"It was during those many days and the King of Egypt died, and the Children of Israel sighed from the work [in Hebrew, avodah], and they cried out. Their cries went up to G‑d … and G‑d heard their groaning" (Ex. 2:23-24)

It is written in the Talmud, "What is the work [avodah] that is in the heart? We say this is prayer, for it says [in Shema Yisrael], ‘Serve him with all of your heart.’" We need to understand why prayer is called work? Furthermore, we pray in the Amida, "For You hear the voice of every mouth," and yet our prayers are not always answered.

Their prayer is simply to find water to quench their thirst.

One truly prays from the depths of the heart only when one strongly feels a deficiency. For example, when people are stuck in the desert, where there is great heat and no water, their greatest desire and thus their prayer is simply to find water to quench their thirst.

If you would ask them what they wish more than anything, they would pass up the greatest wealth or pleasure and say that their desire is just for a container of water. This is their prayer, and this prayer is from the depths of the heart, because it is for a true deficiency (as written in parashat Vayera, "And G‑d heard the voice of the lad [Ishmael]… and she [Hagar] saw a well of water."

Thus, we see that prayer comes only after a person has exhausted his own energies and abilities to achieve a healing or whatever it is they want. Also, prayer must be for only one matter, the fulfillment of one deficiency; otherwise, if a person requests for two matters, it is a sign that neither deficit is completely consuming.

If he requests a needless luxury, no one will pay attention.

For example, if a person carries a heavy sack, places it on the ground, and requests from passersby to help him carry the heavy sack, it is unlikely that anyone will quickly respond to his request. But if the sack is on his shoulder and he requests from passersby to help him, someone will quickly give support. Why? Because the people see that the individual has tried his utmost with all of the strength he can muster. His request follows the insufficiency of his effort, his work (avodah); consequently others are willing to help him. So too, if a person asks for others to financially help him because he does not have what to eat, people rush to help. But if he requests a needless luxury, no one will pay attention.

Now we can understand the verse, "the Children of Israel sighed from the work." This means, that their prayer came from the work, after they despaired and saw that from their own power they had no hope to escape the work. Therefore it follows, "And G‑d heard their groaning." But if they would pray prior to exhausting their own work, this would not be a prayer for a deficiency, but like a prayer for a needless luxury.

The prayer of the poor is immediately answered.

It is written in Psalms, "A prayer of the poor, when he is enwrapped (with an affliction)." The Zohar explains that the prayer of the poor is immediately answered, since it is a prayer from the depths of the heart.

The lesson to be learnt here is that one needs to feel a true deficiency, both in the spiritual and the physical. Then the Al-mighty will hear the prayer of every mouth. If, for example, each person were asked, "Do you want to be a Tzaddik, or a wise sage, or wealthy?" certainly each person would say, "Yes." And they may even pray for these qualities. But this is not a true prayer unless one genuinely feels a true deficiency in these matters. And this can come only through preparation and maximum work. When one completes all of his work towards this goal and does not succeed, then prayer helps.

Delivered orally; translated by David Devor from his notes and extensively edited by KabbalaOnline.org staff.

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