Friday, November 06, 2009
VaYeira 5634 First Ma'amar
The first Tanchuma on the parsha discusses at length how many brachos are in our prayers for different significant days during the year. Specifically, the Sfas Emes addresses the difference between our weekday and Shabbos prayers. Why do we pray for material things during the week and on Shabbos we only pray for rest?
To answer this question, we need to understand what prayer is, why we pray and what prayer accomplishes. Prayer as we are wont to think of it, is difficult to understand for two reasons. First, why inform God of our needs since He is omniscient and obviously knows our needs better than we do. Secondly, asking for our needs implies that God changes His mind, so to speak. Prayer implies that we can convince God of the legitimacy of our request. Infinity belies change. The infinite God does not change His mind. For prayer to the infinite God to make sense, we need a different understanding of what it is, why we do it and what it accomplishes.
We can gain a deeper understanding of prayer by studying Avraham Avinu’s relationship with God before and after his circumcision.
The Midrash on the parsha cites a pasuk in Iyov. Iyov said, , “וְאַחַר עוֹרִי נִקְּפוּ זֹאת וּמִבְּשָׂרִי אֶחֱזֶה אֱ-לוֹהַּ/After my skin was stricken they pierced this, and from my flesh I perceive God.” (Iyov 19:26) The Midrash attributes these words to Avraham Avinu as well. Avraham Avinu continues, “If I had not circumcised myself how could God have been revealed to me?” Why is God’s revelation to Avraham Avinu dependent upon his circumcision? Furthermore, God spoke to Avraham several times before he was circumcised. What, then, is the meaning of Avraham Avinu’s statement that he received revelation only after the circumcision?
The Chiddushei HaRim points out that the word, “zos/this” in the pasuk is a reference to the innermost point of spirituality within every aspect of the physical Creation. Indeed, the Zohar states that the zos is a hint to the kingdom of heaven. Certainly God gives life and existence to everything always, “... וְאַתָּה מְחַיֶּה אֶת כֻּלָּם ... /... and you give life to everything …” (Nechemia 9:6). However, we do not always recognize this. God is sometimes more revealed than at other times. He always permeates the entire Creation, though, and if we could see through the screen that we call the physical Creation, He would be revealed to us.
This, the Midrash tells us, is exactly what happened to Avraham Avinu as a result of the circumcision. The Midrash, referring to the circumcision, cites this pasuk, “סוֹד ה' לִירֵאָיו וּבְרִיתוֹ לְהוֹדִיעָם/God’s secret is for those who fear Him and His covenant is made known to them.” (Tehillim 25:14)
Certainly God spoke with Avraham before, but after the circumcision Avraham Avinu was able to recognize the spiritual roots of every aspect of the Creation. This is the reason that the first words of this week’s parsha are the more general, “וַיֵּרָא אֵלָיו ה' .../And God appeared to him …” (Breishis 18:1) rather than the more specific, “וַיֵּרָא ה' אֶל־אַבְרָם/And God appeared to Avram” (Breishis 17:1) as the pasuk states in the previous parsha. After the circumcision, Avram experienced a general revelation. He saw God everywhere and in everything.
The first pasuk of the parsha continues, “... וְהוּא יֹשֵׁב פֶּתַח־הָאֹהֶל כְּחֹם הַיּוֹם/… and he was sitting at the entrance of the tent in the heat of the day.” This, the Sfas Emes says, can be understood homiletically. The tent represents closeness to God. Certainly Avraham had a burning desire, like the heat of the day, to enter the tent, to be close to God. Still, he felt unworthy of gazing upon God’s Presence that he was able to see in everything. He did not enter the tent but stayed outside.
Avraham Avinu, because he was on such a high spiritual level and recognized God everywhere felt unworthy of coming closer to God, of gazing upon the Divine Presence. Chazal tell us that, instead, God came to Avraham to “visit the ill.” However, those of us who are not on such a high level, who do not see God in everything must strive to strengthen ourselves and come closer to God.
Conventionally, we think of coming close to God in spiritual terms. However, when we understand that everything we receive is from God, receiving material blessing from Him is also a revelation. When we ask God for our physical needs, we are actually acknowledging this and requesting that God bring our physical bodies, that benefit from the material blessing, closer to Him, to holiness. Although couched in the language of requests, the prayers are really affirmations that we use to affirm and strengthen our belief that everything that comes to us, comes from God. This belief brings us closer to God through the physical.
However, someone like Avraham Avinu, who actually experiences God in every aspect of the physical world around him, and recognizes his own lowliness in relationship to God, is ashamed to ask God for his material needs and in fact has no need to ask. He already knows that everything is from God. Regarding his physical being and needs Avraham Avinu says, “אָנֹכִי עָפָר וָאֵפֶר/I am dust and ash.” (Breishis 18:27) Instead he sits at the entrance to the tent and yearns to simply fulfill God’s will.
We actually mimic this approach on Shabbos, “אִם־תָּשִׁיב מִשַׁבָּת רַגְלֶךָ עֲשׂוֹת חֲפָצֶךָ בּיֹום קָדְשִׁי ... אָז תִּתְעַנַּג עַל-ה' .../If you restrain your foot because it is the Shabbos and refrain from attending to your own needs on My holy day … then you will delight in God …” (Yeshaya 48:13-14) We do not ask for our physical needs on Shabbos because more spiritual enlightenment is revealed and there is therefore no need to ask for these things. Rather, Chazal established that we request מְנוּחָה/rest and purity in our service to God on Shabbos.
And God remembers the righteous as well, “... אֵין מַחְסוֹר לִירֵאָיו/Those who fear Him do not lack.” (Tehillim 34:10) Therefore, a person who is ill, will be healed through the Shabbos prayers even though there is no request for this. This is why the Midrash says that when Avraham Avinu sat in pain from the circumcision, God came to visit him even though Avraham did not pray for this. Life and healing are drawn from the innermost spark of Divine Presence that inheres in Avraham Avinu.
The potential for life, healing and plenty is right here with us all the time. For Avraham Avinu and for us on Shabbos this understanding is experienced and there is therefore no need to strengthen our faith by affirming that they are from God through prayer. During the week when it is concealed from us, we ask for the revelation. May we merit it. Amen!
 Tanchuma VaYeira 1
 Breishis R. 48:2
 Zohar 1:93b-94a
 Tanchuma Lech Lecha 19
 Sotah 14a