Monday, August 8, 2011

A Thought for Va'etchanan: For Whom Do We Pray?

Rav Yoel Bin-Nun
I recently spent a day at the Tanach Yemei Iyyun at Yeshivat Har Etzion. I've never taken a day off before to spend the day learning. It was a special opportunity, and even saw some old friends there. If you're planning on being in Israel during the summer (next year) and can make it to the Gush, it's well worth the effort. Make reservations before, though. The program sells out.
The first talk I attended was supposed to be about leadership by Israel's Minister of Education Gidon Saar, and while he did say a few words (which are very relevant to today - perhaps another post later on in the week), he admitted that he didn't have time to prepare, and handed over the podium to Rav Yoel bin-Nun, who spoke about "Leadership (and Avraham Avinu)." I took notes.


When God revealed His divine plan to destroy to cities of Sedom and Amorrah, Avraham’s response is both immediate and somewhat shocking:
ויגש אברהם ויאמר האף תספה צדיק עם רשע? אולי יש חמשים צדיקים בתוך העיר...חלילה לך מעשות כדבר הזה להמית צדיק עם רשע והיה כצדיק כרשע, חלילה לך השפט כל הארץ לא יעשה משפט (בראשית יח:כג-כה)
And Avraham approached [God] and said, “will you also destroy the righteous with the wicked? Perhaps there are fifty righteous men in the city…it is forbidden for you to do this thing, to kill the righteous with the wicked, that the righteous should be like the wicked, it is forbidden that the Judge of the Earth should not do justice. (Bereishit 18:23-25)
How could Avraham speak to God about the destruction of the city of Sedom with such apparent chutzpah? Rav bin-Nun explained that Avraham was able to argue with God because he was arguing about the welfare of others. He never prayed (explicitly) for himself. God made great demands of Avraham, and we never find him complaining about his own difficulties. From the challenge of leaving his homeland to sacrificing his own son, Avraham accepted a great deal of personal suffering without questioning God’s will.
Similarly, Moshe Rabbeinu prayed for the Jewish people time after time, and each time his prayer was accepted. Only one time did God reject Moshe's prayers, and even tell him to stop praying: When he prayed for himself, and asked to enter into Eretz Yisrael: ואתחנן אל ה' בעת ההיא לאמר.
When we pray, are we praying for ourselves primarily, or do we put the needs of others first? When we pray for health, are we praying for our own health, that of our family and children? Or, do we put the needs of others ahead of our own? When we ask God for sustenance – a job, a raise, a new project – what about the neighbor, whose financial struggles are far more pressing than my own? Do I pray for his problems as well – or even first?
Perhaps before God answers us, He wants us to be worried about others as well.