What is the purpose of petitionary prayer? Is it coherent to pray
for that which God has already promised? How do we deal with the
thorny issue of prayers which seem to go un-answered? Rabbi Carmy
builds upon Rabbi Soloveitchik’s idea that petition enables us to
realize our true needs. This starting point helps us understand the
"prayer of destiny" where a person prays for something
already divinely promised. When the avot and imahot (biblical
patriarchs and matriarchs) prayed for children, they internalized the
significance of offspring and of passing on the mesorah. Of course, the
same applies to the "prayer of freedom" where a person
prays without any prior guarantees.
How does a person learn about the worth of a specific personal need
if Hashem does not clearly answer the petition? Rabbi Carmy explains
that a person must sometimes proceed without clear answers. There
exists no "unambiguous formula" for existence. Hannah
did not give up her desire for children nor did Avraham despair of losing
Yitzhak on the way to the akedah. These goals retained their validity
even as other religious duties called. In Rabbi Carmy’s words, "Life
is not treated as a problem requiring a solution, but as a mystery
summoning the individual to an encounter with God."
to read the essay (PDF 1.7MB).