“Abram Prays for Others”

by Rabbi Ephraim Z. Buchwald

In this week’s parasha, parashat Lech Lecha, we find two instances where the commentaries indicate that Abram (his name had not yet been changed to Abraham) prayed for others.

In Genesis 12:6, the Torah tells us, “Va’ya’ah’vor Avram ba’ah’retz ahd m’kohm Sh’chem ahd Aylon Moreh, v’ha’K’nah’ah’nee ahz ba’ah’retz,” Abram passed in the land as far as the site of Shechem, until the Plain of Moreh; the Canaanites were then in the land. Commenting on this seemingly innocuous verse, Rashi states that Abram traveled all the way to Shechem in order to pray for the success of the sons of Jacob in their future confrontation with the people of Shechem (after the kidnaping and rape of their sister Dina).

As Abram continued his journeys in the land of Canaan, the Torah tells us (Genesis 12:8): “Va’ya’tayk mee’shahm ha’ha’ra mee’kedem l’Veit El, va’yayt ah’hoh’lo, Beit El mee’yahm, v’ha’ai mee’kedem, va’yee’ven shahm miz’bayach la’Hashem, va’yikra b’shaym Hashem,” From there he [Abram] relocated to the mountain east of Beth El, and pitched his tent, with Beth El on the west and Ai on the east; and he built there an altar to G-d and invoked G-d by Name. Here, too, Rashi explains that Abram built an altar at that specific location because he prophesied that in the future, in the times of Joshua, his children would be destined to stumble in the city of Ai, as a result of the sin of Achan. He therefore prayed there for them. (When Joshua first entered the land of Canaan and attacked the city of Ai, he made the people vow not to touch the booty from Ai. Achan, however, violated that vow and caused a temporary setback in Israel’s attempt to capture the city.)

The Midrash Rabbah (Genesis 39:11) commenting on the verse in Genesis 12:3, “and through you shall all the families of the earth be blessed,” states that Abram regularly prayed for barren women, who, as a result of his prayers, would become pregnant, and for sick people, who would be healed.

The Talmud (Sanhedrin 44b), quotes Rabbi Eleazar, who said, “One should always offer up a prayer before misfortune comes; for had Abraham not anticipated [future] trouble by praying between Beth El and Ai, there would not have remained of the Israelites (in the time of Joshua) a remnant or a survivor.” Resh Lakish said, “He who devotes his strength to prayer below [on earth] has no enemies to overcome above [in Heaven].” Rabbi Yochanan said, “One should always implore mercy, that all [the heavenly beings] may support his effort [in prayer], so that he may have no enemies on high.”

Our rabbis explain that one should always pray for good health because such prayers prove that the petitioner acknowledges that everything comes from G-d. Whereas, one who prays only after being stricken with illness indicates that had he had not become ill he would not have prayed.

Some explain that the reason to pray for good health is that, from the Al-mighty’s point of view, it is much “easier” to prevent one from being stricken than to heal a person after illness strikes. Fortunately, we do know clearly that G-d does respond to those who are stricken, as the verse states (Deuteronomy 4:30), “When you are in distress and these things befall you…, G-d will respond.”

From these biblical examples we learn that we must not desist from prayer or wait until evil strikes, but rather pray for healing even before one is stricken. Praying for evil not to come is more easily accepted than praying after evil strikes.  This is why Moses prayed for the people immediately after the people sinned with the Golden Calf. Even though G-d had told Moses, “Go down, for your people have corrupted,” Moses did not go directly to reprove the people, but instead scripture tells us (Exodus 32:11), “Va’y’chal Moshe et p’nay Hashem Eh’lo’kav,” He immediately prayed for the people to be saved, and for G-d’s anger to be turned aside. Only after G-d forgave the people did Moses reprove the people for their perfidious actions.

From Abram’s actions, we learn to always be prepared to pray, not only for ourselves but for others as well. It is especially important to pray for the benefit of the general community, and to pray with great passion, because the power of prayer is extremely potent, especially if it is sincere and heartfelt.

The Talmud (Bava Kama 92a) states that those who invoke G-d’s compassion for their neighbors, and who are in need of a similar response, are answered first. The reason for this is because those who pray for others show sensitivity for the suffering of others and demonstrate great selflessness by praying for them even though they may be in great need themselves. Because of this selfless devotion and kindness to others, they are answered first.

The following comments on this matter were transcribed from a speech delivered by the well-known author and orator Rabbi Paysach Krohn:

I want to tell you a story about a father who was having a very difficult time with his daughter, trying to find a shidduch. This girl came from a good family, a decent family. She was talented. And every fellow she went out with just wasn’t the one. And she came home frustrated. The parents were frustrated. And nothing was going right. And then for a while she had no dates at all. And finally the father decided–you know what–maybe Hashem is trying to tell me something. Why, the father said to himself, am I so selfish that all I do is think about myself and my daughter? So he made a book. He took out a spiral, and he wrote down the names of every single young man he could think of, and every single young woman he could think of. And he had a list of about 30 each. Maybe he had more girls than boys–so it was 40/30, whatever. But the point was, every time he made a call for his daughter–if he called the mashgiach of a yeshivah, [if] he called a shadchan, [if] he called a friend–he went through the list and [also] made a call for somebody on that list. He either tried to set up a date between one of the men on the list and one of the women on the list, or to call a shadchan for one of the men and one of the women. And within five weeks–after five weeks of doing this–his daughter met the one that she married. And I know every word of this story is true, because I’m that father. And that’s the truth. It occurred to me–what right do I have only to be interested in my family? What about other kids? Therefore I thought maybe if I have that nosei b’ohl chaveiro, if I share my fellow’s burden, maybe Hashem would help me. And I’m telling you this lesson, because maybe that’s what we have to do for any problem that we have. Try to find somebody who has that same challenge and think about them. And then maybe Hashem will show us His mercy. (Reprinted from Chesed, Rosh Hashana 5765, published by the Chofetz Chaim Heritage Foundation).

This is the power of prayer, and especially the enhanced power of praying for someone other than oneself. May all our prayers be heard, and may they be fulfilled for good. Amen. May you be blessed.