Then Abraham approached him and said: “Will you sweep away the righteous with the wicked?” — Genesis 18:23
Prayer in Judaism is defined as “the work of the heart,” which profoundly changes the nature of prayer from one of entreating God to an act that transforms who we are – not what God does. Our devotions throughout this month are focused on different facets of prayer and what lessons we can learn about the power of our prayers. Allow us to take your prayers to the holiest site in all Judaism, the Western Wall. To submit a prayer request to be taken to the Western Wall in Jerusalem, please go here.
In the book of Genesis, we encountered a number of “firsts.” We see the first man and first woman, the first sin, the first children, the first murder, and the first (and only) mass destruction of the world with the flood in Noah’s time. We also encounter another first: The first prayer. Can you guess what it is?
Surprisingly, the first recorded prayer was Abraham’s prayer for the wicked people of Sodom. Why is this surprising? Because it goes seemingly goes unanswered!
Abraham didn’t get his prayer request, and the people of Sodom were destroyed even though Abraham prayed fervently for their salvation. The Jewish sages wonder why the first prayer on record is one that doesn’t — on the surface— succeed. Wouldn’t it have been more inspirational if the first prayer was one that moved mountains and resulted in miracles?
The sages explain that there is no such thing as an unanswered prayer. God hears every single prayer and answers them all – in the right time and in the right way – however, we aren’t always able to “hear” God’s answer right away, if at all.
Let’s take a look at Abraham’s prayer. He asked God: “Will you sweep away the righteous with the wicked?” In other words, Abraham’s request is that God have mercy on the wicked people for the sake of the good people living among them. Sadly, in Sodom’s case, there were not enough righteous men to warrant their salvation.
Hundreds of years later the children of Israel were on the brink of utter destruction. They had been slaves in Egypt for centuries. The sages teach that spiritually speaking, on a scale of one to 50, with 50 being the lowest spiritual level possible, the Israelites were at level 49. Had they sunk just one more level into total spiritual desolation, they would not have merited salvation – ever!
Miraculously, God saved the Israelites before they reached that low. And amazingly, the sages explain that Abraham’s prayers for Sodom, hundreds of years previously, were the determining factor behind God’s miraculous salvation. Abraham’s fervent prayer that God save the wicked majority for the sake of the righteous is answered – exactly when it was needed the most. Abraham’s seemingly unanswered prayer was in fact fulfilled in the grandest way possible and changed the course of history.
So friends, be encouraged. Sometimes the prayers that seem to go unheeded actually have the greatest impact on our lives and the lives of others. Every prayer is heard and not a single prayer is wasted. Every single prayer brings down blessings and miracles into the world, so never give up and never stop praying.
God answers every prayer, even if we can’t always hear it.
With prayers for shalom, peace,
Rabbi Yechiel Eckstein
Founder and President