Parashat Vayeira (5782)– Erev Shabbat 22 October 2021
Week of 17-23 October 2021
Torah portion: Genesis 18:1-22:24 Haftarah: 2 Kings 4:1-37
Theme: God has brought laughter for me
In The Good Book, his appropriately titled book on the Bible, Peter J. Gomes has this to say about some of the men and women we meet in the Bible: “none were heroic in the Greek sense of heroic…..They were ordinary people for whom God had a use, and the adventure of their stories is their discovery of their use of God’s use for them.” . One of the ‘ordinary people’ he lists is Sarah “who laughed when she learned that in old age she was to bear a son to Abraham” . He assumes that most of his readers will know the episode to which he refers. And why would they know it? It is a fair assumption that most Christians first come to know the contents of the Torah through hearing those passages from it which are read in churches on Sunday. So we recognize the allusion to Sarah’s laughter; we know about the solemn promise the Lord gives to Abraham: “I will make of you a great nation”; we remember the image of Abraham looking up at the sky as he is told to “count the stars…so shall your descendants be”; and we remember his arguing with the Lord over the fate of Sodom and Gomorrah [Gen. 12:2, 15:5, 18:23-32]. We also know the story of Hagar and Ishmael; we know that Sarah does bear a son to Abraham and that it is this son, Isaac, whom he is asked to sacrifice.
But we are unlikely to have sat in our pews and heard how Abraham passed Sarah off as his sister, not once but twice [ Gen. 12 & 20], thus leaving her vulnerable to sexual exploitation. Abraham’s reaction to hearing the lord’s promise “I will give you a son by [Sarah]…and she will give rise to nations” may also be unfamiliar: “Then Abraham fell on his face and laughed and said to himself, “Can a child be born to a man who is a hundred years old? Can Sarah, who is ninety years old, bear a child?” [Gen. 17:16-17] In contrast, Sarah did not know the true nature of the guest who has said that she will bear a child. She could have assumed that the stranger, who has been enjoying her lavish hospitality, pities her sorrowful situation and is merely trying to cheer her up. Perhaps, since she is in the tent, he is not aware that she is almost as old as her husband. “Easy for him to say,” she might think, laughing bitterly. Then he challenges her by asking: “Is anything too hard for the Lord?” and she denies that she had laughed. He comes back with: “But you did laugh.” [Gen. 18:12-15] At the time, this may have seemed rude and unkind but perhaps she comes to see it as giving her permission to laugh. For laugh she does, when she gives birth to Isaac, whose name means ‘laughter’. In saying “The Lord has made me laugh so that all that hear may laugh with me” she is inviting all who learn her story to laugh with her [Gen. 21:6].
For Reflection and Discussion: 1) “Is anything too hard for the Lord?” is a hard question. It is one thing to say that nothing is too hard for the lord but it may be quite another to believe in divine intervention in your own life. Discuss. 2) Every year the Torah is read in the synagogue from beginning to end. Nothing is left out, not even stories that show the matriarchs and the patriarchs in a bad light. In contrast, there are Christians who dislike reading the Tanakh because it is full of stories of people behaving badly. What would you say to them about what they could learn from such stories?Bibliography: Gomes, Peter J. The Good Book: Reading TheBible With Mind And Heart (New York: 1996)
This week’s Parasha Commentary was prepared by
Anne Morton, Canada, Bat Kol Alumna: 2010