Vayeira 5772 – Gilayon #724


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Parshat Vayera

And God appeared to him at the Oaks Mamre,

and he was sitting at the door of his tent in the heat of the day (Gen.18:1)

 

And He appeared

to him – to

visit the sick (Baba

Metsia 96) Rabbi Hama bar Hanina said: This

was on the third day after his circumcision, and the Holy One came and inquired

after his health.

(Rashi ad loc.)

 

Foreigners malign

Judaism and those who carry it on and the heritage of Abraham and his heirs: as

if those circumcised men are arrogant in their hearts and regard themselves as

unique to their God, as if the sign of the covenant, that separates them from

the nations, removed any idea of cosmopolitanism from their hearts, and any

feeling of brotherhood with humanity; and the God of heaven and earth, and the

God of the soul of every living thing were reduced for them to the God of their

tribe, to the God of their piece of earth.

But here sits the

first circumcised Jew! And where is he sitting? At the Oaks Mamre!

He is still with Aner, Eshkol, and Mamre – who were not "people of his covenant,"

but "allies of Abraham" (14:13); because the allies included Abraham in their covenant; and

"even though" he was circumcised, his relation to people beyond his

circle did not change. For thus our Sages have instructed us: this was Abraham's

sole concern, and this is what brought him to the door of his tent in the heat

of the day: "Before I was circumcised, passersby came to me; should you

say that since I have been circumcised, they won't come to me? (Breshit Raba 48,9). And our Sages taught us this

so that we would learn from Abraham's example, that "hospitality is as

great as greeting the face of the Divine Presence" (Shabbat 127a). These were uncircumcised men,

idol worshipers.

(Rabbi

Samson Raphael Hirsch, ad loc.).

 

 

Abraham the Obedient Protestor

Moshe Meir

Parashat Vayera presents us with a Zen koan: two contradictory stories are juxtaposed. In the

first one, Abraham hears what God is going to do in Sodom, about the

destruction he plans to wreak upon it, and he protests on the basis of ethics,

confronting God and speaking bluntly with Him, culminating in: "Will the

Judge of the whole earth not do justice?" And in the second story, that of

the Binding of Isaac, Abraham accepts the command, which is no less problematic

morally than the destruction of Sodom, and perhaps even more so. Regarding

Sodom, Abraham cried out: "Far be it from You to

do such a thing, to kill the righteous with the wicked, and that the fate of

the righteous should be like that of the wicked." In the case of the

Binding of Isaac, no one is wicked. There is only the righteous, an innocent

child whose killing is unjustified. Nevertheless, Abraham, who is capable of

protesting, says yes, reaches out to kill the boy, and only an angel prevents

him from doing so.

Some

thinkers, such as David Hartman, regard the story of Sodom as fundamental and

find ways of placing the Binding of Isaac in parentheses. Other thinkers, such

as Yeshayahu Leibovitz,

regard the story of the Binding of Isaac as fundamental, and place the story of

Sodom in parentheses. The reading we propose here regards the story of Sodom as

fundamental and suggests a different meaning for the story of the Binding of

Isaac. It is important to note at the outset that no reading can cancel the Zen

koan, the contradiction between the two stories that

forces every reader to confront both contradictory sides.

So

it is written: "And it happened after these things that God tested

Abraham and said to him, 'Abraham,' and he said, 'here I am.' And he said, 'Please take your son, your only son, whom you love, Isaac,

and go to the land of Moriah, and present him as a

sacrifice, on one of the mountains that I will show you.'"

What

was the test? On the face of it, the test was whether Abraham would succeed in

overcoming his natural emotions and obey God's command. However, please note

that this is only one possible interpretation, and it is not stated explicitly

in the source. Perhaps the test is the opposite? Perhaps God is testing Abraham

to see whether he will have the moral strength to say: "No!" This may

sound strange, but let's read the Parasha in the

light of these two possibilities.

Abraham

takes his son, walks to the mountain with him, binds him, until "and

Abraham stretched out his arm and took the knife to slaughter his son." According

to the first reading, Abraham passes the test. He managed to restrain his mercy

and obey the order. And according to the second reading? Abraham failed. Even

though as a witness, in the story of Sodom, he managed to confront God, when the

order was directed at him, he lost his moral fiber and said yes and did what he

was told.

The

continuation of the story would appear to decide in favor of the first reading,

showing that in God's eyes Abraham passed the test: "And the angel of

the LORD called unto him out of heaven, and said, 'Abraham, Abraham': and he

said, 'Here am I.' And he said, 'Do not lay your hand upon the lad, neither do

any thing unto him: for now I know that you fear God, seeing you have not

withheld your son, your only son from me.'" And if that is not enough,

after the story of the ram, we read: "And the angel of the LORD called

unto Abraham out of heaven the second time, and he said "By myself have I

sworn, says the Lord, for because you have done this thing, and have not

withheld your son, your only son: That in blessing I will bless you, and in

multiplying I will multiply your seed as the stars of the heaven, and as the

sand which is upon the sea shore; and your seed shall possess the gate of his

enemies."

