Vayeira 5761 – Gilayon #161

Shabbat Shalom The weekly parsha commentary – parshat Vayera

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Parshat Vayera

"Indeed I will bless you, I will make your seed many, yes, many, like the stars of the heavens and like the sand that is on the shore of the sea. Your seed shall inherit the gate of their enemies."

Bereishit 22:17


Like the stars of the heavens – like the sand of the earth?

Just as the stars rule only at night, so Israel rules the Torah only at night. Just as the stars honor each other, and there is peace between them –"He imposes peace in His heights' — so do the righteous honor each other and love each other. Just as there is no contention between the stars, so do the righteous bear only good will. Just as a single star has the potential of igniting the entire world, so do the righteous, such as Eliyahu, for fire descended at his behest, "If I am a man of God, let fire come down from heaven and consume you with your fifty men, etc."

Kings II, 1:10, Pesikta Rabbati, Parasha 11


"Sand" is a metaphor signifying a period of abjection. When they will be as the dust trampled down to the lowest level, then will they rise from the depths of their situation and will burst forth in all directions, as is written, "Your seed will be like the dust of the earth, you will burst forth to the sea, to the east . .' and, as is written, "We lie prostrate in the dust," followed by "Arise and help us." And the explanation is that Israel searches for God wholeheartedly only when they have reached the depths, as we know from the fate of earlier generations. Perhaps the dust metaphor hints at the exile in Egypt, where the Egyptians plowed upon their backs, just as they plow the dust.

Kli Yakar, Bereishit 22, 17





Yossi Penini

Dedicated to my son, Yakir, and his friends, whose long terms of service in Lebanon prompted these thoughts.

In the literature of our Sages, few are the parshiot of the Torah which receive titles. "Akeidat Yitzhak" (The Binding of Yitzhak) is one.

Throughout the generations, "Akeidat Yitzhak" inspired a wide range of commentaries, interpretations, and actual-relevant applications. Even recent generations have found in this parasha field and tree, spring and channel, for direction, inspiration, and expression of their yearnings, beliefs, and distresses.

Demarcation of the Akeida parasha seems, at first glance, to be a simple matter. The laws of writing a Torah scroll graphically define the parasha – it is a parasha petucha – an open parasha – i.e., the parasha is preceded and followed with relatively large space extended to the end of the line. The accepted division into sentences (according to the ta'amei hamikra – the 'notes' of the Bible), recognizes nineteen sentences in the parasha.

On all Jewish festivals it is customary to read from the Torah chapters relative to the particular holiday, concluding the Torah reading – the maftir — with the parasha dealing with the relevant sacrifices. The major portions of the Rosh Hashanah reading are: on the first day, Bereishit, Chapter 21, and on the second day, Chapter 22. The connection between Chapter 22 and Rosh Hashanah is internalized in the Rosh Hashanah liturgy, thus making it unnecessary to expound upon the reason for its reading. But one does wonder about the reading of Chapter 21 – the expulsion of Hagar and Yishmael. Was it the need to present the Akeida story in its entirety which prompted the placement of this parasha in the reading for the first day of Rosh Hashanah? If this is not the case, why were other Biblical portions not chosen – portions which would be very suitable for Rosh Hashanah reader, e.g., the parasha of the Golden Calf, the parasha of the Cleft in the Rock? If nonetheless Chapter 21 was chosen, there must be good reason. Perhaps the choice was intended to express the connection between this parasha and the Akeida parasha. Perhaps this chapter is an integral part of the Akeida. If this is the case, we have before us a 'hidden midrash', through which the 'arranger' of the of the Rosh Hashanah Torah reading sends us hidden messages and oblique commentary. He may be telling us that the Akeida story is not limited to the immediate 19 verses, but is to be seen in its 'true' context which includes both the expulsion of Hagar and the Akeida narrative.

Any examination of the demarcation of the Akeida parasha must address the following question:

    1. Can we discern any literary connection between the two chapters?

    2. Does the Akeida parasha provide an answer to textual-literary questions which arise in the Hagar expulsion parasha – and visa versa?

Both parshiot deal with Avraham facing a divine dictate which says, in effect, that Avraham (Av hamon goyim – father of many nations) must send one of his sons to his death. In the Hagar expulsion parasha, the command is indirect — Avraham is commanded to do whatever his wife Sara tells him ["In all that Sara says to you, hearken to her voice"]; in the Akeida parasha, the order is direct [". . take your son"].

