Vayeira 5774 – Gilayon #821


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Parshat Vayera


the two daughters of Lot came to be with child

by their father."

(Breishit 19:36)


"They had not yet lain down, when

the townspeople… shouted to Lot and said to

him, 'Where are the men?'" We learn from here

that when Lot separated from Abraham and settled near the Jordan River, he was

heading towards Sodom.

Lot saw that they were participants in sexual

deviations and he chose to act as they did. How do we know this? He says to the

Sodomites, "I have two daughters," – In the rest of the world, a man would

die defending his wife or daughters and would kill or be killed in their

defense, and here he offers up his daughters to be defiled by them. God says to

him to save them for himself, rather than give them over to save his life, and

in the end they have his offspring.

(Midrash Tanchuma, Veyera)


"And came to be with child… "This

conception was contrary to nature, as we know it is impossible to be

impregnated from the first intercourse, particularly, since scholars of nature

also said that one cannot conceive while one is inebriated. There was divine providence

because in the future two great nations would descend from them, one of them

being the Moabites who exist until this very day.

(Malbim, ibid)


Abraham as a Universal Religious Figure

Yehonatan Chipman

In these parshiyot (Lekh

Lekha and Vayera), Abraham is presented in a double role. On the one

hand, he appears as father of the Jewish nation – hence, inter alia, his

migration to the Land

of Israel, and the

various "tests" which serve to sharply define his identity and the

circle of those closest to him. On the other hand, he is manifested as a

universal religious figure – a teacher of what might be called "pre-Sinaitic

Torah."1 This is

expressed in our parashah in the first verse of the passage in which God

tells Abraham of His plans for Sodom: "for I have know him, that he might

command his sons and his household after him, to observe the way of the Lord,

to perform righteousness and justice, that God might bring upon Abraham that

which He has spoken of to him" (Gen 18:19).

The key words here

are: (1) that God has known Abraham,

a word implying a close and even intimate relation; and, (2) "to observe

the way of the Lord, to perform justice and righteousness" – that is, that

the "way of the Lord" entails universal values which are the

cornerstone of any decent human society.

Rambam, in Hilkhot

Avodat Kokhavim Ch. 1, depicts

Abraham as going about in the world, teaching everyone h e meets the basic

religious truth of the one God. Indeed, he elsewhere (Sefer ha-Mitzvot,

Mitzvat Aseh 3) describes this activity, intended to

make God's name beloved by others, as an essential part of the mitzvah of "love

of God."

All this raises the

interesting question of our relationship to other faith communities, and

particularly to the great monotheistic faiths, such as Christianity and Islam2

– an activity known today as "interfaith dialogue." But before

turning to a discussion of this question in the context of the contemporary

world, I would like to recall an event from the middle Ages, whose 750th

anniversary was commemorated this past summer.

I refer to what was

arguably the most dramatic event in the life of one of the great figures of

medieval European Jewish life, R. Moses b. Nahman (Ramban) – namely, the Barcelona

disputation, which occurred between July 20th and 24th 1263, early in the Hebrew month of Av, 5023. At the

behest of church figures from the Dominican order, King James I of Aragon

asked the Ramban, as the outstanding representative of the Jews of his kingdom,

to defend their faith and to explain why they refused to accept Christianity

and the belief in Jesus as the Messiah. Ironically, the main spokesman for the

Church and the Christian position was an apostate Jew, Pablo Christiani. (In

fact, many of the most outspoken and even vicious opponents of Judaism in those

days were former Jews who were no doubt motivated by personal bitterness and

whose intimate and "insider" knowledge of the Talmud and other Jewish

sources were useful for the Church's Anti-Judaic polemics. Thus, in a similar

debate held in Paris

in 1239, which concluded,

tragically, with the burning of priceless Talmudic manuscripts, the apostate

Nicholas Donin opposed R Yehiel of Paris.)

A large part of the

debate in Barcelona was devoted to the Christian

claims that the Messiah had already come, in the form of Jesus, and

specifically to the verse "The scepter shall not depart from Judah, nor

the judge's staff between his legs, till Shiloh

shall come" (Gen

49:10). Was this

verse fulfilled? Does it refer to Messiah? And does it allude specifically to

the figure of Jesus? As Jews and Christians held a shared belief in the

sanctity of the same Scriptures, the exegesis of such significant passages was

a major point of polemic between them.

