Parsha Vayeira 5773: Prayer and Avraham, vs Israel and Chutz L’Aretz in Our Times

by Moshe Burt

Our Parsha opens with Hashem, as we understand, visiting Avraham Aveinu on the 3rd day after Bris Milah, when Avraham was at the height of his pain following the circumcision, as Rashi indicates, “to inquire about his welfare.” (Metsuda Linear Chumash rendering of Rashi on Perek 18, posuk 1).

It’s not like Hashem needed to pay a visit to ascertain Avraham’s actual condition. Hashem is the Creator, The Master, The Ruler over the world who knows and is aware of everything. And so, as Hashem visited to inquire as to Avraham’s wellbeing, Avraham pardoned himself from Hashem when he spotted 3 travellers inviting them into his tent.

From these events, we learn and gain insight into the Mitzvot of Bikur Cholim; showing, caring, giving strength and encouragement to the ill by visiting and caring about them, Hachnasat Orchim; inviting guests into one’s home as well as tefillah: as a vehicle for approaching and connecting with Hashem.

We learn from the parsha the contrast between Avraham Aveinu’s chesed with the cruelty of the city of Sodom as well as about the two melachim who were assigned by Hashem to rescue Lot and his family and to destroy Sodom.

Rebbetzin Shira Smiles, in “Torah Tapestries” on Parsha Vayeira (pages 51-52) cites R’ Joseph B. Soloveichik’s sefer “The Lonely Man of Faith” which was quoted in the RCA Edition of Artscroll’s Siddur while explaining Avraham’s chesed in praying to find some redeeming kindness in the evil city of Sodom. Rebbetzin Smiles writes:

Prayer is called avodah shebalev — service of the heart…. One way of infusing our hearts with love for Hashem is through prayer. But simply saying the words in the siddur (prayer book) is not the essence of prayer, as explained in the introduction to the RCA Edition of the Artscroll Siddur. The words are but a vehicle to connecting to Hashem; it is the feeling that goes into those words that makes the prayer. Through heartfelt prayer we can develop a loving relationship with Hashem.

Of course, if this is so, where does this leave OUR collective relationship with Hashem after the break-neck race with the Shali’ach Tzibbor through Korbonot, P’sukei D’Zimra, Sh’ma, Shemona Esrei and Chazzarat HaShatz (repetition of Shemona Esrei), not to mention Aleinu?

Rebbetzin Smiles continues:

The essay [of R’ Joseph B. Soloveichik, z”l]… brings examples of… three ways to approach Hashem in prayer.

… Avraham Aveinu in this parsha, Vayeira…. prays on behalf of Sodom, the wicked city…. pleads for the survival of the people of Sodom. He asks Hashem to save the entire city on the merit of fifty, forty and finally, ten righteous people, should they exist.

Avraham Aveinu prays to Hashem here as a ben bris, a member of the covenant. We also see that he makes his petition not on his own behalf, nor on behalf of his family. Here is the first formal petition by the first circumcized Jew and it is on the behalf of strangers. …His plea to Hashem is not only to save the righteous, but also the wicked. Avraham Aveinu was asserting that the lives of human beings, no matter how debased, are ultimately of value.

According to Avraham Aveinu, prayer is about being a ben bris, a partner in the covenant with Hashem…. It is to Hashem’s quality of justice that we appeal.

Rebbetzin Smiles described three types of prayer in her “Torah Tapestries” essay on Parsha Vayeira. Avraham Aveinu’s type described above regarded Hashem’s quality of justice to mankind in general, such as what we pray for on Hoshana Rabbah and 3 times a day — everyday in Aleinu. Another type of prayer described (“Torah Tapestries” on Parsha Vayeira, page 53) was Eliyahu HaNavi’s for Divine Fire vs the 400 prohets of Ba’al to prove to B’nei Yisrael “that Hashem is THE One and Only G’d.”

But, just as Avraham Aveinu prayed for strangers in the hope that there was justification for saving Sodom, Rebbetzin Smiles discusses Yehudah’s actions on behalf of his brother Binyamin as constituting prayer. She writes (“Torah Tapestries” on Parsha Vayeira, page 52):

Yehudah knows that there is a great disparity between Yosef’s status as Viceroy of Egypt and his own. He does not come to Yosef as an equal, or even as a ben bris. Instead, he comes as a servant begging his master for mercy. Yet despite his lowly position, Yehudah pursues his quest with passion.

Yehudah’s model of prayer is based on particularism — prayer as a way to fulfill an individual’s needs — in this case, Yehudah’s need to carry out his responsibility to his father and brother…. He appealed to Yosef’s mercy: do it for an elderly father, for this young man; but do it out of mercy, not out of justice.

We parallel Avraham Avinu’s unequivocal actions to free his blood kin, and Yehudah’s prayers on behalf of his brother Binyamin with modern-day Israel’s actions to free Jewish air-hijacking hostages, particularly the 100 plus hostages held in Entebbe, Uganda. But we contrast all of the above with Israel’s latter and current abysmal failures to gain freedom Jewish hostages, both the handing to the enemy 1,027 formerly imprisoned terrorists (the majority with Jewish blood on their hands) for Gilad Shalit, and their political and diplomatically impotent efforts regarding securing freedom from American prison for Jonathan Pollard. Further, one could ask; How does Avraham’s wartime rescue of his nephew Lot, and the rescue by the molochim of Lot and his daughters from Sodom — acts of Divine Mandate contrast with the utter failure of successive Israeli governments to make sufficient appropriate efforts — Histadlut for Jonathan Pollard’s redemption from American incarceration? Pollard’s freedom would perhaps enable Hashem’s Divine Redemption?

May we, the B’nai Yisrael be zocha that our brethren — the refugee families from Gush Katif be permanently settled and be made totally whole — be totally restituted for all that was stolen from them at leftist-agendized, supreme court legalized gunpoint, that our dear brethren Jonathan Pollard and Sholom Rubashkin, as well as the other MIAs be liberated alive and returned to us in ways befitting Al Kiddush Hashem. May we have the courage and strength to stand up and physically prevent the possibility of Chas V’Challila any future eviction of Jews from their homes and the handing of Jewish land over to anyone, let alone to enemies sworn to Israel’s and Judaism’s destruction and eradication. May we fulfill Hashem’s blueprint of B’nai Yisrael as a Unique people — an Am Segula, not to be reckoned with as with “the nations” and may we be zocha to see the Moshiach, the Ge’ula Shlaima, as Dov Shurin sings; “Ki Karov Yom Hashem V’Kol HaGoyim”, the Ultimate Redemption, bim hay v’yameinu — speedily, in our time”, — Achshav, Chik Chuk, Miyad, Etmol!!!

Moshe Burt, an Oleh, is a commentator on news and events in Israel and Founder and Director of The Sefer Torah Recycling Network. He lives in Ramat Beit Shemesh.