question.

  • @msh210 I answered and further complied with your comment, and then you deleted your comment, but your downvote remained? – ninamag Feb 7 at 5:52
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That reminds me of the scene in "Bruce Almighty" Bruce answering prayers - suddenly you understand all prayers just can't be answered. :)

Seriously, imagine yourself driving through a line of streetlights praying to G-d to make them all green. Some of them turn out green and some not. What do you infer from this experience?

My personal resolution of this is that the formula of the probability of G-d answering a specific prayer has an infinite number of variables:

P = "one's piety" x "merit of one's ancestors" x "merits of others (family, town, country)" x "general provision (weather, economy)" x many many more.

Therefore it is true to say that practically, without knowing ALL of G-d's considerations, the chances of any particular prayer (wish) to be answered are 50/50.

Addition: it is true for Tzddikim also, some are answered (our forefathers praying for children) and some were not (see R' Chanina Ben Dosah's poverty).

Related: Illusion_of_control WIKI - sense of taking control over circumstanses.

  • if you could point out a rabbinic answer that supports your "personal resolution of this", then I can accept that answer also. – ninamag Jan 28 at 11:49
  • Here's the catch with rabbis interpretations: when G-d fulfills the request they rush to assign it to the person's piety, when G-d doesn't they ignore. It is a well known cognitive bias of availability - you only count when it fits your expectations. The truth is different and must be said - we can't know G-d's considerations - when He answers or not. – Al Berko Jan 28 at 12:56
  • do you mean to say that no rabbi assigns G-d fulfilling one's request to G-d's sovereignty? – ninamag Jan 28 at 13:42
  • I'm saying it LOOKS that the prayer was the reason for the fulfillment of the wishes. The causality here is very questionable. Imagine you think about having a kid, so you plan to buy him a bicycle when he's 6. So when he's 6 he begs you to buy him one and you fulfill his wish. Is it really? There could be tens of reasons why you bought the bicycle not related to your kid's wishes at all. – Al Berko Jan 28 at 13:49

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