Torah Weekly - Parshat Vayera

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Parshat Vayera

For the week ending 20 Cheshvan 5761 / 17 & 18 November 2000

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    Three days after performing brit mila on himself, Avraham is visited by Hashem. When three angels appear in human form, Avraham rushes to show them hospitality by bringing them into his tent, despite this being the most painful time after the operation. Sarah laughs when she hears from them that she will bear a son next year. Hashem reveals to Avraham that He will destroy Sodom, and Avraham pleads for Sodom to be spared. Hashem agrees that if there are 50 righteous people in Sodom, He will not destroy it. Avraham "bargains" Hashem down to 10 righteous people. However, not even 10 can be found. Lot, his wife and two daughters are rescued just before sulfur and fire rain down on Sodom and her sister cities. Lot's wife looks back and becomes a pillar of salt. Lot's daughters fear that as a result of the destruction there will be no husbands for them. They decide to get their father drunk and through him to perpetuate the human race. From the elder daughter, Moav is born, and from the younger, Ammon.

    Avraham moves to Gerar, where Avimelech abducts Sarah. After Hashem appears to Avimelech in a dream, he releases Sarah and appeases Avraham. As promised, a son, Yitzchak, is born to Sarah and Avraham. On the eighth day after the birth, Avraham circumcises him as Hashem commanded. Avraham makes a feast the day Yitzchak is weaned. Sarah tells Avraham to banish Hagar and Hagar's son Yishmael because she sees in him signs of degeneracy. Avraham is distressed at the prospect of banishing his son, but Hashem tells him to listen to whatever Sarah says. Yishmael nearly dies of thirst in the desert, but an angel rescues him, and Hashem promises that he will be the progenitor of a mighty nation.

    Avimelech enters into an alliance with Avraham when he sees that Hashem is with him. In a tenth and final test, Hashem instructs Avraham to take Yitzchak, now 37, and to offer him as a sacrifice. Avraham does this, in spite of ostensibly aborting Jewish nationhood and contradicting his life-long preaching against human sacrifice. At the last moment, Hashem sends an angel to stop Avraham. Because of Avraham's unquestioning obedience, Hashem promises him that even if the Jewish People sin, they will never be completely dominated by their foes. The Parsha ends with the genealogy and birth of Rivka.




    "And Sarah laughed at herself, saying, 'Shall I in truth bear a child, though I have aged?'" (18:13)

    The price of everything goes up and up. With one exception. Words. Talk is cheap and gets cheaper by the month. We live in a world where hyperbole has become the normal means of communication. I once scanned a piece of enthusiastic prose in a newsletter, trying in vain to find a sentence which didn't end with an exclamation mark! Most ended with two!! Or three!!!

    Wow!!!! If the most banal statements are so overpoweringly exciting, where is the emotional space for enthusiasm at something genuinely remarkable? We've already run off the Richter scale of enthusiasm and there's nowhere else to go.

    One of the casualties of modern life is our appreciation of the importance of words.

    Judaism doesn't see words as just important; to the Jewish mind, words are fundamental. G-d created the universe with words. There is a mystical concept that the building blocks of creation are the letters of the Hebrew alphabet. In Hebrew, the word for "word" is davar. Interestingly davar also means "thing." To the Jewish mind, "things" are no more than the "words" of G-d. That's what physical reality consists of. Words.

    There's an interesting anomaly in this week's Torah portion. Sarah laughed at the prediction of her pregnancy and said, "Shall I in truth bear a child, though I have aged?" Then G-d reiterated the bracha that Sarah would have a child. In last week's Parsha, however, Avraham also laughs when he hears the prediction that he will have children. But, in that case, G-d does not repeat the blessing. What is the difference between the two?

    The power of speech.

    When Avraham heard of his incipient parenthood, he didn't verbalize his incredulity. Sarah did. Sarah by her skepticism annulled the blessing that rested on her and thus G-d gave her another blessing.

    Interestingly, we can see this idea illustrated in the haftara as well: When the child of the Shunamite woman dies, she doesn't say anything to her husband. She merely takes her leave with "Shalom." Even when she comes to the prophet Elisha to beseech him to revive the boy, she doesn't say the boy is dead.

    The Shunamite woman didn't want to say that her boy had died because she didn't want to lend her speech to making it a fact. Similarly, because Elisha's servant Gehazi stated that the "lad has not awakened" he was unsuccessful in reviving him, and it needed Elisha to revive the lad.

    It's only words.

    • Rebetzin Chana Levin as heard from Rabbi Rafael Stephansky


    Melachim II 3:1 - 37


    Just as the nation of Israel came into existence through the miraculous birth of Yitzchak to an aged mother, so G-d ensures our continuity with countless miracles throughout history.

    This week's haftara recounts some of the miracles performed by the Prophet Elisha. In one incident, Ovadiah's widow is saved from an implacable creditor when her last flask of oil is miraculously blessed; from this one little bottle she fills every vessel and container in her home with precious oil, providing more than enough money to pay her debts.

    In another incident, Elisha promises his elderly host and hostess a child within a year. The child is born and grows, but one day he falls ill and dies. The mother journeys to Elisha; Elisha returns with her and revives the child from the dead.


    "And he placed his mouth upon his mouth, his eyes upon his eyes and his hands upon his hands...and the body of the child became warm." (Melachim II 4:34)

    Like the child brought to life through his contact with the prophet, so the Jewish People are brought to life when we live and breathe the Torah as delivered to us from our teachers. All we have to do is to lean close and tune in, then we will feel ourselves come alive with the warmth of the Torah.

    Written and Compiled by Rabbi Yaakov Asher Sinclair
    General Editor: Rabbi Moshe Newman
    Production Design: Michael Treblow

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