In the haftara read on Shabbat Parashat Ki-Teitzei, the prophet Yeshayahu (54:1) exclaims, “Roni akara lo yalada” – “Exult, O barren one, who has not borne [a child]!” As the commentators explain, Yeshayahu here likens Jerusalem’s condition after its inhabitants were exiled to that of an infertile woman who lives alone, without any children. Jerusalem should “exult,” Yeshayahu announces, because “rabim benei shomeima mi-benei be’ula” – the “children” that would one day fill the desolate city would be more numerous than the populations of other cities whose inhabitants flourish and prosper as she lay in ruins.
Rav Moshe Chaim Efrayim of Sudlikov (grandson of the Ba’al Shem Tov), in Degel Machaneh Efrayim, finds in this verse an allusion to the common phenomenon of seemingly ineffectual prayers. Very often, people who pray feel “barren,” seeing that their prayers produce no results. Like a couple trying unsuccessfully to bring a child into the world, people who pray desperately seek to produce a certain result, and when their goal is not achieved, they feel “barren.” According to this Chassidic reading of the verse, the prophet assures such people that “rabim benei shomeima,” that while their world seems “desolate,” bereft of the blessing for which they pray, in truth, their prayers have produced great results. No sincere prayer is ever wasted, and each and every one is valuable and productive, even if it does not yield the precise results which the worshipper desired.
In essence, the Rebbe of Sudlikov here draws a comparison between our seemingly unsuccessful spiritual efforts to the condition of exile. After the fall of Jerusalem, it seemed impossible to dream of the city again becoming a vibrant, bustling center of Jewish life. But Yeshayahu assured the people that their current state of desolation was temporary, and would eventually give way to a state of joy and prosperity. The Rebbe of Sudlikov teaches that we must approach our personal spiritual struggles with this same mindset of hope and optimism. While it may at times appear that our efforts are “desolate” and fruitless, they are in truth valuable and significant. Even if we do not see the results now, they bring us closer to the goal we seek to achieve. We should never feel discouraged by what we perceive as the futility of our efforts to grow and improve, and should instead trust and recognize that every bit of work invested is intrinsically precious and significant, and will, at some point and in some way, propel us forward, if only slightly, which is precisely what our objective ought to be.