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BUBKES

Don’t pray for what you want

By Lauren Shapiro

People pray for the darndest things. This afternoon while my nine-year-old was playing Mine Craft, I overheard him praying to Hashem to let him find enough diamonds to make a pair of leggings. (For those readers not yet familiar with the computer game, diamond leggings are apparently a thing.)

People pray for soccer teams. For concert tickets. For parking spaces. For their kids to earn accolades (as if every kid could – or should – achieve these titles). In generations past, parents have prayed for their left-handed children to be right-handed and all sorts of things that have no real bearing on life.

I’m certainly not immune to this. I caught myself the other day praying for it to rain so that I could justify watching TV instead of going for a walk. Prayer can be a pretty powerful medium, but I think sometimes we misunderstand how it works. It’s not a wishlist with a money-back guarantee.

I couldn’t think of a flashy, pun-filled title for this month’s column, so I’ve simply decided to call it like it is: “don’t pray for what you
want”. There are two aspects to this title. We’ll start with the first emphasis: don’t pray for what you want. That’s not to say pray has no place in fulfilling our dreams, but simply praying usually isn’t enough. Think of all the students who pray to Hashem for an A aggregate, and then spend their after-class hours watching MTV. Or (I look covertly in the other direction) those who pray to lose a couple of extra kilos while already planning their next snack. Hashem isn’t a catalogue from which we can simply place orders. We have to actively partner with Him to make our prayers come true.

The second emphasis is this: don’t pray for what you want. This may feel counterintuitive, but if you haven’t learnt it yet, we often don’t know what is really good for us. Young kids want to stay up all night, but then they – and everyone around them – are ratty and miserable the whole of the following day. Many adults want to eat the entire cheesecake, but when we do we spend the next week feeling bloated and guilty and cursing every time we put on our running shoes (of course here I’m not talking from personal experience but from what my, er, friends have told me…)

It’s a sign of emotional maturity to realise the difference between what we want and what is best. It usually involves developing the ability to see the bigger picture. The most mature of all will realise that we can never see the full picture – that only Hashem with his G-d’s eye view can truly know what is best for us. That’s why we sometimes only realise in hindsight that what seemed like a curse was really the best thing that could have happened.

And that’s why I say we shouldn’t pray for what we want. Personally, I’ve started praying for what is best. I ask Hashem, in His infinite wisdom, to do what He knows is right.

This development in my prayers has taken some humility, let me assure you. The most difficult prayers I’ve ever made have been when someone I love was deathly ill and I prayed to Hashem to do what He knew was best. The same can go for meeting a partner, getting that job, or winning the lottery. If we pray for what we want, we may end up with the wrong person, a miserable career, or with more money than is good for us. Heck, just look at the divorce stats, work-related suicide rates, and the record of lottery-winners who end up more broke (and broken) than
before they hit the jackpot.

It’s much, much harder to pray for what Hashem knows is best, because it involves showing our egos the back door and trusting in something we probably don’t understand very much. But the results are amazing. (On a personal note, I don’t mind admitting that I initially dismissed my husband – whom I adore beyond measure – as “not my type”, and I’ve floundered briefly in corporate positions that clearly were not good for my soul simply because I’d done everything in my power to ace the interview. I am eternally grateful that neither of those situations worked out the way I’d hoped! I’ve only ever bought one lottery ticket and I know I’ll never get my R5 back but I’m making peace with it.)

This month we celebrate Chanukkah, which story perfectly illustrates my point(s). Firstly, Judah and the Maccabees show us that we can’t just pray for what we want and wait for Hashem to deliver it; they had to rise to the challenge and partner with Hashem to bring about their victory. Hashem certainly creates miracles, but the Maccabees still had to fight to make them happen.

Secondly, the little jug of oil that lasted for eight days instead of one reminds us that, if something is really right, Hashem will make it happen against all odds. That’s the true power of miracles.

So this festive season, go out there and make your prayers come true. Then sit back with a latke and a pina colada and trust in Hashem. Chag sameach and have a great holiday. Until next time.