Weekly Torah Commentary – Va’yera November 11, 2011

In this week’s parsha, we read the very first recorded prayer in the Torah, that of Avraham interceding with Hashem for the wicked people of Sodom.

The city was large and prosperous but its people were violent, vile and evil. Immorality of every sort abounded, and in direct opposition to everything that Avraham represented, they were unbelievably cruel towards strangers who happened to pass by their city. Hospitality for them was not a virtue; they were adamantly opposed to showing any kindness whatsoever to anyone who was not a Sodomite.

It was in this atmosphere that Lot, Avraham’s nephew, lived. Some time earlier, you may remember, the herdsmen of Lot and the herdsmen of Avraham had some struggles as both men had large flocks and there was not enough grazing land where they lived together for both. Conflicts and tensions arose and Avraham, unwilling to allow strife to continue, gave Lot the opportunity to choose whichever portion of land he wanted for his flocks. Lot chose the territory which included Sodom and Gomorrah because it “looked so good” to him as a place where he could prosper financially. We read no word of consideration for his uncle, Avraham. Notably, Lot did not say in response to his uncle’s offer, “You are the elder and you have been so kind to me. I wouldn’t think of choosing first. You choose, Uncle, and I will go in a different direction.” No, Lot cared first about Lot.

Living in a debauched society took its toll on Lot as we know from his actions. Yet, when Hashem informed Avraham of His intent to destroy Sodom, Avraham begins to intercede.

“Will You destroy the righteous with the wicked?” Avraham petitions. “If you can find fifty righteous in the city, will you save it for their sake?” He petitions Hashem repeatedly until he asks if G-d will spare the city of many thousands even for the sake of only ten righteous people in their midst. Hashem says He will.

In the end it becomes obvious that in that wicked city, there were not even ten who were righteous for the city is destroyed, never to be rebuilt.

But what arrests our attention is this: What does Avraham do when he sees that his prayers were essentially rejected? The Torah says that “Avraham remained in his place before Hashem”. Despite the apparent failure of his intercession, Avraham remained “in his place” and continued to pray. And though it seems on the surface that his prayers were unanswered, they not only helped save his nephew, Lot, but provided a link to the future Messiah of Israel who is descended from Lot through Ruth, the Moabite.

Furthermore, in his first recorded prayer, Avraham models for every future generation what prayer means to us as individuals and as Jews. Abraham implanted in the Jewish people the realization of the supreme importance of praying for others, even when their ‘redemption’ or ‘deliverance’ appears to be so far away and virtually impossible to envision.

Avraham believed that no one was beyond redemption and nothing was so broken that it could not be repaired. Avraham understood that we are put on this earth for Divine purpose; that we are each responsible not just for ourselves but for others; that truly “no man is an island”.

Prayer is the greatest gift we give to each other. And prayer that continues when it appears as though our prayers are not being heard is the evidence of the kind of faith Avraham modeled for all of his descendants in every generation.

In Tune with Torah this week = re-connecting with the truth of the power of prayer and renewing in ourselves dedication to faithfully interceding for those we love and indeed for ALL of Am Yisrael, regardless of how things look externally.

Shabbat Shalom

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