Tuesday, November 10, 2020

more on Avraham's tefilah for Sdom

1) The Torah introduces Avraham's tefilah on behalf of Sdom (18:3) with the words "VaYigash Avraham..."  Rashi comments:

ויגש אברהם – מצינו הגשה למלחמה – ויגש יואב (שמואל ב י׳:י״ג), הגשה לפיוס – ויגש אליו יהודה (בראשית מ״ד:י״ח), והגשה לתפילה – ויגש אליהו הנביא (מלכים א י״ח:ל״ו). לכל אלה ניגש אברהם: לדבר קשות, {לפיוס}, ולתפילה.

B'pashtus the milchama here is the conflict between Avraham and G-d, which sounds a bit strange -- Avraham raised questions, he begged for mercy -- is that called a milchama?

The Sefas Emes (5638) instead explains that the conflict here is an internal conflict -- Avraham had to battle himself.  Avraham considered himself afar v'eifer, completely unworthy of asking anything of G-d.  We do not find anywhere that Avraham davened -- he did not daven for Lot when Lot was taken in war, he did not daven when Sarah was taken by Pharoah and Avimelech, he did not even daven to spare Yitzchak's life when he was told to do the akeidah.  Yet here, Avraham davens.  To do so, Avraham had to overcome his inner reluctance to make requests of G-d, to fight against his feelings of unworthiness.  He had to allow his sense of rachmanus for the people of Sdom to win out.  "Hinei ho'alti l'dabeir el Hashem v'anochi afar v'eifer" is not an introduction to Avraham's prayer -- it is his prayer.  Avraham was saying to G-d that if he, a mere basar v'dam, can allow mercy to win out over his natural reluctance to prayer, then certainly G-d can allow the midas ha'rachamim to win out over the midas ha'din and spare the people of Sdom.

2) Last week I did a post on the significance of "Avraham shav li'mkomo" after his prayers on behalf of Sdom.  I later saw R' Moshe Avigdor Amiel deals with the same question and he uses a yesod we discussed once before to address the point.

The gemara (Ta’anis 21b) writes that there was once a plague that affected all the towns except for that of Rav.  The townsfolk had a dream in which it was revealed that the miracle of the town being spared was not due to Rav’s merit, but rather due to a certain person who would lend out shovels to help in burial.  The gemara says further that there was a fire that harmed a bunch of towns except for that of R’ Huna.  Again, the townsfolk had a dream in which it was revealed that the town was not spared in Rav Huna’s merit, but rather in the merit of a certain lady who would light the stove in the morning from which her neighbors then lit their own fires.

The Maharasha asks: isn’t bichlal masayim manah?  If the merit of small acts of kindness was enough to save these towns, they certainly would have been spared in Rav or Rav Huna’s merit!  Why do Chazal seem to go out of their way not only to credit the little people, but also to stress that it was not Rav or Rav Huna’s merit that caused the miracle?

To answer that question, R' Amiel turns his attention to a different question that's come up here as well: how does it help for one person to daven on behalf of another?  B'shlama if a person daven for himself, the Rishonim explain that the tefilah does not change G-d's mind; what it does is that it changes the individual.  We talk about tefilah in binyan hitpael -- a person is mispalel -- because it is a reflexive action; the person is both the subject and the object of tefilah.  As a result of davening, a person grows and comes closer to Hashem and therefore is a different person than the was before.  The gezeira decreed against the old self is averted because that individual no longer exists.  But how can one person's davening bring another person closer to Hashem, change that person, when that person may not even be aware that someone is davening on their behalf?

R' Amiel explains that while tefilah of an individual on behalf of himself elevates that individual, tefilah on behalf of others lowers the individual and links them to the group.

If there is a gezeira against others and a tzadik davens on their behalf, what the tzadik is in effect saying to Hashem is that his fate is intertwined with theirs -- his tzidkus does not set him apart from the masses.  Therefore, if Hashem would have mercy on tzadik, He must in turn also have mercy on the entire group.

When Hashem tells Moshe on Har Sinai about the cheit ha'eigel, he says "Leich reid ki shicheis amcha."  "Go down to your people."  Meaning, when Moshe is on the mountain, all alone, separate from Klal Yisrael, Hashem judges the people as one group and Moshe as a seperate entity.  But if Moshe goes down, lowers his madreiga to join the people, then Hashem is forced, kavyachol, to  temper his judgment on the entire group in order to spare Moshe.

This is why Rav and Rav Huna's zechuyus did not help their town.  These tzadikim lived on such a lofty plane that they were completely apart from those around them; they were in their own world.  

When Avraham davened on behalf of Sdom, he was attempted to create some linkage between himself and the people of Sdom.  Yet, despite that attempt,  when all was said and done, "Avraham shav li'mikomo," Avraham remained in the same spiritual "makom" as he was before, in a world apart from the wickedness of Sdom.  Therefore, he was unable to save them.


  1. "1) ...the Sefas Emes (5638) instead explains"

    outwardly, Avraham clearly challenged [battled] G-d, 18:25.

    but yes, inwardly Avraham [first] waged what he paskened was on this particular occasion a milchemes >mitzvah<, learned out from v'niv'r'chu b'chah kol mishp'chos ha'adamah (12:3)...

    "2) ...Avraham...attempted to create some linkage between himself and the people of Sdom."

    why reinvent the spiel? already in place, Lot has a shovel, Lot has an early-burning stove-- he ever welcomes visitors to town. in a place where there are no men, he strives to be an ish. spread the zechus, Avraham, spread the zechus!

    {Rav, Rav Huna, Hillel begs a word with you: 'al tifrosh min ha'tzibur!' flee the book-lined bower, your lofty ivory tower, lest pious overmuch you should lose the human touch...}