Imagine Adam HaRishon opening his eyes for the very first time. How do we picture it? He sees a beautifull lush garden, a panop1y of color, a gorgeous array of flowers, vegetation, and trees. The first moment of man is a visual delight, a celebration of existence.
Wrong! Let’s try again.
Chazal teach us that Adam HaRishon opens his eyes and sees a bleak and barren world. No colors. No flowers, vegetation, or trees. He is surrounded with desolation, an earth forlorn in hues of brown and gray. Adam looks deeply into himself and understands that in order to survive, he must nurture and build the world around him. This will ultimately justify the purpose of his creation. He looks at the miserable earth and recognizes his total inadequacy to fulfill his task. He feels a deep emptiness, an existential void; he has been created incomplete for his task.
Adam looks heavenward and he does something that represents the most basic instinct of humanity, something that connects all of mankind in every culture and in every age. The lowly , thief as he breaks into his victim’s house will also do it. It will be perfected by the Avos and purified by the kohen gadol as he enters the Holy of Holies on Yom Kippur. He does something that connects him to the last tear shed for the coming of Mashiach.
Adam HaRishon pours out his heart to his Creator, acknowledging his inadequacy and beseeching the Almighty for help. Within moments, the rains come pouring down. Within moments the goodness of the earth bursts forth and it transforms into the glorious Garden of Eden.
Man has prayed. God has answered.
The rest of history follows in much the same pattern. You and I are now like Adam HaRishon. The word “Adam,” man, has the same root as the word “adamah,” earth. As we will explain in detail later, man, who is made from adamah, justifies his existence by bringing out the potential of the adamah. Thousands of years later, you and I are still planting seeds in the earthly ground, justifying our own existence. The earth still needs to be plowed, planted, and watered to bring out its innate goodness. How is this expressed in practice? We build a home, raise children, and concem ourselves with the improvement of society. As Jews, we study Torah and build the world through chesed by caring for the many needs of Klal Yisrael. And we, too, feel inadequate.
We need rain. We pray for rain three times a day. The Sukkos festival revolves around the need for rain. There is a whole tractate in the Talmud, tractate Ta’anis, which deals with the halachos regarding rain. It seems odd that we are so obsessed with rain even in our modern non-agrarian society.
Rain, however, remains the everlasting symbol of earth’s dependence on heaven. The natural influence of shamayim, heaven, on the adamah is expressed through rain. The word geshem, rain, is related to the word gashmi, physical. Rain symbolizes “ruchaniyus shehitgashem,” the transformation of the spiritual into the physical. When we look heavenward for our many earthly needs – and ask for healthy children, success in a business venture, or protection for Eretz Yisrael – we are asking for the transformation of the spiritual into the physical, we are asking for rain.
We, like Adam before us, enter the world of prayer. As the adamah is dependent on shamayim for geshem, so we, the created, express our eternal dependence on our Creator.
Let us go a little deeper. All of prayer is asking for miracles. A miracle is defined as anything “lemalah min hatevah” – an event running beyond the course of nature. A miracle is not just an event that contradicts nature, such as switching the gender of an embryo, which one should not pray for. A miracle includes stretching the course of nature beyond that which is expected. This is the essential request of all prayer.
Imagine that a person is about to have an operation, and the doctors say that the chances of survival are 50 percent. Nature, which is bound by the laws of statistics, thus dictates that his chances of survival are one in two. Similarly, suppose you want to open a new business in a field where one in two businesses go bankrupt within the first year. Your chances of commercial survival are one in two. Nature dictates that the strong defeat the weak, and that large and mighty nations defeat small and feeble ones.
We pray and ask Hashem to override the laws of statistics so that the sick with only a 50 percent chance of survival can be operated on and always come out healthy. Naturally, we want our business ventures to succeed no matter what the pundits have predicted is possible. In the world of prayer, the weak can defeat the strong – a ragged army of frail Maccabean yeshivah students can defeat the invincible Greek army.
In other words, when we make our thirteen requests, which comprise the central core of the Shemoneh Esrei – ranging from personal requests for wisdom, health, and prosperity to national requests for the rebuilding of Yerushalayim — we are in fact saying the following:
Hashem – without your divine intervention we are left to the laws of nature and statistics. In such a state, we cannot survive. We are as hopeless as Adam at the first moment of creation. We, too, want to work the adamah. Please send down geshem from the heavens, We need miracles…