Note,

however, that whereas God gave the original command and He made the test, here

God is not the speaker, but an angel, and this offers an opening for two

possible readings. One possibility is that the angel represents God. If the

angel says that Abraham passed the test, that is what

God also thinks. This reading must handle the difficulty of why it is the angel

who stops Abraham and speaks to him, and not God, as in the beginning of the

story?

The

second reading maintains that there is no reason why the angel and God must

agree. The Bible created a gap and left it open. We know what the angel said,

but not what God thinks. Perhaps God has a different opinion? Perhaps He does

not speak because He thinks that Abraham failed. Since the Bible presents this

possibility, the reader must take a stand here: the Abraham of the Sodom story

passed the test, but the Abraham of the Binding of Isaac failed. The test does

not alienate the reader from Abraham, because the failure is human. It is

extremely difficult to insist on our ethical opinion in the face of authority. The

Abraham of Sodom creates a source of inspiration for our moral compass, and

hope that even in the face of tests like that of the Binding of Isaac, his sons

will succeed and follow in his path and stand firm without stumbling.

Moshe

Meir is an educator, a leader of groups in a Beit Midrash. He has a doctorate in Jewish Thought, and his

book, "Two Together," a combination of religious and secular

philosophy, is about to be published.

 

 

There is no "preventative" punishment

"Where he is" – He is judged

according to what he does now, and

not according to what he will do in the future. The ministering angels accused

and said: "Master of the Universe, for one whose seed is destined to kill

your children with thirst you raise a well?!" He replied: What is he now… a good person or a wicked one?"

They replied: "A good person."

He said to them: "According to his current actions do

I judge him," and this is [the meaning of] "where he is."

(Rashi,

Bereishit, 21:17)

 

 "Do not stretch out your hand against the

lad, do not do anything to him! – The Akeida test as a process of understanding God's will

"Do not stretch out your hand" – to slaughter.

Avraham said to God: "If so, you brought me here

for nothing. Let me wound him and draw a bit of blood."

He said to him. "Do not do anything to him" – do

not wound him."

"For now do I know" –Said Rabbi

Abba: Said Avraham to Him, I set my case before you:

Yesterday you told me "For it is through Yizhak

that seed will be called by your name", and

later you said "Take your son… and offer him up". Now you tell me, "Do not stretch out your hand

against the lad!?"

Said The Holy One, Blessed Be He, to him: I shall not

abrogate my covenant, and I shall not deviate from my word; when I said to you "Take" I did not deviate from my word. I did not tell you "slaughter

him" but rather "offer

him up"- raise him

up, and lower him.

(Rashi,

Bereishit 22:12)

 

Expulsion Has Its Price

"Drive

out this slave

woman and her son"  ["Drive out" appears]

thrice in the Bible: "Drive out this slave woman", "Drive out the scoffer" (Proverbs 22:10), "When he sends you

free, it is finished – he will drive, yes, drive you out from here" (Shemot 11:1) – Drive out this slave woman and her son, and then you will

have driven out the scoffer, and

because Sara drove Hagar out of her home, she was punished, and her descendents

were enslaved and had to be driven out of Egypt.

(Baal

Haturim, Bereishit 21:10)

Ishamel, the

maidservant's son, remains Abraham's son

"The matter distressed him…  for it concerned a son of his" – Even though he was the son of the maidservant, it was his son and he loved him, for he was his firstborn, and he

had compassion for him, as a father has compassion for a son, and he walked on

the right path, for he grew up with him and he taught him the way of God, for

even others he would teach and guide in the right path, all the more so his own

son. It was wrong in his eyes to send him away from his home; he did not rebuke

his wife for the sake of peace in the family, as we wrote with regard to Hagar (Bereishit 16:6), but he was

distressed over the matter, and he suffered from his wife's quarrel until he

was told [by God to follow Sara's words].

 (Radak, Bereishit 21:11)

 

 

What Is Mine Is

Mine, and What Is Yours Is Yours, This Is a Characteristic of Sodom."

The people of Sodom

rebelled against the Omnipresent because of all the good showered upon them, as

is written (Job

28): "Earth,

out of which food grows… Its rocks are a source of sapphires… No bird of

prey knows the path to it…" The people of Sodom said:

Inasmuch as food comes out of our earth, and silver

and gold comes from our earth, and precious stones and pearls come out of our

lands, we have no need for people to join us – they will lessen our fortunes.

Let us stand, and deny their presence among us. Said The Holy

One, Blessed Be He: When I am good to you, you forbid others from joining you.

