Vayeira 5772 – Gilayon #724
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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.)
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,
Samson Raphael Hirsch, ad loc.).
Abraham the Obedient Protestor
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.
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.
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.'"
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.
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
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
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
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.
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."
"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.
Expulsion Has Its Price
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.
Haturim, Bereishit 21:10)
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
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
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?
"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
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.
Y"S Reggio on Bereishit 18:21)
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."
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:
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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