Thursday, November 05, 2020

Avraham shav li'mkomo -- no regrets

 The story of Avaraham's tefilah on behalf of Sdom ends "va'yeilech Hashem...v'Avraham shav li'mkomo," Avraham went home. (18:33)  I guess al pi peshuto shel mikra this is like the factory whistle blowing at the end of the day and then you go home from work -- Avraham did the same, only in his case "work" meant tefilah.  It seems like a trivial detail for the Torah to record, which suggests that there might be some message here below the surface.  

Seforno tells us to pay attention to the context:

וילך ה׳ – המתין שם אברהם, ולא הפסיק כוונתו לנבואה, עד שנסתלקה שכינה

Avraham was fully engaged and did not quit his tefilah until Hashem's presence lifted.  "Don't give up too soon!" the Torah is warning us; stay engaged until there is nothing at all left to do.

Netziv comments:

ואברהם שב למקומו – לאנושותו, שלא הוסיף להתבודד ולהתפלל, אע״ג שאפשר להתפלל גם בלא גילוי שכינה, מכל מקום הסיר מעליו עיון האלהות ושב למקומו. {והודיענו הכתוב צדקת אברהם אבינו, שאע״ג שמסר נפשו על לוט במלחמת המלכים, מכל מקום כשהבין רצון ה׳ שלא יבקש עבורו, אע״פ שלא ידע שמלאך אחד נשלח בשביל זה, מכל מקום לא התפלל עבורו

Avraham could have persisted in davening even though Hashem's presence departed, but he didn't.  Once he saw that the ratzon Hashem was against his request, he stopped.  According to Netziv, "shav li'mkomo" is not a geographical shift so much as a spiritual shift, a shift away from nevuah/tefilah back to normal life.  

Once you see the pasuk as not talking about physically going anywhere, it opens the door to other ideas.  Some explain (this was the explanation Daughter #1 immediately thought of) similarly that "shav li'mkomo" means Avraham returned to his normal demeanor, to being the same Avraham Avinu that he was before engaging in this tefilah.  That's no small thing.  Someone once came over to me after davening and asked if I had heard the news that a certain Ploni that people had been davening for to recover from an illness had unfortunately passed away.  This person was totally broken not only from the passing of his friend, but because he felt that his tefilah and the tefilos of the community had been rejected.  Chazal warn us against "iyun tefilah," against davening with the expectation that our desires will be fulfilled if only we put enough into it (Tos Brachos 32 and many other places).  Avraham certainly put everything he had into davening for Sdom, but at the end of the day G-d rejected his efforts.  Still, he did not walk away discouraged.

Remember as well that in last week's parsha Avraham went to battle and saved the city and possession of Sdom while saving Lot.  He (as recorded in Midrash) saved the King of Sdom from death after he fell into a pit.  Now, he comes to Hashem with the charge, "Ha'shofet kol ha'aretz lo ya'aseh mishpat?!" calling into question G-d's own judgment regarding Sdom.  It's not just Avraham's tefilah which was rejected, but his whole outlook on Sdom was rejected by G-d.  The wool was suddenly pulled off his eyes and Hashem showed Avraham that the people he fought alongside, the people who he was praying for, the people whose king he had rescued, had absolutely no redeeming qualities to speak of.  Nonetheless, "Avraham shav li'mikimo" -- he continued on in his avodas Hashem as usual, unperturbed that his efforts had been for naught and that his judgment had been off.  A lesson in how to accept setbacks.

The Ishbitzer goes yet a step further, and says something amazing (as he always does):

ואברהם שב למקמו. היינו אחר שמסר את עצמו והציל אנשי סדום, ועתה אחרי רוב התפלה שהרבה עבורם להצילם והש"י השיב לו כי הם שונאי ה' מאוד הצר לו רוב יגיעתו על שונאי ה', ועכ"ז ואברהם שב למקומו, היינו מקומו הראשון על תוקף שלו, לאשר ידע באמת שאינו אוהב בלתי לאוהבי ה' ובודאי נמצא בזה עומק יותר מכפי השגתו.

It's not that Avraham's gadlus was in accepting that he was wrong without regrets or complaints.  Rather, the blinders were taken off and Avraham nonetheless continued to believe that if he was moved to fight for Sdom, to pray for Sdom, then he must not have been mistaken! -- לאשר ידע באמת שאינו אוהב בלתי לאוהבי ה  He did not rethink his life's mission, rethink who he reaches out to or how he reaches out, rethink his initial impression of Sdom and its people.  Ahh, but G-d said he is going to destroy their city because of their wickedness?  G-d said that the people who he thought were worth praying for were truly evil?   ובודאי נמצא בזה עומק יותר מכפי השגתו OK, so kashye.  There is something here, said Avraham, that is too deep for me to unravel.

"Va'yehi achahr ha'devarim ha'eileh v'Elokim nisa es Avaraham..."  According to Rashi the "achar ha'devarim ha'eileh" refers back to the seudah Avraham made when Yitzchak got his milah, and the satan was taking him to task for not offering a korban then.  If the 37 year span of time between those events doesn't stop Rashi from seeing a link (see Netziv), then maybe it's not going to far to suggest "achar ha'devarim ha'eileh" refers to this story of Avraham's prayer for Sdom and his conclusion, as the Ishbitzer explains,  ובודאי נמצא בזה עומק יותר מכפי השגתו.  Avraham possessed what Keats called "negative capability."  He did not need to work everything out and resolve every kashe to be at peace with what he sensed his mission was. That attitude is what set the groundwork for his passing the test of the akeidah.


  1. what was it Avraham said to ha'shechinah?

    Await! await! for I will rise to thee,
    Not sunken in dissuade by disregards,
    Advance apace all faithful to my quest
    >Though the dull brain perplexes and retards< ...


  2. Avraham certainly put everything he had into davening for Sdom, but at the end of the day G-d rejected his efforts. Still, he did not walk away discouraged.

    Some say almost the opposite of this post.Why did Hashem tell Avrohom about the destruction knowing that Avrohom was going to Daven futily for them?

    Because Tefilos have value even when the answer is no. And also becuase tefilos on behalf of others are always beneficial to one who said them no matter what the outcome will be. So Hashem wanted Avrohom to have the opportunity to daven for the people in Sedom despite knowing that they would not have a tangible result (IIRC I saw this in a sefer called Bais Av and also heard it once or twice)