In this week’s Parsha, Vayishlach, we find our father Yaakov returning to the Land of Israel with his family. Along the way he becomes aware that his brother Eisov is coming to “greet” him with 400 warriors. Yaakov understands that his brother has not forgotten what he had done and is planning on killing Yaakov and his family. Yaakov beseeches HaShem for protection. “And Yaakov said ‘O God of my father Avrahum, God of my father Yitzchok ….I have already become too small from all the kindness which You have rendered Your servant …. Deliver me, I pray to You, from the hand of my brother for I fear him … And You have said ‘exceedingly good I will do to you ….” There are three parts to Yaakov’s prayer;

  1. I have received so much kindness from You much more than I deserve
  2. Please save me from Eisov
  3. You promised me that You would do with me exceeding goodness

There are two questions that strike me. The first is why must Yaakov pray at all if HaShem promised him to do exceeding goodness which evidently implies that he will be protected from Eisov? My second question is if he must pray and seek HaShem’s protection, why does he begin with his first statement that he has already received more than he deserves? It seems counterintuitive when asking a favor to preface your request by stating that you have already received more than you deserve.

To answer the first question we must appreciate the function of prayer. Why does HaShem require us to pray? Does He not know what our needs are? Is He not interested in caring for us? If He is not, what good will it do if we pray?

The function of prayer is not for HaShem’s purpose. He knows our needs and He plans to provide us those needs. However, HaShem designed this world in a way that without our turning to Him in prayer He will not provide it. In other words, even though He intends to support us He waits for prayer to provide that support. (By the way, it need not be the prayer of the one who has the need. Somebody else can pray and that works as well.) The reason He designed it so is because He wants us to develop a relationship with Him. Were He to provide our needs without our asking for them we would come to think that our needs are provided naturally and there would be no avenue along which to build a relationship. Relationships are built upon the appreciation one has for the other. When we are needy our heart becomes open and soft with a touch of vulnerability. As we turn to HaShem in prayer in that delicate state we fill ourselves with a deep relationship with HaShem. Our emotions are primed to connect to HaShem in a way that would otherwise not be possible.

A dear friend of mine told me how through his sickness he became closer to HaShem. The reason was that his sickness opened his heart and with that open heart he turned to HaShem. That mix brought him closer. This is the function of prayer. And this why HaShem designed His world that we must pray to Him before receiving His blessings.

So, while it is true that Yaakov was promised by HaShem to be protected, he nevertheless had to request that protection in order to turn to HaShem when his heart was vulnerable and open it to Him, thereby deepening his relationship with HaShem.

Let us now attempt to address my second question.

The reason one should not preface a request by stating their undeservingness is because they are hurting their chances of obtaining their request. Nobody wants to fill the request of a person who is undeserving. However, Yaakov knew that HaShem will fill his request for protection because it was promised to him. His protection will come by virtue of the promise that HaShem gave him. The only reason for praying is to open up his vulnerability to HaShem thereby deepening his relationship with HaShem.  If that is the case, Yaakov’s being undeserving will create an even deeper relationship with HaShem.

How fortunate we are to be the people with whom HaShem wishes to have a relationship! Let us take advantage of that position.