The Vort – Parashat Vayera – Where Does Prayer Begin?

The Talmud (Brachot 26b) says – “Tefillot avot tiknum – Prayer was established by the Avot (patriarchs),” and then uses the following verse (Genesis 19:27) from this week’s parasha to prove how Abraham established tefillah:
• “Vayashkem Avraham ba’boker el hamakom asher amad sham et pnei Hashem – and Abraham arose early in the morning to the place where he stood to the face of God.”
The proof is in the word “amad,” to stand, and its connection to the “Amidah,” the standing prayer at Judaism’s liturgical center. It’s a satisfactory proof, but it leaves many unanswered questions. What exactly did Abraham pray about? What happened as a result of his prayer?
Strangely, the Torah relates just one chapter later (Genesis 20:17) that Abraham prayed, (hitpallel) to God! ” The word hitpallel, is directly related to tefilah. When proving that Abraham established prayer, why didn’t the Talmud use this verse? Further, in the case of Abraham’s tefilah, God answered his prayer and miraculously healed Avimelech! Why isn’t this clear, successful prayer our foundational model?
The Gemara’s counterintuitive proof-text offers a powerful lesson. Let’s take a deeper look our original proof-text: “Abraham arose early in the morning to the place where he stood to the face of God.” This place was of deep significance to Abraham. It was the place where he stood and confronted God on the destruction of S’dom and Amorah (Radak), the place where Abraham, alone, face to face with HaKadosh Baruch Hu, mustered all his courage to demand “will the Judge of all the earth not do justice!?” It was also the place where Abraham failed in his quest to prevent suffering and destruction of thousands, the place where God turned Abraham and his call for justice away.
By using this verse as a foundation for Jewish prayer, the Talmud teaches us that the place of Jewish prayer is not centered in miracles or good fortunes. Rather, the place of prayer is where we confront what is broken. The place of prayer is where we struggle with a God who loves righteousness and justice but allows suffering and oppression. The place of prayer is where we, like Abraham, stand and witness the distance between the world as it is and the world as it should be. This is the place where our prayers begin, and it is the place where our transformation, through those prayers, can begin. Shabbat shalom.

3 thoughts on “The Vort – Parashat Vayera – Where Does Prayer Begin?

  1. Nice drash on the drash. But I always assumed they choose that verse because they wanted it to apply to shachrit, “and he rose early” (as, if I recall, the Gemara goes on to ascribe mincha and ma’ariv to yitzchak and ya’akov respectivly).

  2. Hey Chorus,
    Yep, the morning connection is definitely there too, it’s pretty explicit in the gemara. But chazal often have more than one trick up their sleeves 🙂

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