Sarah’s Corner: What the Orthodox Girl Taught Me


What the Orthodox Girl Taught Me

Sarah Pachter

D.V. was the first “cool” religious girl I met. I was 18 years old and had just arrived in seminary.  She was just a year older and strictly Orthodox. She had a double-name (Devorah-Shainale), and her sister’s nickname was Yumshki—no joke! But she was pretty, well dressed, and fun loving. Until then, the only people I associated with covering their elbows and knees were women who lived in Meah Shaarim, the ultra-Orthodox section of Jerusalem. I also knew a few rabbis’ kids who dressed modestly, but I felt they were nerdy.

D.V. made Judaism more accessible to me by bringing Orthodoxy in from the outfield, closer to home plate. I realized that maybe I too could be more religious, and still be myself.

Something she once casually mentioned brought prayer to a whole new level for me.

After studying together one evening, she said, “I’m going to daven that Hashem helps me get an ‘A’ on the test tomorrow.”

“You’re going to do what?” I asked her. It had never occurred to me to pray for such a thing.

She replied, “Of course I’m going to daven for my test to go well. We can ask Hashem for anything, big or small.”

Today, when speaking to groups about prayer, a question that often comes up is, “Are we allowed to pray for small things, or should prayer be reserved only for the big ticket items?”

Not only is it okay to pray for small requests, but this is actually how Hashem designed this world to run.

Rabbi Elimelech Biderman shares,

A little boy was unhappy with the architects who designed his home because everything was so high up. He lived on the fourth floor, so he needed to go up flights of stairs to get there, and each step felt like a hill to him. He had to climb up all these hills, every day. Once upstairs, if he wanted to turn the light on, he had to climb up on a chair. Why did they build everything so big, he wondered.To simply wash his hands or get a drink, he needed a stool. He was so frustrated.

Eventually, the boy realized that the home was not really built for him, but for adults. It was designed in a way that if a child needed something, he must ask a parent for help. If he tried to do something difficult alone, he might fall down and get hurt.

This is how tefila works.Hashem created the world in such a way that if you need something, you must ask Him for it. And if you try to do it alone, you might fail and end up hurt. We were designed to lean on Hashem for our needs, and must recognize this essential partnership.

Formal prayer is important and has its place, but sometimes I find myself racing through the prayer book and reciting words by rote. Meaningful  prayer emerged when I started praying for the small stuff—like D.V. suggested. When I brought Hashem into my daily life, I began to feel more connected.

Hashem is waiting to give us what we need and deeply desire. We just have to open our mouths and ask. Praying can be as simple as saying:

Hashem, please help me find a parking spot.

Hashem, help me get to my appointment on time.

Hashem, help me get everything done calmly before Shabbos.

Hashem, help me speak patiently with my children when they arrive home from school.

The Sefer Hachinuch writes that Hashem wants to shower goodness upon us, and the means with which we can receive all goodness is through prayer.[1]

When Hashem first came to Moshe and asked him to lead the Jews out of Egypt, Moshe declined the task because of his speech impediment. Hashem encouraged him to approach Pharaoh with his brother, Aaron, serving as his spokesman.[2] The Ramban asks why Hashem did not simply cure Moshe’s impediment instead? The answer is simply that Moshe did not ask for that. Hashem was ready to cure him, but withheld because Moshe did not request His help.

Asking Hashem for what we need and want is the necessary step to bring down bracha from above.[3] Nonetheless, Hashem does not always answer our requests in the affirmative. Just like a parent blocks a child from reaching detrimental household items, so too Hashem sometimes says no. G-d knows what’s best for us, even if His answer seems cruel or uncaring from our limited perspective. Sometimes, the things we need are out of reach, and other times, the things we don’t need are too close to easily ignore. We need Hashem’s guidance to keep us on track, via an honest dialogue attained through prayer.

Tefila requires humbling ourselves before G-d. We are children who need His help, not only to reach for the simplest things, but also to decipher what serves us best. Prayer is about figuring out our desires, asking for them, and accepting the answer that follows—even if it isn’t what we wanted.

We can and should ask Hashem for anything. When we do, prayer becomes a tool to connect and communicate with Hashem in a deeper way.

[1] Sefer Hachinuch, Pg. 431

[2] Parshat Shemot, 6:12

[3] Living Emunah, Ashear, David, pg. 127