January 19, 2020

Dear Rabbi

Dear Rabbi,

My father was in trouble legally — well, he got two years jail time. He’s been in jail for one month now, is slowly but surely trying to cope, but he does have his days. He is Christian and he says he prays a lot. He says he leaves things in the Lord’s hands: that I will be home when he calls, that I’ll be able to visit with him.

He says he knows his prayers will be answered. I know he has to deal with this unfortunate situation in ways that are best for him. Does God actually hear prayers and answer them? We don’t leave everything in God’s hands, do we? If we ask that someone be watched over, would they be? Am I missing something here?


Dear Louisa,

I’m sorry to learn of your father’s ongoing problems. I do hope his faith gives him comfort and strengthens his ability to repent and live a righteous life.

Judaism affirms that God hears prayers. But if prayer had the power to make God always do what we want, then prayer would be magic, and God wouldn’t be supreme. Instead, we affirm that God answers prayer by giving us access to inner strength and deeper vision, that God works through the hands of other human beings (in this case, judges, lawyers, social workers, etc.). And yes, sometimes, God even does old-fashioned miracles for us. But we can’t rely on that and shouldn’t even pray for it.

Dear Rabbi,

I want to know if God really curses people. Please explain your answer to me as well.


Dear Pat,

Your letter doesn’t give me a lot of context, so I’m going to have to assume that you are asking me whether God deliberately sets out to give a particular person a hard time. Does God seek to hassle somebody? In a similar vein, does God allow people to curse other people, so that the curses become effective?

Let me answer by saying that there are different answers given by different Jewish sages across the millennia. But I think it fair to say that the preponderance of opinion is that God is just, compassionate and loving. Given those three fundamentals of Jewish faith, it would be quite unfair and hostile to either curse someone deliberately or to place that power in human hands. Instead, Judaism sees God as a source of blessing and bounty, a source of inner strength and resilience, of comfort and healing.

When we feel cursed — as all of us do from time to time — before we blame God or someone else, it would be wise to examine our own responsibility. What have we done that might have led (or contributed) to this unfortunate state? How do our actions and attitudes keep it going? Is this suffering unique to us, or is it simply part and parcel of the human condition?

The Torah tells us that God loves us and has given us a wise path of life. If we all follow that path, we can establish a world of justice and peace together. If we don’t — choosing instead to “worship” the idols of greed, fame, power, sex, possessions — then we will each suffer the consequences of each other’s errors and sins. Those consequences are the result of our avarice and cruelty, not from a divine curse. “Choose life, that you may live,” God tells us. And choosing God helps make that life possible.

God is on the side of life and invites us to choose life every moment of our lives. n

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