Mayanot on Prayer #3: Fixing the World through Prayer

May 9, 2009

7 min read


Prayer pierces through God's concealment and reattaches the universe to the Divine.

The first verse in the Torah informs us that God created the universe. The Hebrew word used for "created" is bara, which means creation ex nihilo, a creation out of absolute nothingness. Before God created the universe there was absolutely no other existence beside God; no time, no space, no heaven, no angels, no World to Come; nothing. Genesis is the absolute beginning.

This model of creation logically leads to the deduction that the following fundamental axioms, on which all monotheistic religions are based, are true:

1. A universe created out of absolute nothingness at some point in time must have an intelligent God as its creator. God is Almighty which means that no outside force has the power to program Him to do anything. He must therefore have reached the decision to create the universe, so to speak, exactly when He did through a process of deliberation. Deliberation requires intelligence.


2. If God is intelligent it follows that the universe has a purpose. Even creatures of limited intelligence such as us human beings do not invest any energy in purposeless undertakings. If God is intelligent, He is infinitely intelligent by definition. It is unthinkable to propose that He would create an entire universe without some intelligent purpose in mind.


3. It follows that since God created the universe, He also cares what happens to it and is also managing it. It is unthinkable for God to fail to accomplish what He set out to do. A universe with a purpose must be guided to ensure that it accomplishes the goals that God set for it.

The Torah makes it clear that the accomplishment of God's purpose in creating the world involves establishing a relationship with man. It follows that human beings should possess a built-in ability to recognize and acknowledge God as their Creator to make sure that God's purpose is realized. Yet many philosophers and scientists, some of them the brightest men who have ever lived, have devoted a great deal of serious thought to the origins of our universe and have failed to discover the intelligent, caring God presented in the first Chapter of Genesis. Why didn't God create a universe that demonstrates His existence clearly to intelligent human beings that study it?



A universe that conceals the presence of its creator is incomplete or broken in a sense. God is perfect; how could the work of His hand fall short? Jewish tradition proposes a remarkable concept to explain this apparent fault in design. God created the world in this manner on purpose because He wants us human beings to complete His creation by fixing it!

Let us delve a bit deeper. What is it about the world that conceals God? It is not the constellations or the stars or the planets. The study of physical phenomena has actually led science to a conclusion that corresponds to an act of creation to a remarkable degree. The latest theory is that the universe actually came into being out of nothingness approximately fifteen billion years ago in an explosion of energy termed the Big Bang.

So it isn't the way the world was made that conceals God's Presence. It is the way it runs that makes it difficult to find the intelligent Creator described in Genesis. The abundance of evil and the lack of justice in the world are the phenomena that conceal God's presence. No one besides Mother Nature seems to be in charge. It is difficult to conclude that an intelligent, moral consciousness is managing the world when the wicked prosper and live to a ripe old age and the righteous often die young and live in pain and suffering.

It is unthinkable that a just and merciful God who created the world out of a desire to express His benevolence and who was actively involved in managing it would allow the massive injustice we are witness to in everyday life to continue. If there is a God, one could easily conclude that He must be nothing more than an uncaring First Cause, completely detached from the world He created.

In other words it is not the manner in which God created the universe that is at fault. The universe does indeed proclaim that it was created to the intelligent observer. It is the manner in which God manages our world that creates the problem of recognition. It is God's apparent detachment that makes the universe appear to be 'broken'.

We need to find God, not be struck over the head by His overwhelming presence.

But we are looking at the problem backwards. The world appears to be broken, to charge us with the task of repairing it. The way we 'fix' it is through our prayers.


The reason that God allows His universe to appear "broken" is tied up with granting man free will. The cruel, uncaring, survival-of-the-fittest kind of world with which we are familiar is the only sort of world that allows human beings to have free will. In a world without evil, which functioned strictly according to the rules of moral justice, everyone would be forced to wake up and smell the coffee. Free will is only possible if God gives human beings the space to do as they please. We must avoid evil out of choice, not because it is demonstrably counter-productive. We need to find God, not be struck over the head by His overwhelming presence.

It is easier to appreciate how God could be simultaneously in charge and yet allow evil in the world if we study the problem existentially in terms of its human component.

