William Hamilton

How to ask for help

What’s the first thing you do when you wake up in the morning? After turning off your alarm, that is. The answer that billions of people around the world give to this question is: pray. Perhaps both actions are connected. Maybe praying provides a different way of silencing alarms, helping us to better face our most alarming realities. 

Traffic on websites like went way up during the pandemic’s isolation. It has remained high, with nearly a billion minutes of prayer facilitated over the last twelve months in the United States alone. The most common things people pray about? Fighting anxiety. Healing relationships. And gratitude. 

As we prepare to enter the High Holy Days, when we’ll spend an uncommon amount of time with prayer, it’s worth pausing to consider what we get out of such sharing of our most intimate needs, worries, and aspirations.

Optimist and leadership guru, Simon Sinek, likes to point out something fascinating about how trust is built with others. We don’t build trust by offering help. We built trust by asking for it. 

If you’re like me, asking for help isn’t something that comes easily. It can make us feel vulnerable. Asking for directions when you’re lost, is something many of us prefer to avoid. Figuring out your way, on your own, makes you more capable and confident. But human beings aren’t meant to care for ourselves entirely by ourselves. 

There are lots of ways to ask for help. “I’ve been thinking hard about this for a while and I’m not sure what to do.” Or “I really don’t know what to try next, can you help me think through what might work?” Or if you’re a team leader, “I don’t know how we’re going to get through the huge challenges ahead, but I believe in us. And I know if we all put our heads together, we’ll find a way.”

This week’s portion of Torah wants us to know that help is close at hand. The divine wisdom of Torah isn’t remote. It’s nearby. “It’s very close to you, it’s within your heart and mouth, so you can activate it” (Deut. 30:14). Notice, the last point of this verse. You are responsible for enacting it, for bringing to life the literal wisdom of God (Torah).

Prayer isn’t about outsourcing your role in shaping what comes next. It’s not about asking for something to get done that you aren’t prepared to do yourself. It’s about putting yourself in a position to be better at doing it. 

A variation of a well-known adage might say: God helps those who help others. In the year to come, consider taking it further: God helps those who ask for help from others. In God, may we build trust. 

About the Author
Rabbi William Hamilton has served as rabbi (mara d'atra) of Kehillath Israel in Brookline, MA since 1995.
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