One of the major events in this week’s parsha is Yaakov’s marriage to Rachel and Leah and the birth of eleven of Yaakov’s twelve sons. After suffering with infertility, Rachel gives her maidservant Bilhah to Ya’akov as a wife. “Bilhah, Rachel’s maidservant, conceived again and bore Ya’akov a second son. And Rachel said, ‘Sacred schemes have I maneuvered to equal my sister, and I have also prevailed!’ And she called his name Naphtali.” (Chapter 30, Verses 7-8) Rashi comments that the name Naphtali alludes to stubbornness, (Rachel said) ‘I have stubbornly pleaded many torturous pleas to G-d that I may be the equal of my sister.’ (The translation of Rashi is from the Metsudah Chumash)
After quoting Rashi’s explanation of the name Naphtali, Rebbe Noson says that this teaches us how much a person needs to pray a lot and engage in personal prayer all the days of their life. One needs to be very persistent to keep praying, just like Rachel was, even though it seems like his words are having no effect, and he feels far from his own words, because he sees that it has been days and years that he’s spending time praying and (it seems like) he still hasn’t accomplished anything. Nevertheless one needs to be very determined, just like a stubborn person who does something without reason; so to in the service of Hashem, Rebbe Nachman teaches that you need to be very determined, and the main area where someone needs to be determined is in prayer and supplications. Even if your prayers will feel many times like they have no taste or smell, meaning that you won’t feel any deep connection or any connection at all, keep going, because G-d is full of mercy at all times, and surely he hears your prayers. (Likutei Halachot, Laws of Tefillin, 5th teaching)
Rebbe Nachman teaches that through prayer a person can obtain everything, every good spiritual level and every blessing (Likutei Moharan II, 111), so why does Rebbe Nosson teach us how persistent we need to be to strengthen ourselves in prayer and not give up? With this awareness that through prayer we can accomplish any positive goal that we want and merit blessings in our life, why do we need to be tireless to keep praying? Rebbe Nosson explains in another teaching that there are two types of negative influences which can confuse a person and weaken his efforts to pray. The first one tricks a person into believing that all of his prayers are in vain and that they are having no effect, G-d forbid; the second type happens when a person begins to see that Hashem has heard his prayers in certain matters, there are rays of hope; therefore he (mistakenly) thinks that he doesn’t need to keep praying and he lets go of continuing to pray. Everyone experiences many difficulties and challenges in life, and therefore Rebbe Nosson says, we need a lot of salvations all of our lives to overcome the challenges and reach our ultimate goal of knowing and revealing Hashem in the world. (Likutei Halachot, Laws of Inheritance, 4th teaching)
This teaching of encouragement by Rebbe Nosson really struck me and helped me to look at personal prayer in a new way this week. I feel many times in personal prayer like I’m not doing anything, not accomplishing anything, I’m confused, my thoughts wander, I want to focus, connect to my heart and express myself, but it’s hard. However, this lesson taught me that what matters is commitment and consistency, being determined to keep trying. So I tried this week to just listen to what is going on inside of me, take a look at the day which passed and express it in a simple way before G-d, without expectations. When I felt stuck or lost, I would just tell Hashem, ‘I’m lost right now, my heart is closed, please help me.’ Rebbe Nosson’s words encouraged me that even if I get lost and feel disconnected, even if I feel like my heart is closed and I have no idea what to say, it’s okay and it’s even good. Because every word, every prayer, and every song we sing before Hashem, every scream and every sigh makes a difference. The Sages teach in the holy Zohar that even the good will that a person has, even if he’s not able to actualize it, is not lost and it has a positive influence in the world.
Our prayers are heard and every prayer matters, be persistent and never give up!