In the Hagar expulsion parasha, she is sent off with bread and a water-skin. In the Akeida story, the fire and the knife are carried by Yitzhak.

In the expulsion story, the water-skin is emptied of water; in the Akeida story, the sacrificial lamb is hidden [at least from Yitzhak's eyes]. In both chapters, just before the tragic denouement, events take a surprising turn with the appearance of a heavenly messenger.

[We can add that towards the end of the first Hagar expulsion story [Bereishit 16] Hagar calls the location of the revelation "El hai roi" – "Well of the Living-One Who-Sees-Me." Avraham calls the site of the Akeida revelation "God sees". The two names are close in meaning].

The reader of the Akeida narrative must wonder:

    1. The journey from Beer Sheva to the 'place seen from afar' took three days. What did the participants do during that period?

    2. How is it that Sara, mother of Yitzhak and dominant wife of Avraham, is not a participant – or is not even mentioned – in the Akeida narrative?

    3. What did the heavenly messenger add when he "called to Avraham a second time from heaven"?

    4. Where did Yitzhak disappear at the end of the parasha – the narrative has Avraham returning to his lads alone?

Sometimes the Biblical narrative supplies explicit times and duration of events ["On the third day"]; sometimes they are indeterminate. So it is with the opening words of the Akeida narrative, "Now after these events" – the narrator does not specify how much time passed between "these events" and the unfolding story.

Such is the case with regard to our chapters and the connection between them.

In the description preceding the expulsion of Hagar we are told that "The matter was exceedingly bad in Avraham's eyes because of his son," and the following verse relates God's command/reaction, "Do not let it be bad in your eyes concerning the lad . . .". A preliminary reading would seem to indicate that the two events [ "was exceedingly bad" and "Do not let it be bad"] occurred in immediate succession, just as the two sentences are in juxtaposition. Proximity of verses, however, does not necessary indicate proximity of events. An alternative reading is possible. The emphasis upon Abraham's feelings may indicate that he was suffering from distress for quite a while, increasing in intensity with the passage of time, until "it was exceedingly bad."

The Book of Genesis is replete with dreams and night visions, beginning with Avraham's vision of the Brith beyn Habetarim – the Covenant Between the Pieces – through the dreams of Yaakov and of Yosef.

It may be worthwhile to examine the possibility that through his 'hidden midrash' the organizer of the Rosh Hashanah liturgy is hinting that the story of the Akeida is a dream, Avraham's dream, a nightmare which can be textually pinpointed, receiving expression in the verse "The matter was exceedingly bad in Avraham's eyes . ." The Akeida story is a sort of literary elaboration, which is intended to open a window into Avraham's anguished, tortured, and aching soul. And, as is the case with the human soul, matters are not organized, they have their own internal logic. Our narrator scatters events and hints of happen.

One who read– and even more so, one who hears – the Akeida story cannot ignore the repetition of the verb raoh (to see):

(4) On the third day Avraham lifted up his eyes and saw the place from afar.

(8) Avraham said: God will see for himself to the lamb for the offering-up, my son.

(13) Avraham lifted up his eyes and saw: here, a ram was caught behind in the thicket by its horns.

(14) Avraham called the name of that place: God Sees. As the saying is today: On God's mountain (it) is seen.

It is almost impossible not to associate the sound of "vayaar" (he saw) of the Akeidat Yitzhak story, with that of the "vayera" (and it was bad) in the Hagar-Yishmael expulsion story; we seem to detect a guiding hand rather than coincidence.

Perhaps we detect another echo, in the background, in the final words of the story of Hagar's first expulsion related in chapter 16:

(13) Now she called the name of God, the one who was speaking to her: You God of Seeing! For she said: Have I actually gone on seeing here after his seeing me?

(14) Therefore the well was called: Well of the Living-One Who-Sees-Me. Here, it is between Kadesh and Bered.

The story of the Akeida is not merely a report of what happened; it is a description of Avraham's inner reaction to God's command to expel Hagar and Yishmael. As through an x-ray, the innermost chambers of Avraham's suffering soul are revealed

Avraham transfers the story of Yishmael's expulsion to the "only" son, the "beloved son" – Yitzhak. Avraham evaluates the depth of his pain and suffering regarding the plea of his wife Sara, "Drive out this slave-woman and her son . . ." who is also his son, by replacing Yishmael with Yitzhak. Through this prism he judges Sara's demand.

