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D’var Torah: Parashat Vayeira

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In this week’s D’var Torah for Vayeira, the Chief Rabbi asks how it can be that the first prayer recorded in Torah was one that failed.

The second letter of our patriarchs’ names reveal their contribution. The second letter of Avraham is a ‘Bet’ – for ‘Boker’ – morning, referring to the ‘Shacharit’ – Morning Prayer that Avraham started.

The second letter of Yitzchak is a ‘Tzadi’ which refers to ‘Tzeharayim’ – afternoon, because he started the ‘Mincha’ – the afternoon prayer. And the second letter of Yaakov is an ‘Ayin’ which stands for ‘Erev’ – evening, because he commenced the concept of davening at night.

In Parashat Vayeira we are told for the first time about the way in which Avraham davened every morning. “Vayashkeim Avram Ba’Boker El Ha’Makom Asher Amad Sham – Avram got up in the morning in order to come back to the same place where he had stood the day before.” And here we learn from the word ‘Vayashkeim’ that Avram got up as early as possible to daven to Hashem.

‘El Hamakom’ – ‘to the same place’, teaches us about the concept of ‘Makom Kevua’ – A fixed place for prayer. We should try to pray in the same place all the time because that familiarity will enhance our ‘Kavana’ – devotion and our feeling in prayer.

For me, what stands out here, is that this original reference to prayer – and our prayers are rooted in this precedent – actually refer to a prayer that failed. The prayer of the previous day was the first prayer on record. It was a prayer in which Avram poured out his heart to Hashem saying, “Please save the inhabitants of Sedom and Amorah for the sake of the righteous people that are living there.” But it fell on deaf ears. The prayer was a failure. What sense can we make of this?

There is no such thing as a prayer that fails. A chassid once came to his Rebbe and said, “Rebbe, please explain this to me: Every day I pour my heart out, I pray to Hashem but He never answers me?” The Rebbe answered, “Hashem does answer you but His answer is no.”

Sometimes it is beyond our capacity to understand what is in our own best interests. What appears to us as something remarkable could turn out to be a curse. What appears to us as a tragedy could have many hidden blessings within it.

That is why when we ask Hashem to bless the incoming month we say, ‘Vayima’alu Misha’alot Libeinu Letovah’ – May all the requests of our hearts come about for the good. We are saying, please Hashem, take our prayers and channel them in the direction in that which is in our best interest.

Whenever we pray, Hashem takes those ‘Tefillot’ – those prayers, and He uses them for our advantage, either short or long term and for the advantage of the world around us.

We should not forget that prayer is not only about a ‘shopping list’ of requests. Prayer is primarily about transforming ourselves. It is about a spiritual encounter which enhances our lives and from which we emerge as better people. And it is within that experience that we make certain requests of Hashem.

From that original prayer, recorded in our parasha we learn a crucially important message – there is no such thing as a prayer that fails.

Shabbat Shalom