For the week ending 16 November 2019 / 18 Heshvan 5780

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. Lot’s wife looks back and is turned into a pillar of salt. Lot’s 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 Torah portion concludes with the genealogy and birth of Rivka.


Here Today

“...For I have loved him (Avraham) because he commands his children and his household after him that they may keep the way of Hashem, doing charity and justice…” (18:19)

Walking through Ohr Somayach last week, I had a couple of moments of reflection. There’s a major building project which, please G-d, will give us a beautiful new Beit Midrash and classrooms. The whole front of what used to be the staircase leading up to the Beit Midrash from Shimon HaTzadik Street is no longer there and in its place is a vast hole. The door that used to lead to that staircase is securely locked, but locked doors can be unlocked and so that door is also barred by two serious cross beams, but there’s still a small crack under the door that you can peak through and see a vast chasm of nothing where there used to be a place.

That place exists now in the minds of those who remember it. I went to daven in the Conference Room. It’s been a long time since I was in there and as I walked in I looked at the long table and its two ends and remembered two Torah giants who used to sit there, at different times, at its two ends. At the end further from the window, Rav Dov Schwartzman, zatzal, used to give shiur. I was in his shiur when he was teaching his ‘favorite’ Masechta — Bava Kama. I found it very difficult. One day, he asked me who my chavrusa was, and I said that I didn’t have a chavrusa. He said to me, “I will be your chavrusa!” From then on, after every shiur he would painstakingly go over one of the points of the shiur. I looked at his place and thought, “He’s not here anymore and only the people who were in his shiur can still see him sitting there.” My eye turned to the other end of the table and I remembered how Rav Moshe Shapira, zatzal, would open our eyes and take us soaring into to the heights and beauty of Jewish thought — l’fi erkeinu — according to our ability. He is no longer here among us and only those who were in that shiur can still see him sitting there.

Someone once said, “We live our lives as though we were immortal,” but the only certain thing in life is death. I remember Rav Mendel Weinbach, zatzal, saying to me once at a funeral that every time he went to a funeral he knew fewer and fewer people. Now he no longer goes to funerals, and I myself recognize fewer and fewer people at funerals.

However long your life is — it’s still very short. This can fill you with despair or galvanize you into action.

At the beginning of the Torah portion of Lech Lecha, where Avraham makes his entrance into the history of the world, the Torah writes nothing about the reason why Hashem chose Avraham to proclaim His Unity in the world. It doesn’t say that Avraham was a tzadik, as it does with regard to Noach. In fact it says nothing about him at all. The Torah just says “Lech Lecha.”Hashem’s choice of Avraham seems almost arbitrary. The Maharal says that had the Torah enumerated Avraham’s virtues, it would imply that he was chosen for those virtues, and, were his offspring to veer from his path, then Hashem might renege on his choice of Avraham’s progeny as His agents in the world. Thus the Torah says nothing of Avraham’s virtues, to teach us that G-d’s love of Avraham was absolute and unqualified. His covenant with Avraham and his descendants was eternal and did not depend on future generations emulating him.

However, it seems from this verse in this week’s portion that Hashem had reasons why he loved Avraham: “Because he commands his children and his household after him that they may keep the way of Hashem, doing charity and justice…”

My father, of blessing memory, used to say that saying “Don’t do as I do. Do as I tell you” is ineffective parenting. Hashem loved Avraham not because of what he did, but because what he did revealed who he was.

Those of us who remember the great ones of Ohr Somayach who are no longer with us, remember them not so much for what they did but because what they did revealed who they were.

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