The various hints "[God sees" – "God of seeing" ] intensify the depth of the traumatic experience facing Avraham; this is not the first time that Hagar is driven away. It is possible that the tapestry of the Akeida story is yet wider, shedding light upon – and being illuminated by – events long past, back to the first days of Hagar's pregnancy and her suffering at Sara's hand which left her no resort other than escape to the desert. [See Chapter 16].

There is good reason for Sara's absence from the Akeida story; her 'disappearance' may express the depth of the long-term pain and anger pent up in Avraham against her because of her attitude towards Hagar and her son Yishmael, his firstborn son. The almost total omission of the details of the three-day journey is typical of the psychological depths and the details of the dream, which are not necessarily subject to laws of time.

The heavenly messenger states his message twice, as though to say – "Pay close attention to my message." Both of his statements are marked by repetitions:

    1. "For now I know that you are in awe of God – you have not withheld your son, your only-one, from me". (12)

    2. " . . . because you have done this thing, have not withheld your son, your only-one . . ." (16)

These words echo God's words in the beginning of the parasha "your son, your only-one, whom you love", but in the messenger's words only two of the thee descriptive nouns appear "your son, your only-one." If our suggestion that the entire Akeida story takes place inside Abraham's heart, here we hear his troubled inner voice:

You can say everything, you can explain and rationalize, regarding faith, the promise, and the command. But one thing you will never be able to say again – neither to your surroundings, nor to your son, and mainly, not even to yourself. You will never again be able to say to your son, to Yitzhak, "my son whom I love". Because by the very willingness to do the deed, to sacrifice the life of your son on the alter of your belief, you have taken away the love from your heart — never again will things be as they seem.

Now we can understand Yitzhak's 'disappearance' at the end of the Akeida narrative. Earlier in the story, Avraham promised "I and the lad wish to go yonder . . . and then return to you," but now he returns alone. As though to say: A father who is willing to offer up his son on the alter of his faith, even if in actuality he did not do so, will lose him. Or more correctly, with the very readiness to sacrifice your son, you have lost your love for your son, never will you return with him from Har Hamoria.

Yossi Penini is Director of the Keren Tali Department of Education


From 12 Marcheshvan 5756 to 12 Marcheshvan 5761 –

Five Years . . . . . Like Yesterday

We did not relate to the Memorial Day of the Rabin Murder on its proper date. This was not because the terrible memory had escaped us, but because something in the difficult reality in which we live sometimes blurs temporal perception..

Perhaps the "Akeidat Yitzhak" which was not fully completed stepped aside in favor of the Akeidat Yitzhak which was completed, not by virtue of a Godly decree, but because of a serious distortion of the word of God — the main message of the Akeida is: "Do not stretch out your hand against the lad." Whoever permits the shedding of human blood, in the name this god or another, is a maysit u'madiach — an inciter and one who leads astray.

We are commanded to remember and not to forget. But since the Israeli public is still so politically and ideologically divided, no two people can be expected to attribute the same meaning to the memory. But these differences of opinion – polar as they may be – obligate us to conduct a penetrating dialogue, in a spirit of respect for those with whom we disagree. The berayta in Yevamoth (14b) describes the relationship between the Houses of Shammai and Hillel, even when they differed on major issues:

"Even though Bet Shammai and Bet Hillel disagreed (on the issues) of tsarot (second wives), sisters (awaiting levarite marriage), an old get, and a woman who might be a man's wife, and one who divorces his wife and spends the night with her in an inn, money and worth money, a peruta and something worth a peruta – Bet Shammai did not refrain from marrying women from Bet Hillel, nor Bet Hillel from Bet Shammai, to teach us that they treated each other with friendship and affection, in fulfillment of what is written: "Truth and Peace shall you love."

The proper balance between Truth (the seal of God) and Peace ( Shalom – one of God's names) and the strict adherence to the proper principles of debate, even when the controversy is bitter – this is the lesson which must be learned from the murder of Rabin; this can be -and must be – the focal point for unity.





To Rav Yitzhak Levi

Chairman of the NRP and ex-Minister of Education

and to his family

On the death of their daughter, Ayelet Hashachar, z'l,

In the murderous attack in Yerushalayim.

May you be comforted by Heaven together with the mourners of Zion, and may you know no further sorrow.





Editorial Board: Pinchas Leiser (Editor), Miriam Fine (Coordinator), Itzhak Frankenthal and Dr. Menachem Klein

Translation: Kadish Goldberg

This weekly publication was made possible by:

The New Israel Fund

The Moria Fund

The Blaustein Foundation