I will cause you to disappear from the earth. What is the scriptural source for

this? "He carves out channels through rock, his eyes behold every

precious thing" (Ibid.) and "Robbers lie

untroubled in their tents…" and "As I live –

declares the Lord God – your sister Sodom and her daughters did not do what you

and your daughters did…Only this was the sin of your sister Sodom: arrogance!

she and her daughters had plenty of bread and

untroubled tranquility, yet she did not support the poor and the needy (Ezekiel 16).

 (Tosefta Sotah 3:3)

 

The Covenant is

Bi-Directional

We must not forget

that the covenant is bi-directional, and that its observance depends on the

fidelity of each of the sides to the obligations or promises regarding it. We

know that one side remembers the covenant, but as for us – the sons of Abraham,

the other side – observance of the covenant is incumbent upon us, and we are

liable to violate it, even though the fidelity of Him, who remembers the

covenant, cannot be shaken. Here is a very important lesson for those who

constantly speak about "the rights of the ancestors" that exist for

us, etc. They ignore the discussion of the greatest of the Amoraim

and the authors of Midrash and Aggada,

and, centuries after them, Rabbenu Tam and

Maimonides, about how long the rights of ancestors are in force? Most of them

reach the conclusion that the rights have run out, and that we have only the

covenant, from which not rights but duties are derived: to observe the

covenant. And they were preceded by the Tannaim, who

stated: "three things were given conditionally: the Land of Israel, the

Temple, and the Kingdom of the House of David." Who fulfills or will

fulfill the conditions?

(From

"Comments on the Portions of the Week by Yeshayahu

Leibovitz, pp. 18-19)

 

And you shall

walk in his ways –

He is…, so you should be

Let Me go

down and I shall see –

From this verse it seems as if He did not yet know the extent of the wickedness

of the people of Sodom, since it says that He will go down to see if they

have acted on their intentions yet or not. It is forbidden to think this, for

the blessed Lord probes the heart and searches the mind [literally:

"kidneys"] and nothing great or small is hidden from Him…

Rather, the truth

of the matter is this: The blessed Lord undoubtedly knew that the people

of Sodom were greatly wicked and sinful to the Lord, and that no

measures intended to return them to the good would be of any help or

usefulness. However, despite all of that, He saw with His wisdom that He should

give them another chance before destroying them, for several reasons:

A) In order

that Abraham be aroused to pray for them when he hears that

their fate is not sealed.

B) In order

that all the peoples of the earth know that God does not

desire the death of the wicked man, but rather that he return from his ways,

and so He offered an opportunity of repentance for those who might be interested.

C) In order to

teach judges not to find defendants guilty before

investigating the matter, as the Tanhuma says

regarding the verse, And the Lord went down to see the town.

D) In order

that Lot understand how he had sinned by associating with corrupt people.

This test will make him recognize their evil, and as is implied by the other

reasons.

The test consisted

of sending the two angels to Sodom, disguised as guests to see whether they

would be greeted with joy or whether they would be treated cruelly and [the

people of Sodom would] try to do them great harm. Their fate would be sealed in

accordance with their deeds. That is why God said to Abraham that despite His

knowing the magnitude of Sodom's outcry and sins, He still wanted to test

them again… I will go down and see whether or not they persist with their

evil deeds and continue to treat those guests wickedly, inflicting great

abominations, as in their outcry that came to Me. If I see that everyone

is dross, altogether foul (Psalms 53:4),

I will completely destroy them, and if not, I will know what to do with them

and perhaps have mercy upon them.

(Rabbi

Y"S Reggio on Bereishit 18:21)

 

Then the

elder said to the younger: "Our father is old and there is not a man on

earth to consort with us in the way of all the world."

(Bereishit 19:31)

 

She who began the

harlotry would end with harlotry – Their mother began the harlotry, [as it is

written] Then the elder said to the younger: "Let us serve our

father drink…". The

next day came and the elder sister told the younger… – She taught

her harlotry. That is why God took pity on the younger and did not make her

known [as someone who slept with her father], but only [wrote] she lay

with him, while regarding the elder it is

written, she lay with her father. That one began the

harlotry, and her daughters continued after her, for it is said, Then

the people began to whore after the daughters of Moav.

(Tanhuma Balak 26)

 

It could be

that Lot's daughters were naïve and unthinking, both because of their

youth and because they had been born in Sodom and never left it. The

people of Sodom were not hospitable to visitors; they had nothing to do

with anyone else, leaving Lot's daughters ignorant of geography and of the

existence of other nations under heaven. When they saw the great destruction

of Sodom and its satellite towns, and that they had to flee Tzoar as well, they believed that the entire world had

been destroyed in a flood of fire. That is why they thought their father had

hidden in a cave – because no city of refuge survived. And so, they did what

they did out of good intentions, in order to preserve life on earth. The Sages

praised their deed, and said:

"A person

should always hasten to perform a commandment. In reward for having preceded

her younger sister by one night, the elder merited [having her descendant]

become king over Israel four generations before her [sister's

descendent became king over Israel]" (Nazir 23b-24a).

(Reggio ad loc)

 

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