For the week ending 3 November 2012 / 17 Heshvan 5773

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.


Turning Over

“And He (G-d) overturned these cities and all the plain and all the dwellers of the cities and the vegetation of the earth.” (19:25)

When we look at the situation today it’s easy to despair.

The strident metallic clang of materialism and selfishness seem to swamp out the message of the Torah and its People. The sensuous siren call of the media surrounds us all with a world whose reality is merely virtual.

Society at large seems deaf to morality, to modesty, to the values that are rooted in the Torah. The motto of the time is “Let it all hang out”. In a world where there is nothing to be ashamed of, nothing brings shame, and thus anything is possible. And what is possible - happens.

Those who stand for the eternal values of our people are despised as fundamentalists and violent barbarians. Everything has been turned upside down.

There is a strange thread of history that runs from this week’s Torah portion down through the ages and climaxes in the end of history: Lot was rescued from the overturning of Sodom. Why specifically was it necessary to overturn Sodom? Why couldn’t Sodomhave just been destroyed with fire and brimstone? Wouldn’t that have been cataclysmic enough? What are we supposed to learn from the fact that Sodomwas overturned? From the fact that it was “reversed”?

After the destruction of Sodom, Lot’s daughters thought that they were the only human survivors of what must have looked like a global nuclear holocaust. They surmised that the only way to perpetuate the human species was to cohabit with their father. The Torah, however, ascribes no blame to their actions, as their motivation was pure.

From this incestuous union came a people called Moav — literally ‘from father’. From Moav comes the prototypical convert, Ruth. From Ruth comes King David, and from King David comes the Mashiach. So it turns out that the foundation of Mashiach is ultimately in Sodom.

There are two ways that society’s spiritual landscape can be changed. One way is by improving the situation bit by bit until the world is perfected. The other is that things get so bad that they cannot get any worse. At that point everything reverses in an instant from the nadir to the zenith. This second way is the way Mashiach will come.

The prophets speak in many places about the coming of Mashiach in terms of childbirth.

Someone ignorant of the process of childbirth who sees for the first time a woman in labor would be convinced that she is about to die. And the closer the actual moment of the birth, the stronger that impression would become.

And then, within a couple of minutes, seeming tragedy has turned into the greatest joy. A new life has entered the world.

Immediately prior to the coming of Mashiach there will be a tremendous confusion in the world. Everything will seem to have gone haywire. The natural order will be turned on its head: Age will bow to youth. Ugliness will be trumpeted as beauty, and what is beautiful will be disparaged as unattractive. Barbarism will be lauded as culture. And culture will be dismissed as worthless. The hunger of consumerism and the lust for material wealth will grow more and more, and it will find less and less to satisfy its voracity.

Eventually “materialism” will grow so rapacious that it will become its own angel of death. It will literally consume itself and regurgitate itself back out.

But from this decay the line of David will sprout, like vegetation that springs forth from no more than dirt and earth. For vegetation cannot flourish unless the seed rots. The second event is predicated on the first. It can be no other way.

It’s interesting to note that Mashiach is referred to as the “tzemach tzedek”, literally the righteous sprouting”. This is because his coming is identical to the growth of vegetation. First total decay and only then new life.

This is the way Mashiach will come. The worse things become, the more painful the birthpangs, the nearer is his coming. Until, like a mother who had delivered, all the tears and pain will be forgotten in the great joy of a new life.

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