Rav Kook on the Net

Psalm 27  Print

Why Prayers Go Unanswered

Rav Avraham Isaac Kook, first Chief Rabbi of Israel

Psalm 27: Why Prayers Go Unanswered

"Hope to God. Be strong and He will give you courage - and hope to God." [Ps 27:14]

Why does the psalmist repeat the phrase "hope to God"?

The Talmud explains that the psalm is teaching us to be tenacious in prayer. "If a person prayed but was not answered, he should pray again.[Berachot 32]

Yet one could ask: If God didn't answer me the first time - what will I accomplish by praying again?

To answer this question we must understand the very essence of prayer.

The purpose of prayer is to achieve a particular harmony of spirit, by strengthening the powers of the soul with images of holiness and perfection. There are an infinite variety of such images, and God knows exactly which ones are suitable and needed to perfect each individual soul. Divine Wisdom decrees our wants and needs - and thus the stimulus of our prayers - in order that the soul may perfect itself appropriately.

On occasion, a particular image in all of its hues may not succeed in penetrating the depths of the soul. In such cases, acceptance of the prayer is delayed until the prayer is repeated sufficiently to be fully assimilated into the soul.

We should not be discouraged if our prayers are not answered outright. All temporal matters of this world have the potential to bestow eternal gains of spiritual perfection and harmony. Ordinarily we are discouraged if we do not succeed easily. But if we are aware that the goal is complex and difficult, and that every action brings us a little closer towards achieving our goal, then we feel satisfaction in our incremental progress.

Therefore the psalm repeats the phrase "hope to God". The essence of hope is when we recognize the value of those prerequisite steps towards fulfillment. We need to realize that with each prayer, with each image of hope, we are that much closer to our goal. Not having fully arrived, we need to "be strong and take courage" to continue on our spiritual journey, "and hope to God".

[Ayn Aya I:151]