In Parshas וירא Avraham gives an impassioned defense of Sdom which is used by many liberal Jews to promote Judaism as being in favor of social justice. However, when you think about it a little, it is apparent that the whole story makes no sense given Judaisms conception of god.
Avraham has a disucssion/argument with God with 2 major themes:
- He tries to persuade God using logical arguments and shaming that destroying Sdom is not just. Avraham asks god השופט כל הארץ לא יעשה משפט?
- Avraham tries to bargain with god. He starts out with 50 tzadikkim and gets down to 10.
How does this make any sense if God is omniscient, omnibenevolent and unchanging? How can any human being attempt to change God's mind using logical arguments? How can a human being bargain with god? If God's decrees are perfect and moral why does Avraham even attempt to change it? The clear sense you get from this story is that God is very much like human beings, just more powerful. God gets angry, he takes vengeance, and he can be reasoned with and persuaded to change his mind. Rambam's conception of an omniscient, unchanging God leaves zero room for this whole story, if god is unchanging how can Avraham even attempt to convince god to save Sdom?
This of course leads to a bigger question of how does prayer work in Judaism? We can ask the following questions about prayer:
- Why do we need to daven to God at all? Since he is omniscient he knows exactly what we need so why do we need to ask?
- How can we ask a perfect God to change his decree for us? God's decrees are perfect and just so how can we daven to change them?
- How can God be affected by our prayer if he is immutable and impassible?
There are a number of approaches to answer this question:
- The purpose of davening is to contemplate God (Rambam) and/or to change us
- This is the system that God setup
Lets take a closer look at both approaches.
I. The purpose of davening is to contemplate God (Rambam) and/or to change us
The first thing we have to realize is that the Gemara does not really
address this question. There is no philosophy of Tefilla found in the
Gemara. This issue is first discussed in the Rishonim.
This approach is taken by many of the philosophical Rishonim like the
Rambam. They explain that the purpose of davening is for us to get
closer to God by contemplating God and realizing that everything is from
The way davening works is that the person who davens changes and is not
the same person and therefore whatever decree was on the person was on
the old version not the new improved version.
There are a number of issues with this approach:
- Why does shemoneh esrei have 12 berachos in the middle in which we
ask God for things? How does asking God for health, income, etc. get you
closer to God? Why would we ask for anything?
- How can I daven for someone else? If the purpose of davening is to
get closer to God how can my prayer for someone else help them? My
prayer certainly can't help them get closer to God?
- Avraham in his
tefilla to God about Sedom asks God how a just God could kill Tzadikkim
along with Reshaim. With this conception of prayer to make
logical arguments to God makes no sense whatsoever. God is omniscient
and clearly took these arguments into account already. Of course this also makes no sense if the purpose of Tefilla is to contemplate God or
get closer to God.
II. That is the system that God setup
This is the kabbalistic approach, that God set up the world that to get
anything you need to ask for it. This approach turns davening into a
magical experience and answers the first 2 questions above. We ask for
things because that is how God set up the system, no matter how strange
that sounds. There is not much to say here you either take it or leave
Again, Avraham's prayer/discussion with God makes no sense according to this as well. Logical arguments and bargaining with God makes no sense whatsoever.