This week’s parasha is full of fascinating topics, like the appearance of the angels to Avraham, the destruction of Sedom, the birth of Yitzchak, the akeida.
I won’t talk about any of those.
This is based on the chapter by Dr. Michelle Levine, professor of Bible at Yeshiva University, in Mitokh Ha-Ohel, “The Potency of Prayer”.
What does it mean, השב אשת האיש כי נביא הוא ויתפלל בעדך? It can’t mean (as in the JPS 1917) “restore the man’s wife; for he is a prophet, and he shall pray for thee”; is the only reason to return his wife because he will pray for you? As the מהר״ל says:
The key to understanding this is the two terms that appear here for the first time, נביא and התפלל.
We commonly think of a נביא as one who can see the future, who has visions from G-d and tells (or warns) people of the truth.
And that’s not totally wrong; in the time of Samuel that’s exactly how people thought of נביאים:
And Rashi explains our pasuk in that light:
The משך חכמה has a slightly different twist on that interpretation:
But notice the irony: if we understand Avraham’s importance as a נביא solely in the fact that G-d talks to him, then אבימלך is also a נביא. After all, the comment of השב אשת האיש כי נביא הוא is G-d speaking to אבימלך; he should be able to make his own תפלה!
I think the truth is deeper. רשב״ם (on this pasuk) comments about נביא:
לשון (ישעיהו נז:יט) ניב שפתים, רגיל אצלי ומדבר את דברי, ואני אוהב את דבריו ושומע תפלתו׃
So there are four parts of being a נביא, of which מדבר את דברי is only one: רגיל אצלי, מדבר את דברי, אני אוהב את דבריו and אני שומע תפלתו
As the Rambam says:
So the essence of being a נביא is not the hearing G-d’s voice; that is a miracle that may or may not come. The essence is the preparation, the study, that brings on Rambam’s “state of perfection”. The נביא is not one with whom G-d talks; he is one who knows how to talk with G-d.
As Rabbi Soloveichik says:
And what is the nature of that dialogue that is being illustrated here? It is the תפלה side:
Dr. Levine brings Rabbi David Luria who explains the “knot” that was untied:
Avraham was able to accomplish what had not been accomplished previously: through prayer, a Divine decree was reversed. In doing so, Avraham “opened the door” and demonstrated the power of prayer to reach up to G-d and “influence” Him in how He relates to the world.
And what does this perek teach us about תפלה?
There’s a lesson in how the אבות pray for children:
Avraham’s initial prayers for children were aimed at himself and caused more trouble than they solved. In our perek, he has learned that and demonstrates it:
And his son learned the same lesson:
So ואם אינך משיב דע כי מות תמות; Avimelech’s survival depends on his returning Sara. But
השב אשת האיש כי נביא הוא ויתפלל בעדך: Avraham needs to pray, for his own sake and for his destiny, but the way to do that is to pray for others. Prayer cannot be selfish. I don’t know if Avraham needed this lesson, but we certainly do.