There is a well-known saying on Wall Street “markets hate uncertainty.” Simply put, good news or bad news, we know how to respond. The bad news may be bad, but at least there is an action item as a result. However, if we don’t know what will happen next, the wait-and-see approach can be very unnerving. This idea is true well beyond the markets. All the uncertainties that we face take a toll on us emotionally.
The Talmud Berachot (26b) brings the source that Avraham Avinu instituted the prayer of Shacharit is from this week’s Parsha:
“וישכם אברהם בבקר” – “Abraham arose early in the morning” (Bereshit 19:27).
Most people tend to think that this passage appears as Avraham is heading to the Akedah, which incidentally also appears then, but that is not the source for his instituting the prayer of Shacharit. The source appears earlier on in the story of the destruction of Sodom. Not when he was negotiating with G-d to save Sodom from destruction. Instead, after Sodom was destroyed, right after Lot’s wife turned into a pillar of salt.
Why did Avraham’s tefillah (prayer) after the destruction of Sodom become the paradigm for tefilat Shacharit and not the tefillah before the Akedah?
It is unclear what Avraham knew before he started davening that paradigmatic Shacharit. On the one hand, the Torah presents this pasuk after already describing the destruction of Sodom. On the other hand, only in the next pasuk does Avraham look out and see the smoke.
The commentators explain that from the time Lot left Avraham’s house for Sodom, Sodom was synonymous with chaos. First, Lot abandons the family and its values for the good life in Sodom. Then Sodom gets involved in a war, and Lot gets kidnapped. Now, Sodom is in the midst of getting destroyed. Ultimately Sodom was destroyed, Lot and his family survived, but his wife turned into a pillar of salt. At that point, when Avraham was praying, he prayed with a lack of clarity. Did G-d find enough righteous people to spare the people? What happened to Lot? If Sodom was destroyed, what are the ramifications going forward? Contrast this tefillah with the tefillah before the Akedah. The Akedah may have been a difficult test, but the objective was clear. Avraham’s prayer was that he would be successful. There was no chaos or missing pieces of information.
Shacharit is modelled after the tefillah of Avraham amid turmoil and uncertainty. He didn’t know what was happening or what had happened already, nor what was going to happen next. His Shacharit was like the prayer of someone in the hospital’s waiting room, waiting for a doctor to come out and give some news.
We all prefer to have a bit of certainty in our lives. We would love to have the stability to know that what we think will happen next will actually happen next. Yet, in life, even if things initially go as planned, there are bumps in the road ahead or roadblocks. Even when things don’t go as planned, there are twists and turns that can bring about great successes. Uncertainty is part of life. When we pray Shacharit or any tefilah, it is not about asking for our needs, a spiritual shopping list. Instead, it’s about creating an interconnected dependency between us and G-d. Connecting to G-d in times of uncertainty and moments of chaos has enormous potential and deepens our relationship with G-d.
As we get back into a routine, we need help with the daily minyan. If you can join any day of the week, please get in touch with the office or me to help strengthen our daily services.
Rabbi Shlomo Gabay