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Parashat VaEtchanan- What Happens to Unanswered Prayers?

The Torah tells in the opening verses of Parashat Vaethanan that Moshe pleaded with God to allow him to cross the Jordan River with Benei Yisrael and enter the Land of Israel. However, despite Moshe's impassioned pleas, God denied him permission to enter the land, and commanded him not to continue praying for this matter.

The Sages tell us that Moshe uttered no fewer than 515 prayers in requesting permission to enter the Land of Israel. This number is alluded to in the Parasha's opening word – "vaethanan" ("I pleaded") – which has the numerical value of 515 (6+1+400+8+50+50=515).

The obvious question arises, if God knew that He would not grant Moshe's request, and that He would ultimately instruct Moshe to discontinue his prayers, why did He wait for Moshe to complete 515 prayers? Why did He not interrupt Moshe immediately as he began praying, and thus spare him the time and effort he invested in reciting the additional 514 prayers?

The Rabbis teach us that there is no such thing as a wasted or unanswered prayer. If a person prays for something and his request is not granted, he must not conclude that his prayer was recited in vain. God stores all our prayers in a "prayer bank" of sorts from where they are "withdrawn" at some later point, perhaps for somebody else, and perhaps only generations later. If a person prays for an ill patient Avraham Ben Sara, and the patient unfortunately does not survive his illness, those prayers will perhaps be effective in bringing a cure to another Avraham Ben Sara somewhere else in the world. During the years of the Communist movement, the children of many righteous Jews and Torah scholars abandoned Judaism and joined the atheistic Communists. Their parents recited untold numbers of prayers and shed rivers of tears asking that their children should return to their heritage and traditions. Their prayers were not immediately answered, but many children and grandchildren of these Jewish Communists have returned to Jewish observance. The grandparents' prayers were not recited in vain; they were not meaningless. They were stored and preserved in the heavenly "prayer bank" and ultimately succeeded in bringing scores of Jews back to Torah and Mitzvot.

For this reason, perhaps, God did not interrupt Moshe's prayers despite the fact that the decree was irreversible. He anticipated that in future generations, Benei Yisrael would face crisis and hardship and would lack sufficient merit to earn salvation. Moshe's 515 prayers were necessary to save the Jewish people when they would otherwise be unworthy of being saved. Who knows if our existence today is owed to the merit of Moshe's 515 prayers!

Never should a person despair from praying. Even if one's requests are not immediately granted, they will nevertheless have a meaningful impact and effect on somebody at some point in time. Every heartfelt prayer and every chapter of Tehillim is significant and beneficial – regardless of whether we can immediately discern its impact.