For the week ending 27 October 2018 / 18 Heshvan 5779

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.


Past and Future

“I am but dust and ashes.” (18:27)

One of my friends comes from a very comfortable background, to say the least. He told me that one day when he was in Yeshiva, they brought out the soup for lunch, but there were only a few soup spoons. There were, however, a sufficient number of teaspoons to go round. He complained, saying, “What’s wrong with this place? They don’t have soup spoons?” A friend ribbed him gently saying, “If you were a bigger ba’al midot (person of excellent character), you wouldn’t need a bigger spoon.”

“I am but dust and ashes.” Avraham humbled himself in two opposite ways. Dust has no past. Up till this point it is nothing. Its past is insignificant. It has a future though — earth is the medium in which plants can grow. On the other hand ash has no future — ash cannot be formed into anything, but all ash is the relic of a past significance, an importance that once was.

Avraham said, I have no past — I come from nowhere, like dust. And like ashes, I have no future. I am of no significance, neither in the past nor the future.

The Talmud (Chulin 86) says that Avraham’s reward for saying “I am but dust and ashes,” was the ashes of the Parah Aduma (the Red Heifer) and the dust of the Sota mitzvah. The dust of the Sota can confirm that a suspected wife is pure in the past. Its action is historical. The ashes of the Parah work for the future; it removes the miasma of spiritual impurity that comes from the contact with a cadaver.

Humility creates a positive force both retroactively and proactively.

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