Torah Weekly

For the week ending 12 November 2022 / 18 Cheshvan 5783

Parshat Vayeira

by Rabbi Yaakov Asher Sinclair -
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Three days after performing brit mila on himself, Avraham is visited by Hashem. When three angels appear in human form, Avraham rushes to show them hospitality by bringing them into his tent, despite this being the most painful time after the operation. Sarah laughs when she hears from them that she will bear a son next year. Hashem reveals to Avraham that He will destroy Sodom, and Avraham pleads for Sodom to be spared. Hashem agrees that if there are fifty righteous people in Sodom He will not destroy it. Avraham "bargains" Hashem down to ten righteous people. However, not even ten can be found. Lot, his wife and two daughters are rescued just before sulfur and fire rain down on Sodom and her sister cities. Lot’s wife looks back and is turned into a pillar of salt. Lot’s daughters fear that as a result of the destruction there will be no husbands for them. They decide to get their father drunk and through him to perpetuate the human race. From the elder daughter, Moav is born, and from the younger, Ammon.

Avraham moves to Gerar where Avimelech abducts Sarah. After Hashem appears to Avimelech in a dream, he releases Sarah and appeases Avraham. As promised a son, Yitzchak, is born to Sarah and Avraham. On the eighth day after the birth, Avraham circumcises him as commanded. Avraham makes a feast the day Yitzchak is weaned. Sarah tells Avraham to banish Hagar and Hagar's son Yishmael because she sees in him signs of degeneracy. Avraham is distressed at the prospect of banishing his son, but Hashem tells him to listen to whatever Sarah tells him to do. After nearly dying of thirst in the desert, Yishmael is rescued by an angel, and Hashem promises that he will be the progenitor of a mighty nation.

Avimelech enters into an alliance with Avraham when he sees that Hashem is with him. In a tenth and final test of Avraham, Hashem instructs Avraham to take Yitzchak, who is now 37, and to offer him as a sacrifice. Avraham does this, in spite of ostensibly aborting Jewish nationhood and contradicting his life-long preaching against human sacrifice. At the last moment, Hashem sends an angel to stop Avraham. Because of Avraham’s unquestioning obedience, Hashem promises him that even if the Jewish People sin, they will never be completely dominated by their foes. The Torah portion concludes with the genealogy and birth of Rivka.


The Centrifuge Of Prayer

“Would You destroy the entire city because of the five?” (18:28)

I always approach the prayers of Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur with some trepidation. Why are they so long and repetitive? How many times do we have to say we’re sorry to Hashem? On Yom Kippur we confess 10 times. We say the Yud Gimmel Middot, the ‘thirteen traits of mercy’ over and over again. Towards the end of Yom Kippur it seems like a race to squeeze in one more Yud Gimmel Middot before sunset brings the curtain down on the day. Why this seemingly endless repetition?

Building a nuclear weapon is a extremely difficult thing to do. Weapons-grade uranium is a highly unstable form of Uranium that makes up just 0.7 percent of the of uranium ore that is dug up. The United States nuclear weapons project – the Manhattan Project - employed more than 130,000 people and cost the equivalent of about $23 billion today to build three atom bombs. Some 240 square miles of land were requisitioned by the US government. The Hanford atomic complex ran a fleet of 900 hundred buses for its 51,000 employees – more than the city of Chicago.

To extract the radioactive isotope U235 with the centrifuge method, it was estimated that producing a mere to 2.2 lbs of uranium-235 per day would require up to 50,000 centrifuges.

Rav Moshe Shapiro, zt”l, one of the great Rabbis of our generation, would start saying selichot, the penitential prayers leading up to Rosh Hashana, at the beginning of Elul with a Sefardi minyan, even though his native Ashekanzi tradition was to start a few days before Rosh Hashana. And when the time came for the Ashkenazi selichot to begin, he would continue to say selichot with the Sefardim as well. When asked why he did this, he replied, “Yud Gimmel Middot.”

The refining of the soul is like extracting Uranium 235 from Uranium ore. Like a centrifuge of the soul spinning and spinning, every repetition of the Yud Gimmel Middot, every vidui, every confession refines us and brings us closer to the critical mass of teshuva.

In this week’s Torah portion, Avraham prays again and again to Hashem to spare the cities of Sodom and Gemorra and the other cities of the plain. First, he beseeches Hashem to save the cities if there are a total forty-five righteous people in all five cities, and Hashem would, so to speak, complete the required quorum of ten in each place. Rashi explains that Avraham then pleaded that even if there were not forty five as a total of all the cities, each city should be looked at separately and a group of ten even in one city would suffice even if that would not save the other cities. He then pleaded that even if forty righteous people were to be found, and then again if thirty are to be found, and then twenty, and then ten. The Ramban learns this to means that even ten spread out across all the cities would save them all.

Avraham kept praying and praying and praying. His every prayer was a hope to refine the middah of forgiveness in this world to its maximum.

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