At this point we must confront another problem relating to prayer.

On the one hand, tefilah is to effect bitul hayesh. On the other hand, man must show his dependence on G‑d by praying for all his spiritual and material needs. How is it possible to submit petitionary prayers for life and good health, for sustenance and forgiveness of sin, which of themselves imply self-awareness, yet speak simultaneously of self-negation?

The Baal Shem Tov already raised this question by drawing attention to a contradiction between two passages in the Zohar:

One passage refers to those who pray for their personal or material needs as 'arrogant dogs, barking 'hav hav' - give us food.' Yet in another passage it is said that he who does not pray daily for sustenance is of little faith!

To understand the Baal Shem Tov's answer, we must first explain the mystical concept of "avodah tzorech gevoha - service and worship for the sake of Above."

It is written, "He shall call upon Me and I will answer him; I am with him in distress" (Psalms 91:15).

This is one of a number of verses that speak of Divine pathos, of the sufferings that the Shechinah shares with man. (This is one of the concepts of which our sages say that "if they had not been explicitly written in Scripture it would be impossible to say such a thing.")

In the words of the Midrash:

The Holy One, blessed be He, says: "When anguish comes upon the children of Israel and they call upon Me, they should make themselves partners with My glory and I shall answer them immediately." Thus it is written, "He shall call upon Me, and I will answer him."

What is meant by "I am with him in distress?"

R. Yudan offered a parable of a pregnant woman who was angry with her mother. As she was giving birth, her mother went upstairs. When she screamed from pain below, her mother heard her voice upstairs and screamed with her. Her neighbors asked her: "Why is it that you scream? Are you giving birth along with her?" She answered them: "Is it not my daughter who is in pain? How can I endure her cries? Thus I scream with her, because my daughter's anguish is mine as well!"

The Mishnah points out that the Shechinah senses, as it were, the actual pain and anguish of everyone, even of the wicked and sinful, let alone the righteous. For all beings are rooted in the Shechinah. The lower world is a reflection of the upper world, most intricately bound up with it. There is a reciprocal relationship of the one affecting the other. This lends cosmic significance not only to celestial determinations, but also to human actions and conditions.

Man's modes of behavior have an effect on all realms, to the uppermost. Man's conditions below, therefore, are also symptomatic reflections of spiritual conditions.

The Shechinah is the Divine Presence of which it is said that "the whole earth is filled with His glory" (Isaiah 6:3).

It is the very root and source of all souls. In turn, every soul is a spark of the Shechinah.

A corpse, the lifeless or soul-less body, does not feel pain or sense any needs. By implication, then, suffering is sensed by the soul, not the body. If this pain is sensed by the individual extension of the Shechinah, therefore, it is sensed also by the Shechinah per se. For the sparks or extensions of the Shechinah, inherent in the human soul, are inseparable from their source.