For the week ending 15 November 2003 / 20 Heshvan 5764

Parshat Vayera

by Rabbi Yaakov Asher Sinclair -
Become a Supporter Library Library


Three days after performing brit mila on himself, Avraham is visited by G-d. 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. G-d reveals to Avraham that He will destroy Sodom, and Avraham pleads for Sodom to be spared. G-d agrees that if there are fifty righteous people in Sodom He will not destroy it. Avraham "bargains" G-d 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. Lots wife looks back and is turned into a pillar of salt. Lots 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 G-d 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 G-d 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 G-d promises that he will be the progenitor of a mighty nation. Avimelech enters into an alliance with Avraham when he sees that G-d is with him. In a tenth and final test, G-d 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, G-d sends an angel to stop Avraham. Because of Avrahams unquestioning obedience, G-d promises him that even if the Jewish People sin, they will never be completely dominated by their foes. The Parsha ends with the genealogy and birth of Rivka.


The World on Our Shoulders

G-d appeared to him (Avraham) in the plains of Mamre while he was sitting at the entrance of the tent (18:1)

Its very easy for us to see our lives as rather small and insignificant. How many of us really make an impression while were here, and how many are remembered after we leave?

The truth is that every one of us is capable of supporting entire worlds on our shoulders. Before a picture of some muscle-bound Greek god wafts into your imagination, let me explain what I mean.

G-d appeared to him in the plains of Mamre while he was sitting at the entrance of the tent (18:1)

Rashi say that when G-d appeared to Avraham, he wanted to stand up. G-d said to him You sit and I will stand and you will be a sign for your children, for in the future I will stand in the assembly of the judges and they will sit as it says in Psalms that G-d stands in the assembly of the judges.

When you go to an audition for a play the director sits and you stand. When you enter the bank managers office to explain why your loan is overdue he sits and you stand. When you want to get a visa from a foreign consulate they sit and you stand. The way of the world is that the one who stands depends on the one who sits.

When Avraham wanted to stand, G-d told him that things were to be the other way round, You sit and I will stand meaning I need you, and on you everything will depend. How can we understand that G-d wanted to depend on Avraham?

We find this principle in the verse Give strength to G-d How can we give anything to G-d, let alone strength? However, it is the Divine will that all the upper worlds, the entire creation, stands and depends on this, the lowliest of worlds.

G-d directs the entire universe in precise harmony with our every miztva, every kindness, every prayer. And the reverse is also true. We can blemish vast tracts of the spiritual universe with an unkind word or a foolish action.

Similarly, when a Jewish religious court makes a halachic decision, G-d, as it were, complies with that earthly decision. For it is His will that the whole creation responds to this lowliest of worlds. Thats the meaning of G-d stands in the assembly of the judges. The entire conduct of the universe is initiated by what is happens in this world.

And thats really having the world on your shoulders.

  • Source: Based on Daat Torah

Hidden Miracles

And I appeared to them as Keil Shakai

The purpose of this world is to be factory to produce a product called Olam Haba the World to Come.

That is our only target, and the mitzvot constitute our only passport.

However, you can read the Torah from cover to cover and you wont find one specific promise about the reward for keeping the mitzvot in the next world. Promises of reward in this world abound: We are promised the rains in their time; the land will give its produce and the trees will bear fruit; there will be an abundance of food that we will eat to satiety. We will dwell securely in our land. No one will walk down a dark street and be frightened. No one will worry about sending their children off on the bus in the morning. There will be abundance and peace.

Why is it the Torah makes no open promises about the reward for keeping the mitzvot in the next world, but is replete with details of their reward in this existence?

All reward and punishment in this world is through hidden miracles. When a person eats a bacon/cheeseburger and dies prematurely, nobody knows that he died because he ate a bacon/cheeseburger. People die at his age when even when they dont eat bacon/cheeseburgers. They die younger.

A person gives tzedaka charity and becomes rich. You dont see that he became rich because he gave tzedaka. There are plenty of rich people who dont give tzedaka they inherited it or they won the sweepstake. The hidden miracle is that this person wasnt destined to become rich or wasnt supposed to die young, but because he gave tzedaka or because he ate the bacon/cheeseburger G-d changed this persons destiny.

Its miraculous, but its hidden. It looks like nature, but if it were actually the work of nature then nothing that a person did in this world could have any effect on himself. For a person is born under a certain mazal, a certain destiny, and without the intervention of an outside force the hidden miracle nothing that a person did, whether for good or bad, would have any repercussions in this world.

Thats why the Torah speaks at great length about the outcome of the performance (or non-performance) of the mitzvot in this world. For it is truly miraculous that our actions should affect anything in this world, a world that, aside from these hidden miracles, is run by a system of mazal and nature.

However, as far as the next world is concerned, its obvious that our actions will have repercussions there. The Torah doesnt need to stress the reward and punishment in that existence because its obvious that people who engage in spiritual pursuits and serve G-d faithfully should receive spiritual rewards. But it is certainly not natural that people who are immersed in the work of the spirit, the study of Torah and the performance of mitzvot should receive their reward in this world as well. Therefore the Torah stresses the reward for keeping the mitzvot in this world, because that is something that no one could surmise without being told of its existence.

Source: Ramban on Vayera and at the beginning of Parshat Bechukotai

Fame Im Gonna Live Forever

and the staff of Aharon swallowed their staffs. (7:12)

When Aarons staff swallowed the staffs of the magicians and remained as slim as before, Pharoah started to fear that the staff would swallow him and his throne.

If the staff would swallow him, why would he be concerned that that his throne would be swallowed? Is his throne more than his own life? Not only that, why would he care? He wouldnt he be around to see the staff swallowing his throne anywhere.

Maybe we can answer this with a poem by Percy Byshe Shelley:

I met a traveller from an antique land

Who said: Two vast and trunkless legs of stone

Stand in the desert Near them, on the sand,

Half sunk, a shattered visage lies, whose frown,

And wrinkled lip, and sneer of cold command,

Tell that its sculptor well those passions read,

Which yet survive, stamped on these lifeless things,

The hand that mocked them, and the heart that fed:

And on the pedestal these words appear:

My name is Ozymandias, king of kings:

Look upon my works ye Mighty, and despair!

Nothing beside remains. Round the decay

Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare

The lone and level sands stretch far away.

A Jew works his whole life for Olam Haba, the World to Come. Someone who doesnt believe in a World to Come has to come to terms with the frightening finality of his earthly existence. How does he cope with this? By trying to create artifacts of his brief walk in this life. His hope is that he will achieve a kind of eternity because others will remember his name. He was the man who painted such-and-such, who dreamed up the worlds most advanced mousetrap, who murdered the worlds most famous pop star as he emerged from his limo. As the words of a famous (for how long?) pop song would have it Fame Im gonna live forever.

To Pharoah, there was one thing worse than dying that his throne, his fame, everything that he would leave in this world would die with him.

  • Source: Midrash Rabba

© 1995-2024 Ohr Somayach International - All rights reserved.

Articles may be distributed to another person intact without prior permission. We also encourage you to include this material in other publications, such as synagogue or school newsletters. Hardcopy or electronic. However, we ask that you contact us beforehand for permission in advance at [email protected] and credit for the source as Ohr Somayach Institutions

« Back to Parsha

Ohr Somayach International is a 501c3 not-for-profit corporation (letter on file) EIN 13-3503155 and your donation is tax deductable.