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The Gift of Unanswered Prayers

His sister stood at a distance to see what would happen to him. — Exodus 2:4

What if God answered every prayer with a resounding “YES”? Would the world be a better and happier place or a worse one? For example, what if God had answered Miriam’s prayer as she stood among the reeds next to the Nile River where her baby brother Moses floated in a basket designed to the protect him as he drifted in the water?

As you remember the story, Miriam and her mother had placed Moses in the basket as a last resort. The Egyptians had resolved to kill every single Hebrew baby boy. Miriam and her mother hoped that a non-Egyptian would find the infant and have mercy on him.

Miriam watched to find out her baby brother’s fate, and as the Jewish sages teach, while she waited, she prayed. “God, please watch him. Please make sure no Egyptian officials find him.” Who should come along but the daughter of Pharaoh himself! The daughter of the very man who proclaimed: “Every Hebrew boy that is born you must throw into the Nile” (Exodus 1:22).

Miriam continued to pray: “God, please don’t let her see him!” But Pharaoh’s daughter does see him and she reaches for the basket.

Miriam begged: “Please God, don’t let her reach him!” Again, God didn’t listen to her. Pharaoh’s daughter did reach the basket, and according to tradition, God even performed a miracle to lengthen her arm so that she could reach Moses.

Miriam pleaded: “Oh, God, please make her think that he is ugly and no good.” But Pharaoh’s daughter was smitten and she decided to take Moses for her son.

And God said: “Good thing I didn’t answer you, Miriam! Had I done what you asked, Moses would have drifted off and drowned. Instead he will grow up in Pharaoh’s home where he will become a noble, a leader who can redeem Israel.” And indeed he did!

Like Miriam, we don’t always get what we pray for. But we always get what we need, and that makes all the difference. When we pray for one thing and we don’t get what we asked for, it feels as though one of two things has happened. Either God didn’t hear our prayers, or He has denied us a gift. But neither is true. God hears every one of our prayers. Sometimes He says “yes” and other times He says “no.” But when God says “no,” it’s not because He doesn’t want us to have good things. When God says “no” to what we asked for, it’s because He has something even greater to give us!

When your prayers seem to go unanswered, think of Miriam standing desperately by the Egyptian Nile. Thank God for your unanswered prayers because those are often the greatest gifts of all.

To submit a prayer request to be taken to the Western Wall in Jerusalem, please go here. To download a free copy of Rabbi Eckstein’s newest teaching resource on prayer, Work of the Heart: Ten Biblical Lessons on the Power of Prayer, go here.

With prayers for shalom, peace,

Rabbi Yechiel Eckstein
Founder and President

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