Ramban also marshaled

a series of other arguments against Jesus' messiah-hood. Particularly striking

is his appeal to reason and intellect, and to plain common sense. Messiah, he

emphasizes, is not some rarified spiritual concept, existing in celestial spheres

removed from this concrete world, but concerns the earthly here and now. He

emphasized that the Messiah is a mortal human being, neither God nor some

eternal, supernal apotheosis of the Divine, and that he will bring about

concrete changes in the real world. He noted, with some irony, that the

Messiah, if he has come, has not yet initiated an age of universal abundance

and peace, in which armies and solders are no longer necessary – as was clearly

known to the king.

At the end of the

debate, the king and his entourage were forced to admit that Ramban had indeed

spoken cogently (even if, from their point of view, in defense of an incorrect

position). The king was greatly impressed and, as a sign of his admiration,

gave Ramban a gift of 300 gold coins. Eight days later, on Shabbat Nahamu (Vaethanan),

Ramban delivered a major sermon in the main synagogue of Barcelona, attended by

the king and other non-Jewish notables – a sermon known as Torat Ha-Shem

Temimah, which serves as a major exposition of his concept of Torah and of

the Ten Commandments (see

Kitvei Ramban, Chavel ed., I: 139-175).

But this was not the

end of the story. Shortly after the debate Nahmanides set down the things said

there in a small booklet entitled Vikauh or Milhamot ha-Shem (Kitvei Ramban,

Chavel ed., I: 299-320).

These things aroused

the ire of the Dominicans and other Church leaders, including the pope, who

insisted that Ramban be tried for blasphemy – even though one of the

preconditions of the debate was that he be allowed full freedom to speak what

he thought – and he was sentenced to two years of exile. In wake of these

events he realized his life-long dream of coming to Eretz Yisrael, living

briefly in Jerusalem, where he established the

Ramban Synagogue in the Old City, and then settled in Akko,

where he spent the last years of his life writings his monumental Torah

Commentary. He died there in 1270,

at the age of 75.

* * *

It is interesting to

contrast the atmosphere and attitude towards other religions at the time of the

Barcelona Disputation with today's "inter-faith dialogue." In

medieval times, such debates were attempts to convince the other side of the

truth of one's own position, each side being convinced of being in possession

of the exclusive truth which, at least from the Christian side, was perceived

as indispensable for one's spiritual welfare. Today, such meetings – which are

not thought of as debates, but as "dialogues" – are by and large

conducted in an atmosphere of mutual respect and acceptance of the truth of the

other (at least on the subjective level). My sense is that one reason for this

change is that modernity has involved a process in which "truth claims"

are somehow less important than previously. There is a kind of tacit agreement

that these are matters of personal "faith," which can never be proven

objectively. Indeed, there are those theologians, among both faiths, for whom

there is no single, absolute truth: our knowledge of God is always approximate,

a translation into human language of the ineffable and unknowable. Moreover,

many churches – the liberal, so-called "mainstream" Protestants, as

well as many in the Roman Catholic Church – seem to have eschewed the notion

that "There is no salvation outside of the church" – a point

reconfirmed in recent statements by Pope Francis. As I understand it, the

Second Vatican Council of the 1960's,

convened by Pope John XXIII, already greatly modified the concepts of "super

secessionism" or "replacement theology," according to which the

Church has replaced the Jews as God's covenantal partner. On the Jewish side,

there are theologians, beginning with Franz Rosenzweig and including such

contemporary figures as Yitz Greenberg, who have responded in kind with various

"two covenant" theories. On the other hand, the evangelical and other

fundamentalist churches still adhere to traditional Christian theology; ironically,

among these groups are those that most enthusiastically support Israel and even the West

Bank settlements – but due to reasons related to their own imminent

eschatological scenario.

In conclusion, let us

return to the figure of Abraham our Father. Were he to live among us today,

would we perceive Christianity as a pagan cult against which one must wage a

holy war, or would he have been among the advocates of "interfaith

dialogue" which attempts to implant love and brotherhood between former

enemies and thereby help build a world of peace and understanding among

different people? It is of course impossible to answer such a question with any

certainty, but I tend towards the latter view.

