There is a joke about an atheist who decided to open a nightclub directly across from a house of prayer. The community responded with an uproar. They held nightly, outdoor prayer sessions begging G‑d not to allow the club to open.

The man scoffed and went right ahead with his plans. However, in a shocking turn of events, two weeks before the grand opening, lightning struck the club, and it burned to the ground.

The club owner sued the community on the grounds that their prayers destroyed his club. The community, on the other hand, denied responsibility, saying there was no direct connection between their prayers and the lightning striking the club.

The judge reviewed the case and remarked, “Wow! Seems we have a nightclub owner who believes in the power of prayer and an entire congregation that doesn’t!”

Does prayer really make a difference? Or is it pragmatic, diplomatic and human efforts that determine the course of reality? Is it the businessman’s acumen and good sense that makes him wealthy, or his prayer and G‑d’s subsequent blessing?

Our very own Queen Esther teaches us that while practical actions are necessary to succeed in any endeavor, spiritual efforts have the real impact in drawing down G‑d’s blessings.

When the Jewish people in Persia around 357 B.C.E. were in very real danger of being exterminated, Esther knew she had to act. While she did indeed plan on trying the diplomatic route, she had some other things on her agenda as well. She asked Mordechai to arrange a public fast for three days, even though one of those days was the first day of Passover. She felt that the dire situation called for fasting over even celebrating Passover.

She also did some puzzling actions. She joined the fast, and by default, looked less attractive than her normally beautiful self.

The question is why? If her plan was to persuade her husband, King Achashveirosh, to save her nation, wouldn’t it be a better plan to look her best? Rather than focus on repentance and fasting, shouldn’t she have taken a more pragmatic and polished approach? Shouldn’t she have tried her best to find favor in the king’s eyes?

But Esther was aware of the truth. She knew that the cause of the decree against the Jews was spiritual in nature. And so, while it was important to take practical action to create a physical vessel for G‑d’s blessing to manifest in, she knew that spiritual efforts were far more important than physical ones. She knew that if she fixed the spiritual problem, the rest would sort itself out. She knew that while G‑d doesn’t want Jews to just wait for miracles, prayer and spiritual blessing are what cause one’s efforts to be successful.

Esther intended to diplomatically convince the king to save the Jews, but it was her heartfelt prayer that was the catalyst for her success.

Esther prayed to G‑d: “You, father of orphans, please stand to the right of this orphan, who has relied on your mercy, and let me be viewed mercifully by this man, for I fear him. Lower him before me because You lower the haughty.” (Esther Raba 8:7)

G‑d heard her prayer, and on her merit, the Jewish people were saved.

These are the most practical steps for a Jew when facing a challenge: Prayer, followed by a plan of action.

Soul Note: Whether it is financial, legal, marital or any other challenge, prayer is the catalyst to make one’s efforts successful.