For the week ending 19 November 2016 / 18 Heshvan 5777

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.


A Square Meal

“So Avraham hastened to the tent to Sarah and said, ‘Hurry!” (13:17).

Rabbi Leib Chasman once joined the saintly Chafetz Chaim for a Friday night meal in Radin. Rather than starting the meal with singing “Shalom Aleichem” as was his custom, the Chafetz Chaim immediately recited Kiddush and commenced the meal forthwith, and only then started “Shalom Aleichem”.

Rabbi Chasman could not contain his curiosity, and asked the Chafetz Chaim why he had changed his practice, to which the Chafetz Chaim answered: “You travelled a great distance today. You must certainly be very hungry, and so I wanted to serve you first. The angels — to whom we recite the Shalom Aleichem — aren’t hungry, and can wait a little”.

“So Avraham hastened to the tent to Sarah and said, ‘Hurry!”

Avraham is the paradigm of hospitality. The Torah is teaching us here that an essential part of hospitality requires us to serve guests immediately. The Talmud (Ta’anit 21) relates that Nachum Ish Gamzu once delayed feeding a pauper while he took off the pack from his donkey’s back, and in the meantime the pauper fainted from hunger.

And even in our days, convenience stores and boiled sweets don’t make up for a square meal.

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