1.   There is an important debate within Judaism

as whether or not the patriarchs fulfilled the Torah before it was given and,

if so, whether they observed the mitzvot as such, as we know them today, And,

if so, how does one explain such deviations from the halakhah as Abraham

serving the angels with butter and meat, or Jacob marrying two sisters? Or

might they have had a direct relation with God, unmitigated by specific

mitzvot. According to some Hasidic books, by means of their "secular"

actions in the world – such as Yitzhak digging wells and Jacob placing the

sticks before the sheep – they accomplished the same yihudim as

post-Sinai Jews do through wearing tefillin or observing Shabbat. See Arthur

Green, Devotion and Commandment: The Faith of Abraham in the Hasidic

Imagination (Cincinnati: HUC Press, 1989).


position was once explained to me by the late Father Marcel Dubois (one of the

great lovers of Jewry within the Catholic Church) as follows: "The Godhead

is one; and He is three; and how both these things can be true is a mystery."

2.   I "bracket" the question as to

whether the Christian faith in the Trinity ought to be regarded as monotheistic

or not. Clearly, it is not polytheistic (or "tri-theistic") in any

simple sense; some of the rishonim state that it is permitted for a

Noachide to believe in a shituf (multiple Godhead) of this type. This

position was once explained to me by the late Father Marcel Dubois (one of the

great lovers of Jewry within the Catholic Church) as follows: "The Godhead

is one; and He is three; and how both these things can be true is a mystery."


Yehonatan Chipman is a professional translator. He writes a weekly parasha

commentary called Hitzei Yehonatan in English. Anyone interested in received it

may write to


Now God appeared to him by the oaks of mamre as he was sitting at

the entrance to his tent in the heat of the day.

"Appeared to him"  to visit the sick.

Said R' Chamma bar Chaninah: It was the third day since his


and The Holy One, Blessed Be He, came to inquire as to his welfare.

(Rashi Bereishit 18:1)


You Shall Walk in His Ways

Said R' Chamma son of R' Chaninah: What

is the meaning of "You shall follow the Lord your God" (Devarim 13)? Is possible for man to follow the Shechinah? Is it not written (Devarim 4)

"For the Lord your God is a consuming fire"! But [the meaning is] "follow

the attributes of The Holy One, Blessed Be He; just as he clothes the naked, as

is written (Bereishit

3) "The

Lord God make for man and his wife garments of skin and they wore them," so should you clothe the naked; The Holy One, Blessed Be He, visits

the sick, as is written (Bereishit


"And the Lord appeared to him at the Oaks of Mamre"­, so should you visit the sick; The Holy One,

Blessed Be He, consoles the mourners, as is written (Bereishit 25) "After

the death of Avraham, the Lord blessed his son Yitzchak", so you

should console the mourners; The Holy One, Blessed Be He, buries the dead, as

is written (Devarim 34)

"He buried him in the valley", so you should bury the dead.

(Bavli, Sotah 14a)


It was taught in a Brayta: Visitation of

the sick has no limits. What does "has no limits" mean? Said Abaye: Even an adult should visit a child. Rabba said: Even a hundred times a

day. R' Acha bar Chaninah said: Whoever visits a sick person, takes away one

sixtieth of his sorrow.

 (Bavli, Nedarim 39b)


Our Rabbis taught in a Brayta: We are to

support the indigent gentile along with the Jewish poor, and we visit the

gentile sick with the Jewish sick, and we bury the dead of the gentiles along

with the Jewish dead – for the sake of peace.

(Bavli, Gittin 61a)


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


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



Yishmael, Son of the Slave Woman, Remains Son of Avraham

"The matter was exceedingly

bad… because of his son" – Even though he was the son of the

slave woman, he was his son, and he loved him, because he was

his firstborn and he had pity upon him as a father pities his children, and he

walked in a good path, for he grew up with him and he taught him the way of

God, for even others did he teach and guide in the right path, all the more so

to his son, and it was bad in his eyes that he be driven from his house; he did

not admonish his wife out of considerations of peace in the home, as we wrote

regarding Hagar (Bereishit 16:6), and he was saddened

over the matter and he tolerated his wife's quarrel until the matter came

before him.

(Radak, Bereishit 21:11)


"He said to her: What ails

you, Hagar? Do not be afraid, for God has heard the voice of the lad there

where he is."

"There where he is": He is judged

according his current

behavior, not in

consideration of his future behavior.

The ministering angels were complaining:

"Master of the Universe, one whose descendents are destined to kill your

children with thirst, and you bring forth for him a spring!?"

He replied: "What is he now, a tzaddik or a wicked man?"

They answered: "Tzaddik".

He said to them: "According to his present behavior do I judge" and this is

what is meant by "there where he is."

(Rashi, Bereishit 21:16)


"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)






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