Although it flies in the face of orthodox empiricism, the mystical insights of our tradition suggest there really is no such thing as simple and direct cause-and-effect. Rather, we view everything that happens in the realm of our awareness to actually be the result of unseen forces originating in “higher” levels/dimensions of existence which resolve into events and other phenomena as they enter our “world”. While this might sound like Judaism views us as mere puppets and the end of a cosmic string, we humans, in this conception, are also empowered to arrange and reconfigure these “upper energies”, partially, at least, “programming” them to yield the best effects in our world. Thus, we are both the initiators and the actors.
We’re taught that everything we do, think or even feel in this world directly effects these energies we can’t comprehend which “exist” in a realm we cannot perceive. On a trivial level, if we “move” a book across a table, what we really did was perform an intellectual/sensual/physical action which, as it were, instantaneously changed the “upper lights” (light be a form of, and thus a symbol of energy) which, again instantaneously energized the inner forces of our hand and the book, thus moving the book across the table surface.
While this model seems more intellectually and emotionally appealing when we consider “spiritual” activities such as prayer and meditation, we’ve been told through the generations that even purely physical acts have the same power. Thus we’re taught that a Tzadik (holy, righteous, saintly person) considers these sort of consequences before moving his little finger (remember that our rabbis often employ hyperbole, so, no, ostentatiously taking time to contemplate every simple, ordinary day-to-day actions is not the acid-test for a true Tzadik, but should give us pause before we precipitously act.)
This explains the power we hope that prayer and Torah study and other mitzvot, commandments, contain. We can’t ever know for sure, but rather if we want to accept these concepts we can only do so on faith and trust. Faith that these mechanisms actually do exist and and trust that the techniques we’ve received, generation after generation, from those who have made the efforts to acquire that wisdom, are valid.
To review, since this is a very important concept that underlies much of our traditional practices, all of our thoughts, feelings and actions affect transcendental energies, also described as lights, in the “upper worlds” (realms beyond our perception and only very partially within our understanding). These lights, also known as shefa, divine flow, return to our world, the realm of experience we’re familiar with, and reconfigure our reality. The source and “director” of all this energy is, of course, God, but the totality of all human action, some weighing more than others, contributes. Thus, we’re granted an enormous amount of influence to both better and, chas v’shalom, harm all reality, vastly magnified beyond the mere “direct” physical results of what we do.