hazzan Diana Brewer was ordained through the aleph ordination program. she leads prayer services regularly at the jewish community of amherst, and is on the staff of the davvenen leadership training institute.

The Prayers of our Fathers: Prayers and Answers (an aside)

Before moving on to the topic of Keva, and another source for prayer three times a day, I'd like to go down a little side street to visit the place where prayers are answered. I'd also like to credit my friend, rabbinic student Jason Mann, with drawing my attention to this topic in a writing he shared with me recently.

What else do we learn from these stories of Divine connection? Were these prayers answered?  What comes to mind is something I heard once (and have passed along many times) from a fellow in recovery. I was told that G8d has three answers for us:


2) Not yet.

3) I have something better for you.

Each of these three stories seems to hold a version of one of these answers. Isaac, although we don't actually know the exact nature of his afternoon prayer in the field, seems to fall into category number one. We know that he has recently lost his mother. He is grieving. He raises his eyes and sees Rivka falling off her camel. "Yes, Yitzhak. Here is one who can comfort you." 

Jacob, during his dreamtime encounter in the night, seems to fit quite well into the second category. He is in exile, running from his troubles, seeking a better life, a new home.  HaShem promises to him a fantastic future of many offspring, and a land he shall inherit and to which he shall return. Yes, I will stay with you, and you shall have all these things - but not just yet.  As the story bears out, we see that the promise is not to come to pass for many hundreds of years, in fact.

In the case of Abraham, he seems to have gotten answer number three, or some version of it. He had stood before G8d, pleading with him not to destroy the whole city. G8d agrees, should there be ten innocent amongst the city's inhabitants, it will not be destroyed. Abraham awakens the next day to see the smoke and fire in the distance, and knows that these cities are a lost cause. I'll concede, the phrase "I have something better for you" is not a perfect fit here. I guess it's more like, "I know things you don't know and you're not in charge." Abraham didn't know what would come of his conversation with the Holy One of Blessing, but he returned the next day, prepared to show up and continue to build the relationship. 

To be sure, I've received and witnessed in the lives of others all of these answers. Answer #1 is usually simple. "Thank You!" Although, I guess there can sometimes be the matter of "be careful what you pray for..." Answer #2 generally requires more prayers - for patience as I await clarity. This answer certainly requires trust. My experience of answer #3 (which, at first glance, usually looks like a big fat "NO") is so often that it is a gift in disguise. Indeed, sometimes it can take years for the gift under the disguise to be revealed, but I continue to return to my daily meeting places with G8d.

Whatever our answers, what is clear is that our relationship with the Divine is not so different from our earthly relationships. If we are committed to the relationship, we continue to nurture it, regardless of whether things always go our way. Mick Jagger put it so well: "You can't always get what you want, but if you try sometimes, you just might find you get what you need." 

Three Set Times for Prayer: Sacrifice & Gratitude

Prayers of our Fathers: An Argument for Kavannah