In these very sad and difficult moments, I wish to share with you something I wrote in the past, which unfortunately became so relevant now, when Hashem said “no” to our prayers. Rabbi Ronen Neuwirth
“Avraham instituted the morning tefillah, as it says: “וישכם אברהם בבקר אל המקום אשר עמד שם” – And Avraham rose early in the morning to the place where he had stood, and ‘standing’ means only prayer, as it says, “Then arose Pinchas and prayed”(Berachot 26b).
The pasuk “וישכם אברהם בבוקר” which is the source of Teffilat Shacharit, is not the famous “וישכם” of Akedat Yitzchak but rather taken from another episode, from the story of Sodom. After all the tremendous courageous prayers of Avraham for rescuing some of the Sodom inhabitants, he woke up early in order to see the outcome of his prayers. The outcome was unfortunately the following:
“And Abraham got up early in the morning to the place where he had stood before the L-rd. And he looked out toward Sodom and Gomorrah, and toward all the land of the Plain, and beheld, and, lo, the smoke of the land went up as the smoke of a furnace. And it came to pass, when G-d destroyed the cities of the Plain, that G-d remembered Abraham, and sent Lot out of the midst of the overthrow, when He overthrew the cities in which Lot dwelt. “
This issue requires profound study. Apparently, the Gemara tried to bring Avraham’s prayer as a model for all our davening. However, this is seemingly an extremely poor model. None of Avraham’s prayers were accepted, the destruction was total. Why did the Gemara specifically use this story as the source for our Teffilot?
Indeed, at first glance, it seems as if the prayers were unanswered. However, reading the next verses can shed some light on this issue. There was some positive result to the prayers: “When G-d destroyed the cities of the Plain, that G-d remembered Abraham, and sent Lot out of the midst of the overthrow, when He overthrew the cities in which Lot dwelt.”
Thanks to Avraham’s effort, Hashem rescues Lot. That is not the end of the story. The end is very tragic. “Thus were both the daughters of Lot with child by their father. And the first-born bore a son, and called his name Moab–the same is the father of the Moabites unto this day.”
Chazal in the Midrash Rabba give an incredible interpretation of this episode. Chazal relate it to a verse from Tehilim (69:21):
“I found David, my servant”: “Said Rabbi Yitzchak: Where did I find him? In Sodom!!!”(Bereishit Rabba)
Indeed, at first glance, Avraham’s prayers were useless. Nevertheless, in the wide historic perspective, the prayers had a remarkable outcome. Because of his prayers, G-d saved Lot, which caused the birth of Moab, the ancestor of Ruth, the great grandmother of David, the head of the dynasty of the משיח. The prayers brought the משיח into the world, which will eventually heal everything and bring the world to the complete redemption.
One can not measure the outcome of prayer from the instant result but rather from an eternal wide perspective. Sometimes we need to give time for the seeds of the prayers to sprout. We can start with Moab but end up with the light of the משיח.
Therefore, our sages named Tefillah “עמידה” – standing: “ואין עמידה אלא תפלה” (Berachot Ibid.). Tefillah requires determination, a strong standing, in order to behold the results. Occasionally, it may take thousands of years to witness those results, as in Avraham’s case. Yet sometimes we need only a few years in order to witness the outcome of unanswered teffilot, such as those of a generation in which its prayers went up like the smoke of a furnace while it was being massacred. We can see the outcome in the form of the next generation – a generation of redemption, which drew its energy and power from those lost prayers, and instituted the State of Israel.
Rabbi Ronen Neuwirth is the Executive Director of Beit Hillel and the Rav of Congregation Ohel Ari in Ra’anana. He served as Director of the Overseas Department of Tzohar and as the Rabbi of Bnei Akiva of North America. He also served as a Chief Technology Officer (CTO) and is a former captain in the Israeli Navy Special Forces.
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