For the week ending 11 November 2006 / 20 Heshvan 5767

Parshat Vayera

by Rabbi Yaakov Asher Sinclair -
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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 Divine Present

“And Hashem appeared to him (Avraham)…” (18:1)

I often hear the question, “Where is G-d? I don’t see Him.”

Many of us don’t sense G-d’s Presence in the world; and even of those who concede the compelling logic of an All-powerful Being, many find it difficult to internalize that logic and feel His Presence.

Why is this?

The English translation of the first verse in this week’s parsha, “And Hashem appeared to him,” is not strictly accurate. A literal translation of the verse would be, “And He appeared to him — Hashem…”

In the order of the words, the one who sees – Avraham - precedes the One Who is seen – Hashem. Why did the Torah use this unusual syntax?

In his Guide for the Perplexed, the Rambam says that it is axiomatic that G-d cannot change, alter, or move in any way. Since He is Omnipresent, if He “moved” it would imply the existence of some place from which He had previously been absent and to which He had subsequently arrived. This would be a clear contradiction to His Omnipresence.

Thus, any approach by G-d to us, any appearance or revelation, is really us drawing closer to Him.

This is what is meant by the verse in Shir HaShirim “I am to my Beloved, and my Beloved is to me.” (5:6, 6:7). To the extent that we bring ourselves closer to G-d, to that same degree will we perceive His Presence.

But how does one draw close to a Being Who is totally removed from anything we know or could ever know, Who is non-physical, non-spiritual?

Three days after his brit mila, Avraham was suffering great discomfort. The day itself was unusually hot, yet Avraham left the shade of his tent to look for travelers who might be suffering from the heat and offer them hospitality. It was after this act of selfless chesed that he experienced the closeness to G-d, which is known as revelation.

If we don’t sense G-d in the world, if the world just seems to spin around all on its own, maybe it’s because we are spinning around our own egos, our own desires and our own agendas.

If we stop seeing ourselves as the center of the world, and bring ourselves close to G-d by doing acts of selfless kindness, then we will receive the Divine Present — of sensing G-d’s existence.

  • Sources: Ohr HaChaim and Dvash v’Chalav in Iturei Torah; Rabbi Shimshon Raphael Hirsch on the parsha

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