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Prayer, In Itself, Is The Bargain
Mon, 06/27/2011 - 20:00
Special To The Jewish Week

A man was circling an office building, late for a meeting that could change his life. But he could not find a place to park. He said “God, if you get me a parking place I promise I will keep kosher, I will be better to my wife and children, I will attend services on Shabbat, I will...” Just at that moment, a spot opened right in front of the building.

“Never mind” he said, “I’m good.”

Too much religious life is predicated on a bargain. If God gets me something, I’ll believe. And I will only assume obligations if God makes it clear Divine intervention was involved.

Is this the truth of religious life, that we are in it for stuff? If God will not ensure our health, or prosperity, or longevity is there still a reason to pray?

The Bible depicts God as proffering benefits for obedience but also reminds us that pious people often live with difficulty and tragedy. The books of Ecclesiastes and Job reinforce the lesson that there is no correspondence between morality and reward. The end of living a good life is living a good life — the reward of the mitzvah, teaches the Talmud, is the mitzvah. In relationship to God, not in extraction of benefits, is the highest and best of Torah.

Rabbi David Wolpe is spiritual leader of Sinai Temple in Los Angeles. Follow his teachings at

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