your prayers are always heard

Imagine this:
The King sits upon his throne in a sprawling chamber surrounded on all sides by infinite troops of mighty angels, the Holy Tzaddikim come and go petitioning the King and receiving His direct acknowledgement.
Outside the door to the King's chamber there is an anteroom, there the beinonim crush in a throng around the door passing notes in to be read to the King. They aren't allowed to enter, but they are at least priviledged with passing their prayers into the room.
At the far end of the anteroom the resha'im, the evildoers scornfully loiter, without any access to the King's ear.
That's the way the Tikkunei Zohar describes the scene. It seems to be in direct contradiction to the advice of the Ba'al Shem Tov: You should pray with the certain knowledge that your prayer will be answered.

How can we reconcile the two views? Either the Ba'al Shem Tov was only speaking to the Tzaddikim or else he knows something we don't know.

In fact, more than that, we know how much HaShem loves His children. (ie. infinitely more than the most a parent has ever (unconditionally) loved their child) So how could HaShem let a prayer go unheard? Moreso, a prayer that is unheard is a secret known only to the one who prayed it, and yet we say that the hidden things are for HaShem and only the revealed parts of creation are for us. (הנסתרות לה' אלקנו) These hidden prayers are under HaShem's sole jurisdiction, how could these prayers be refused entry into the King's chamber?

Perhaps Rebbe Nachman can enlighten us: In the past we discussed his teaching that prayers born of utter despair are always welcomed into the chamber of the King. [see prayers cleaving to prayers] The real trick here is that all the half-hearted or unintentioned prayers that loiter around, unable to enter the King's chamber, are embraced and wrapped up within a true prayer born from desperation. HaShem Himself brings such a prayer into His chamber and there, alone with this very precious prayer, all the other prayers are unwrapped and revealed.

Here we see that HaShem created the world with a structure and a system, it's called midah k'neged midah. (or 'a turn for a turn' as translated by R' Lazer Brody) The system (figuratively) handles the day to day function of how the world should work. But HaShem also created prayer as a means to petition HaShem directly, perhaps we could say (again figuratively) a means to balance the system. This is a secret backchannel established with His beloved children and it's actually bidirectional.

You see, we've learned previously one of the most basic (and crucial) lessons of the Baal Shem Tov: When HaShem wants to give us more blessing than we deserve, (according to the system of midah k'neged midah) He wraps that blessing up in a package of suffering. When we experience the suffering and thank God for that suffering recognizing that anything that comes from God is ultimately for our own good, we merit to remove that outer package of suffering and get at all the surplus of blessing hidden within.

That's one direction of the backchannel. The other direction is prayer. As we just learned prayer lets us wrap up our prayers, all our needs and desires, all of our confusion, everything in the desperate prayers of any member of the Jewish people. One person's genuine prayer is enough to raise up the needs and wants of all to God's attentive ear.

Prayer is the general 'upload' channel, but repentance, Teshuvah, is a more specific protocol of prayer. Through Teshuvah we can awaken HaShem's infinite Mercy and bring down limitless influx of blessing. The reason it can bring down so much blessing is because it contains an element of the download channel as well -- we thank HaShem for the sin, for the fact that we failed the test, recognizing that even our failure comes from God, and even our failure was ultimately in our best interest.

In short, there's this whole massive edifice that is the rules and structure of creation, and then there's the entirely personal, entirely private relationship HaShem has with His children. The structure is really there to educate us, and to sustain us as long as we don't know how to access that personal relationship. But don't be mistaken, the entire goal of your existence is discovering and developing that personal relationship.

So if you find yourself standing outside in the anteroom this Rosh HaShanah, don't forget that you have a V.I.P. pass to the afterparty.


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