If I am a typical traditional Jew I believe that my life is micro-managed by Divine Providence. God decided when to send me to the world, He determined the capabilities and talents I was born with, He decided who my parents were to be, how many siblings I would have, what socio-economic status I would be born into. I went to the school that God selected; I had the friends that He arranged. All these events that determined my potential and shaped my character were decided and arranged by God. My participation was minimal or non-existent. By the time I reach adulthood and acquire control over my life I am a fully formed person and it is obviously God's decisions that made me who I am.

What is there left for me to do? Where is my contribution to my development, what makes me more than simply God's wind-up toy? The answer is obvious. I will exercise my free will throughout my adult life to either attach myself to God or to detach myself from Him. The person that God created and developed is complete in all ways except in this one crucial aspect. He or she is God's creation but is still unattached. Attachment to God is my contribution and it can only be done through my own free will.

Mitzvot, the 613 commandments of the Torah, is the path God revealed that transforms a human being into a Godlike creation. The more one dedicates his life to attaching himself to God and observing the mitzvot of the Torah, the less evil he commits and the more goodness he brings to the world.

The concept of Tikun HaOlam, fixing the world, takes this existential truth and applies it to the universe. A universe that has been attached to God through prayer will not inflict evil and undeserved suffering on anyone. The fact that the universe does deliver much that is evil at present is due to the fact that mankind has not completed the process of reattaching it to God through prayer.


For when human beings pray to God, He responds and answers our prayers. The prayer-response connection demonstrates that there is a moral consciousness in charge of the universe. When God responds to our prayers and overrides the effects one would ordinarily expect natural law to produce, His intervention is proof of His care for us and of His direct involvement in our affairs.

Prayer and the Divine response to prayer open the channel of communication that repairs the apparent fault in the design of the universe.

As an illustration there is remarkable statistic for which there is no medical explanation. Cancer patients that have people praying for them, even if it is people they do not know, and even if they are totally unaware that anyone is praying for them at all, recover in much higher numbers than statically predicted. Prayer and the Divine response to prayer open the channel of communication that repairs the apparent fault in the design of the universe.

When I pray to God, I recognize Him as my Voluntary, Purposeful Creator. I penetrate God's disguise and insist on re-attaching the universe to the creator; I demand that He reassert His control. I say to Him, "I know You are out there. I know, that despite the way the world looks, You are in charge. So please respond to my prayer and clearly demonstrate that fact."

If, in spite of God's best efforts to hide we manage to discover God anyway and ask Him to mend the broken universe, His policy of concealment for the sake of allowing us free will becomes untenable. God no longer has any moral justification to continue this policy. The failure to reveal His Presence at this juncture would constitute just as great a violation of human free will as premature revelation would have done.

For just as God does not allow Himself to compel us to see the truth, He cannot compel us to live a lie once we have discovered the truth. If we pray to Him, He must come out of hiding and must admit to us that He is out there by fixing the broken universe and responding to our prayers. He must openly declare that He is exactly the sort of creator He described Himself to be in Genesis. [1]

But this will only happen if we do our part and pray to God. Only then can we rectify the world. If we don't, God's presence will remain hidden and the universe will fail to demonstrate its purpose. We will have lost the opportunity to repair God's universe. Whatever else we may accomplish we will never match the lost glory.





Jews today are in an enviable position; it is far easier for us to accept the proposition that prayer can change the world as plausible than it must have been for Jews of the past. Science rejected such a proposition as logically absurd through most of recorded history but today it is actually conservative physics. The latest scientific theories integrate the power of human consciousness to define reality as an essential component of their view of reality.

Eminent physicists engaged in the study of quantum mechanics have actually demonstrated the truth of this proposition experimentally. One major school of physicists maintains that what we observe as reality is determined solely by human consciousness. [The Copenhagen school] Human consciousness is required to "measure" the quantum state, and eliminate the equal possibility of infinite alternative realities. The startling fact that physics and metaphysics are rapidly converging provides dramatic corroboration to the thesis that God consulted the Torah when He created the universe advanced long ago by the Kabbala [Zohar, Vol 1,5a]. At any rate, this physical theory provides a very satisfactory explanation of the way our prayers operate. Our prayers 'measure' the quantum state; by praying we choose one particular reality out of an infinite number of alternate possibilities just as the physicists maintain. Prayer not only reconnects the universe to God; it accomplishes the re-connection in terms of the things we pray for. Out of infinite alternative possible universes, it is the universe that contains the answer to our prayers that emerges as the 'measured' quantum reality.




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