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With the votes in, is it too late to pray for a winner?

If God experiences time as occurring all at once (even if we can't understand how), shouldn't I pray for what I perceive as a done deal and for God is happening right now?
(Image by Aleks Megen from Pixabay)

The votes have all been cast. The ballots have been filled, the envelopes have been mailed and postmarked.

All that’s left to do is the counting.

Jews are very religious people. We pray for many things, and the outcome of the presidential election which will have such a profound impact on the world is certainly a relevant topic for our prayers – whichever side you prefer.

But what about now? On the day after the election, while the outcome still hangs in the balance and it’s too close to call, can I still pray for the victory of my preferred candidate?

Is it too late to pray for a winner?

At first glance, the answer would seem to be obvious: If you haven’t prayed until now, it’s too late. Whatever will happen has already happened, and there’s no sense in praying for the past.

The Sages teach us,

“And one who cries out over the past in an attempt to change that which has already occurred, it is a vain prayer. For example, one whose wife was pregnant and he says: May it be God’s will that my wife will give birth to a male child, it is a vain prayer.” (Mishnah Berachot Chapter 9)

So, it seems that the Sages considered praying for an outcome where the result is already a foregone conclusion a “vain prayer.” The sex of the baby has already been determined, and praying to change it won’t make much of a difference.

But there’s another rabbinic teaching that offers a very different perspective. The Talmud teaches the following:

“The Sages taught: One who enters to measure produce in his granary recites: May it be Your will, Lord our God, that You send a blessing upon the work of our hands. After he has begun to measure, he recites: Blessed is He who sends a blessing upon this pile. If one first measured and afterward recited the blessing, it is a prayer in vain, as a blessing is not found either in an object that is weighed or in an object that is measured or in an object that is counted, as these would constitute open miracles. Rather, a blessing is found only in an object that is hidden from the eye. “(Talmud Taanit 8b)

Here the Talmud describes a case where a person has already harvested his grain and simply wishes to know whether he has had an abundant or lackluster crop. Although he has already finished his farming, he can in fact pray for a blessed measurement, as long as he hasn’t yet weighed the crop. Blessing can be found in that which is “hidden from the eye”. In other words, as long as you don’t know the outcome, you can still pray for a specific outcome!

At first glance, this seems to counter common sense. How can you pray for something that has already happened?

But when we think about it a little more, does prayer itself “make sense”? Why should the fact that I ask God for a specific outcome have any affect on reality? What’s scientific or logical about prayer?

Prayer is a reflection of our belief in the Divine – the world beyond our ability to understand. Is God limited by space? Or time? Time spreads before God like a map, occurring simultaneously in a manner we simply cannot perceive. Why then shouldn’t I be able to pray for something that to me has already happened, but to God is happening at this very moment?

Medical science has also tried to ask this very question.

In a double-blind study on “retroactive intercessory prayer” (prayer for an outcome that has already happened), people were asked in the year 2000 to pray for the well-being of patients that had contracted blood diseases between the years 1990 and 1996. In other words, they were asked to pray for something that had already happened (see the abstract here).

The results?

“Mortality was 28.1% (475/1691) in the intervention group and 30.2% (514/1702) in the control group (P for difference=0.4). Length of stay in hospital and duration of fever were significantly shorter in the intervention group than in the control group (P=0.01 and P=0.04, respectively).”

In other words, retroactive prayer made a measurable difference.

How? I have no idea. And I know that many scientists didn’t really like the study, which should not come as a shock.

But to a person of faith, are the results of the study really that surprising?

Through our prayers we connect through it to a spirituality beyond our comprehension and perception. Through that mystical connection, we beseech the Almighty to bring about a desired outcome. That is the magic and mystery of prayer.

According to the Talmud, as long as the count has yet to come in, prayer is still in order. Even though the votes have already been cast, until a winner is declared each of us still has much to pray for!

And maybe, while you’re praying for “your” candidate, put in a word for all of us.

Let us all pray that God gives us the serenity and wisdom to fracture the great divide which seems to be prevalent around the world. Let us pray the citizens of the United States, Israel, and so many other countries learn to be more united, and less fractured.

Those are critical prayers, no matter who wins.

About the Author
Rabbi Reuven Spolter is the founder and director of Kitah (www.kitah.org), a new online Jewish learning plaform bringing Jewish learning to Jewish schools and Jewish homeschooling families around the world. He has served as community rabbi and taught formally and online for over two decades. He is also the founder of the Mishnah Project (mishnah.co), an online flipped-classroom learning initiative focusing on using the power of visual learning to bring the Mishnah Yomit program to a global audience. He has taught and lectured to groups of all ages in communities around the world.
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