The power of a prayer - Rav Ronen Neuwirth
"Why were our matriarchs barren? Said Rabbi Levi: because Hashem desired to hear their prayers" (Tanchuma, Toldot 9 (
The famous Midrah above is extremely puzzling. Why did Hashem impose such suffering upon our matriarchs? What did Chazal mean by saying that G-D desires our prayers? Does Hashem really need out Tefilot? Is there anything in our limited world that the Almighty needs?
In order do understand that, we need to explore the foundations of the Tefilah concept.
"R. Hama son of R. Hanina said: If a man sees that he prays and is not answered, he should pray again, as it says, Wait for Hashem, be strong and let thy heart take courage; yea, wait thou for Hashem" (Berachot 32b)
Rav Kook in Olat Reiyah, his commentary for the Siddur, brings a beautiful interpretation to this Midrash. We tend to perceive the prayers as a tool to get and accomplish our desires. The prayer mainly consists of a list of requests from G-D, which we hope to get, with G-D willing. Therefore, if our prayers return unanswered, we might find ourselves disappointed, distressed and frustrated. However, says Rav Kook, the goal of the Tefilah is the other way around. "The main goal of all our prayers should be not to achieve ones desires, rather to draw himself towards the will of Hashem." Getting our needs is not the goal of the Tefilah but rather the means. Our needs can catalyze us to daven much better, to relate much sincerely to the words that we are reciting, and therefore to have a better intention and spiritual experience. In that sense, the prayers are the goal whereas the needs are the means.
"Since Hashem loves the human being that he has created in his image, he wants this person to stay with him, close and devoted to him, live in front of him and follow all his ways: 'To behold the sweetness of Hashem'. The means for all that is the unanswered Tefila. Sometimes Hashem deliberately holds back some of the needs of a person, in order to draw him closer to Hasem when he'll come to ask for those needs. The essence of the Tefila i.e. getting closer to Hasem - that's the goal of the Tefila. The needs, the desires and the request for fulfilling them are not more than the means for clinging to Hashem" (Rav Kook Ibid.)
Had the goals of the Tefilah were merely fulfilling one needs, one could have been despaired if his Tefilah is not accepted. However, since the goal of the Tefilah is to draw one closer to Hashem, every Tefilah helps, even if it is not accepted. Every single prayer draws one closer to G-D. According to this understanding no Tefilah is left unanswered. Every Tefilah gets one closer to his completeness.
Therefore our patriarchs and our matriarchs were barren. This fundamental lack and need, assisted them to pray qualitatively to Hashem and by that, to uplift the world to a more spiritual level and bring it nearer to the redemption. Thus, Hashem desires to hear the prayers of the righteous, the Tefilot that make the world go around.