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Prayer – The Right To Argue With God

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The Talmud (Berachot 26b) says, “tefillot avot tiknum” – “prayer was established by the avot.” The Talmud then uses the following verse (Bereshit 19:27) to prove how Avraham established prayer: “Vayaskem Avraham baboker el hamakom asher amad sham et pnei Hashem” – “And Avraham got up early in the morning to the place where he had stood before God.”

The connection here is in the word “amad” – stood – and its association with the Amidah prayer. Strangely, though, the Torah relates just one chapter later (Bereshis 20:17), “Vayitpallel Avraham el Ha’Elokim” – “And Avraham prayed to God.” The word “vayitpallel” is directly related to “tefillah” – prayer.

When proving that Avraham established prayer, why didn’t the Talmud use that verse? Further, in the case of Avraham’s tefillah, God answered his prayer and miraculously healed Avimelech, the king of the Plishtim, and his entire household. Why, then, isn’t this clear, explicit and successful prayer our foundational model?

The Talmud’s first proof text for prayer offers us a powerful lesson. Let’s take a deeper look at that text: “And Avraham got up early in the morning to the place where he had stood before God.”

What was so special about the place? It was a place of deep significance to Avraham. It was the place where he stood, argued and confronted God before the destruction of Sodom and A’mora. It was the place where Avraham, alone and face to face with the Creator of the Universe, mustered all his courage to demand (Bereshis 18:23), “Shall the Judge of the entire earth not do justice?” And he boldly asked, “How dare You kill the righteous together with the wicked?”

By using this verse as a foundation for Jewish prayer, the Talmud teaches us that prayer is not centered on miracles or good fortune. Rather, prayer is how we confront God for whatever seems to us to be unfair and unjust.

Prayer is how we struggle and argue with God, Who loves righteousness and justice but allows suffering, pain, and the death of innocent children. With prayer, we – like Avraham – see the distance between the world as it is and the world as it could be. This is where our prayer begins. This is where hope begins and where redemption begins.

Through prayer we become God’s messengers to others as we demonstrate the way we handle life’s difficult tests. We show our family and friends how to have emunah and bitachon (faith and trust in God) despite pain and suffering.

Emunah means we trust that everything that happens to us, the good as well as the bad, comes from God. Bitachon is a higher level than emunah alone, for even in the midst of life’s tragedies I know that somehow these events are also part of God’s Plan for the Ultimate Good.

We have a lot of work to do. Let’s get started by having a daily conversation with God and telling Him our troubles. It’s the best therapy there is – and it’s free!

About the Author: Rabbi Ephraim Sprecher is dean of students at the Diaspora Yeshiva in Jerusalem.


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