During this period of mercy and forgiveness, one is obligated to examine one’s deeds and return to one’s Creator. Included in the service of Hashem that one must strengthen during these days is in the area of prayer. One should pray properly so that Hashem accepts our prayers to return us to Him, accept our repentance, and grant us a good and blessed new year.
The Gemara in Masechet Mo’ed Katan (28a) states: “Children, life, and sustenance do not depend on merit; rather, they depend on fortune.” This means that it is possible that one serves Hashem properly yet he may be poor, not have children, or not merit living a long life. This is because the fortune of this individual dictates that he will not have children and the like.
It seems from this Gemara that one’s prayers will not help in these areas, for they are contingent on one’s fortune and if the very nature of one’s creation dictates that he shall be poor, how can one’s prayer annul this Heavenly decree?
Nevertheless, Maran Rabbeinu Ovadia Yosef zt”l writes that through prayer one can certainly change everything, even one’s fortune. A source for this can be found in the verse, “You shall serve Hashem, your G-d” which refers to prayer (as the Gemara in Masechet Ta’anit, 2a, tells us that “service of the heart” refers to prayer). Following this verse, another verse states, “And He shall bless your bread and your water” which refers to sustenance, “there shall be no miscarrying or barren woman in your land” which refers to children, and “I shall fill the number of your days” which refers to life. Thus, one can clearly change any harsh decree hovering over one’s self through prayer.
However, this only applies when one prays with complete concentration, especially when praying after learning Torah. Indeed, the holy Zohar (Parashat Pinchas) states: “All of the world’s creations depended on fortune before the Torah was given, including the areas of children, life, and sustenance. However, once the Torah was given to the Jewish nation, Hashem removed them from the control of the stars and constellations. We have learned this from Avraham Avinu who saw that his fortune dictated that he will not have children and Hashem told him, ‘Leave your astrology (fortune).’” This means that one should not pay attention to such things, for through Torah study and prayer, one’s fortune can change.
Besides for praying with concentration, one must likewise pray with a broken heart, as the verse states, “A broken and downtrodden heart, G-d, You shall not turn away.” Hashem hears the prayers of those groaning before Him and praying to Him with all their hearts the most. Our Sages have said, “Even if all other gates have been sealed, the gates of tears have not.” If, for whatever reason, one cannot cry while he is praying, Maran Ha’Chida writes that that one should pray with a broken tune as if one is crying, for this kind of prayer is on a high level and is considered almost like actually crying. Maran zt”l added that praying in a broken and wailing tune is especially accepted by Hashem, as the verse states, “For Hashem has heard the sound of my wailing.”
One must know that whatever kind of physical or material effort one puts forth on this earth keels in comparison to prayers that emerge from the depths of one’s heart. We have seen with our own eyes a fine Jew residing in Tel Aviv in a location full of the most immoral things in the world whose neighbors’ children all left the path of the Torah as they could not stand firm against the trials of the neighborhood. This Jew, however, prayed to Hashem every day and shed copious tears while his children were still young and innocent and he indeed merited that all of his son’s emerged unscathed and became tremendous Torah scholars and his daughters merited emerging modest, pure, and all married to Torah scholars. This fine Jew always tells those who ask him that his children emerged the way they did because he was relentless with his prayers and even when his children were still young and the danger did not seem to lurk in the distance, he would plead before Hashem longingly that Hashem indeed let him merit attaining satisfaction from his children. This is indeed what ended up happening.