SALT - Friday, 17 Cheshvan 5779 - October 26, 2018

  • Rav David Silverberg
Please pray for a refua sheleima for
Michael Yaacov ben Chava Dvora
The Torah in Parashat Vayera tells the story of the destruction of Sedom, and relates that on that morning, Avraham returned to “the place where he had stood in the presence of the Lord” (19:27), and saw the smoke rising from the Jordan Valley region.  As the Radak notes, this refers to the place where Avraham had stood the previous day after the angels that had visited him left to Sedom, when God informed Avraham of His plan to annihilate Sedom, prompting Avraham to pray on the city’s behalf.  The Torah writes that after the angels left, “Avraham was still standing in the presence of the Lord” (18:22), and it is thus to this place that the Torah refers when it speaks of Avraham returning the next morning to the place “where he had stood in the presence of the Lord.”
The Gemara in Masekhet Berakhot (26b) famously explains that Avraham came to that location in the morning to pray, thus demonstrating that Avraham introduced the concept of shacharit – the morning prayer.  Earlier in Masekhet Berakhot (6b), the Gemara notes the significance of the fact that Avraham arose to pray in the precise same location where he had prayed the previous day.  The Gemara sees this as a precedent for the great value of setting a fixed place for prayer, commenting, “Whoever sets a fixed place for his prayer – the God of Avraham assists him, and when he dies, it is said of him, ‘O, humble one!  O, pious one!  Among the students of our patriarch, Avraham!’”  Such a person is a “student” of Avraham because he set a fixed place for his prayers, just as Avraham did.
Rav Yechezkel Landau (author of Noda Bi-yehuda), in his Tzelach commentary to the Talmud, offers a mystical explanation for the importance of setting a fixed place for prayer.  He suggests that each time a person prays at a certain location, his prayer somehow leaves an impact on that location.  A certain element of sanctity is “absorbed” by that place, which in turn affects the quality of the person’s next prayer.  By establishing a fixed place for prayer, then, one positively impacts upon the quality of his prayers, which are affected by the sanctity generated by all the previous prayers at that location.
On this basis, the Tzelach suggests a reason why such an individual is hailed as an “anav” – a humble person.  The practice of praying in a certain location, according to the Tzelach’s explanation, demonstrates one’s awareness of the need to enhance his prayers by drawing upon the effects of previous prayers.  If one prays in a different place each time, he appears to assume that his prayer is self-sufficient, intrinsically adequate, and does not require the sanctity generated by prayers recited on previous occasions.  It is therefore a sign of humility when one establishes a fixed place for his prayers, thereby showing a degree of insecurity in the inherent power of his prayer, and a desire to improve it.
The broader message conveyed by the Tzelach is that it is the height of arrogance to believe that we can achieve greatness instantaneously, without a long, extended process of hard work and effort.  We need to recognize that every bit of work we invest builds upon the work we’ve previously invested, and does not accomplish anything on its own.  It is a mistake, and a sign of arrogance, to think that we can set out to achieve a goal and succeed immediately.  We must humbly acknowledge that anything we seek to accomplish requires a lengthy, and, in most instances, grueling, process.  Once we acknowledge this, we will not be discouraged or deterred when our efforts do not bring us immediate success, and will instead realize that our struggles and setbacks are a natural part of the process of growth and achievement.