In last week's story of Noach, note that Service is only mentioned after the flood. Finding the world desolate, Noach offered a sacrifice to Hashem in gratitude. According to the Zohar, he cried aloud, in private communication with Hashem. Avraham, however, is a different story. Early in the Torah's account, we hear of altars and "calling the name of Hashem" -- that is, prayer.
According to tradition, Avraham had willingly attempted martyrdom at a young age -- due to his belief in the Deity that he had discovered entirely by himself! He was saved by miracle alone. (His brother Haran actually died Al Kiddush Hashem -- sanctifying Hashem's Name. See Kli Chemdah, who finds Haran's character most exemplary, in contrast to other commentaries).
Our parsha mirrors two themes -- Avraham's faith and service, and the "hashgacha pratis" -- the Divine supervision. The two seem to go hand in hand, until Avraham must eventually show that his service is not for self-serving reasons (the Binding of Yitzchak, see next week's parsha).
Some kind of prayer always was associated with the sacrifices, as we have written on several occasions. Eventually, with the destruction of the Bais Hamikdash (Temple), prayer was instituted instead of the sacrifices altogether.
The Asarah Ma'amoros writes that the daily recital of the Shir Shel Yom (the psalm of the day, in commemoration of the psalm song by the Levites) should not be taken lightly. In the tractate Rosh Hashanah, it is related that the witnesses necessary to proclaim the new moon once were delayed on Rosh Hashanah, and did not appear until after Mincha (the afternoon prayer). The Levites were in a quandary as to which song to sing (without the witnesses it would not be Rosh Hashanah until the next day). They erred. One opinion holds that they failed to recite any song. The second holds that they recited the weekday song, but in fact -- since the witnesses did show up -- they should have recited the song for Rosh Hashanah.
The Mishnah concludes that -- due to this tragic error -- it was decreed that there be two days of Rosh Hashanah, even in Jerusalem. To this day, Rosh Hashanah is unique in that two days are kept even in Eretz Yisroel.
This "tragic error" only occured once in history. The likelihood of it re-occurring was very small; from time immemorial the witnesses had always appeared on the first day, and before Minchah. Yet, because of this single recorded error, two days of Rosh Hashanah were decreed. Further, the main day of the two days of Rosh Hashanah was the second day. From the second day the calendar would begin, and the holidays would be calculated. (Later, Rabbi Yochanan Ben Zakkai reinstituted that the calendar be counted from the first day.) It comes out that the entire calendar, all the holidays and their Biblical laws, were adjusted and pushed off a day simply because the Levites had erred in their song! "The service requires the song."
Romemus Hatefilah states that the main intentions and concentration in the prayers must take place before seeing the words -- not the reverse, as many people think, that upon seeing the words one first begins to contemplate their meaning!
Avraham is the founder of the Avodah -- our services -- and has discovered the connection between the secret of the words and the secret of the sacrifices.
Rashi relates the medrash that Hashem told Avraham to leave his trust in pre-destination. As Hashem created the world, He controls the world, and is not bound by any limitations. Avraham -- the father of prayer and service -- will be buoyed aloft by faith alone. "The righteous one shall live by his faith."
"Lift yourself beyond the mundane, and you will be lifted beyond the mudane." Avraham wanders from Iraq, to Turkey, to Eretz Yisroel, to Egypt, back to Eretz Yisroel. He is not in the vicinity when Sarah dies, and has to journey to attend her funeral. (Where was he? the commentaries debate.) "Your children will be slave in a foreign land." The world is constantly in a state of change and flux. Only one element is always constant: "Serve Hashem with joy; rejoice in trembling."
© Rabbi Yaakov Bernstein and Genesis, '97