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40 Days to a Better Self

May 9, 2009 | by Rabbi Shraga Simmons

Prayer is not waving a magic wand and hoping for the best.

Legend in Jerusalem says that if you go to the Western Wall for 40 consecutive days, and pray for one specific thing, it will be granted. There are so many stories of this working successfully, that the phenomenon is hard to deny. I'll share with you my own personal encounter:

Years ago, when the time was ripe to get married, I decided to make the commitment to go to the Western Wall for 40 consecutive days. At first I treated this as some kind of magical, metaphysical ploy to butter up God and score brownie points. But as the days passed, I began to understand the power of prayer as a means of self-transformation. Day in and day out, I was forced to examine the areas in which I needed to grow before I could truly be considered ready for marriage.

I began to understand the power of prayer as a means of self- transformation.

Jewish prayer is always spoken aloud because the exercise of formulating words forces us to define and refine our goals. My daily trips to the Wall (which on Shabbos involved a 45-minute walk each way) solidified my commitment to confront these issues and resolve them.

Of course, while God answers all prayers, sometimes the answer is "No, not right now." We may be asking for the wrong thing without realizing it. A good parent will not lend the car keys to a teenager who is not yet responsible enough to handle it. And even all the begging in the world will not get a good parent to change his mind.

The New You

Prayer is our opportunity to move beyond our limitations. Li-heet-pallel, the Hebrew word for prayer, comes from the root pallel, which means to inspect. The prefix li-heet is the reflexive form – denoting an action that one does to oneself. Li-heet-pallel is therefore an act of personal introspection. When we pray, we look inside and ask, "What do I need to change about myself in order to get what I really want out of life?"

With serious effort, we can actually change our character and a new, better "self" emerges. Since I am no longer the same person who God said "no" to yesterday, the appropriate answer may now be "yes."

The end of my story? I completed my 40 days at the Wall, and within one week was engaged to my wife.

Since then, I have tried the 40 days on two other occasions – both with success, thank God. But since I no longer live in Jerusalem, who knows if I'll ever have the chance again. Maybe it's better anyway to quit while I'm ahead...

Virtual Jerusalem

People often ask if they can do 40 days at the Wall by visiting Aish's webcam. It would certainly be effective from the standpoint of confronting oneself day in and day out. On the other hand, there is a mystical advantage to standing at the Western Wall, the spot where all prayers ultimately ascend to heaven.

By the way, if you have to do 40 days straight, how do you visit the Wall cam on Shabbat? Simply calculate the time zones, so that you visit when it is Shabbat in Jerusalem, but not Shabbat in your town. God is probably more likely to listen to a prayer that does not involve turning a computer on in violation of Shabbat.

So does a virtual 40 days work? I don't know. It certainly doesn't hurt to try.

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