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Parshat Vayeira 5782

G‑d reveals Himself to Abraham three days after the first Jew’s circumcision at age ninety-nine; but Abraham rushes off to prepare a meal for three guests who appear in the desert heat. One of the three—who are angels disguised as men—announces that, in exactly one year, the barren Sarah will give birth to a son. Sarah laughs.

Abraham pleads with G‑d to spare the wicked city of Sodom. Two of the three disguised angels arrive in the doomed city, where Abraham’s nephew Lot extends his hospitality to them and protects them from the evil intentions of a Sodomite mob. The two guests reveal that they have come to overturn the place, and to save Lot and his family. Lot’s wife turns into a pillar of salt when she disobeys the command not to look back at the burning city as they flee.

While taking shelter in a cave, Lot’s two daughters (believing that they and their father are the only ones left alive in the world) get their father drunk, lie with him and become pregnant. The two sons born from this incident father the nations of Moab and Ammon.

Abraham moves to Gerar, where the Philistine king Abimelech takes Sarah—who is presented as Abraham’s sister—to his palace. In a dream, G‑d warns Abimelech that he will die unless he returns the woman to her husband. Abraham explains that he feared he would be killed over the beautiful Sarah.

G‑d remembers His promise to Sarah, and gives her and Abraham a son, who is named Isaac (Yitzchak, meaning “will laugh”). Isaac is circumcised at the age of eight days; Abraham is one hundred years old, and Sarah ninety, at their child’s birth.
Hagar and Ishmael are banished from Abraham’s home and wander in the desert; G‑d hears the cry of the dying lad, and saves his life by showing his mother a well. Abimelech makes a treaty with Abraham at Beersheba, where Abraham gives him seven sheep as a sign of their truce.

G-d tests Abraham’s devotion by commanding him to sacrifice Isaac on Mount Moriah (the Temple Mount) in Jerusalem. Isaac is bound and placed on the altar, and Abraham raises the knife to slaughter his son. A voice from heaven calls to stop him; a ram, caught in the undergrowth by its horns, is offered in Isaac’s place. Abraham receives the news of the birth of a daughter, Rebecca, to his nephew Bethuel.

Word of the Week

Reprinted with permission from Rabbi Eli Pink,  Leeds England.

The Talmud teaches that Abraham was tested ten times by G-d, and passed each test with flying colours. While there is some discussion which events in Abraham’s life constituted a ‘test,’ all agree on the final, most famous test, the Akeidah – the command to sacrifice his son Isaac. Much has been written about this test; it features in our daily prayers and is regarded as a classical example of obedience to G-d and total self-effacement. Abraham, we are told, not only responded to G-d’s command, but did so with alacrity, he did so without fanfare, and he did so on top of a secluded mountain where only he, his son and G-d were present.
The most common question that I have been asked about the akeidah is about actual commandment itself. Which religion, and what sort of G-d, would ask an old man to sacrifice his only son from his beloved wife, born to him in old age? Unfortunately, many people seem to get stuck at this point and are unable to continue to the end of the story, and the answer to their question – at the last moment Abraham was prevented from sacrificing Isaac. In an interview attributed to Hezbullah Secretary General Hannan Nasrallah, I found a very pertinent quote. ‘We are going to win this fight,’ he said. ‘You know why? Because the Jews want to live and we want to die.’

Throughout our history, from the Egyptian slavery to the Babylonian exile, Seleucid oppression to Roman persecution, Christian crusades to Russian pogroms and from the Holocaust to modern day terrorism, Jews have proven time and again that we are not afraid to die for our faith. However, for us, dying for our faith is not the end of the story. The focal point of Judaism is to refine this world and make this world a place where G-d would feel at home through doing acts of goodness and kindness. The akeidah ended with Isaac going on to live his life in true service of G-d, becoming the second rope in our threefold bound that ties us to our creator. The darkest episodes in our history have been followed by, and must engender, a tremendous revival of Jewish spirit around the world.

Thankfully, most of us are not called upon to give up our lives for our religion. But a religion worth dying for is a religion worth living by. By following G-d’s commandment with alacrity, Abraham was setting a trend – he was showing just how much he valued his religion. Of course, we much prefer to live for our religion and to practice it as happy and healthy Jews, secure in our environment, but it’s worth is immeasurably increased when we appreciate its true value.

Shabbat shalom

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