Parashat Vayeira – Erev Shabbat 3 November 2023 (5784)
Week of 29 October – 4 November 2023
Torah portion Gen. 18 :1-22 :24 Haftarah: 2 Kgs. 4 :1-37
Theme: Trusting God
Today’s parasha starts with Abraham and Sarah offering hospitality to three heavenly messengers who announce to the old couple the birth of a son – a prophecy about which the aged Sarah can only laugh. But not only a son is promised (and indeed given), in addition the messengers tell Abraham what God is about to do with him and his descendents: He is “to become a great and populous nation…” and was singled out by God that “he may instruct his children and his posterity to keep the way of the Lord by doing what is just and right…” (Gen. 18:18-19). Nechama Leibowitz regarded these verses as of supreme importance in the Book of Genesis, since here God promises a special relationship with Abraham and his progeny. God wants to partner with Abraham to teach the ways of Lord – to do what is right and just. (cf. Etz Hayim, p. 102).
However, the closing chapters of this parasha seem to contradict everything which had been promised initially. It is the narrative of the Akedah, the binding of Isaac. To the reader, the Torah makes it clear, that God does not require human sacrifice (cf. Etz Hayim, p.118). This is why the opening chapter 22 explicitly states: “God put Abraham to the test” (Gen. 22:1). But from Abraham’s viewpoint this is not clear. God tells him to take his beloved son Isaak and to go to the Land Moriah to offer him as a burnt offering (cf. Gen. 22:2). The complex narrative and possible meaning of the Akeda will not be discussed here, but the use of a phrase which only appears twice in the Torah: Lekh lekhah – go forth. The first time this phrase is used when God addresses Abraham in Gen. 12:1, asking him to leave his past behind him, his land, his relatives, everything familiar, not knowing where his new destination will be. Now, in Gen. 22: 2, God tells Abraham again, using the very same phrase to “go forth” but this time the destination is clear: the land of Moriah (possible meaning: “God will teach”). Jewish sages have read Moriah as Jerusalem due to the similarity to the word for teaching “hora’ah”, since teaching went forth from Jerusalem to the world (cf. Chumash, p.101).
So the phrase Lekh lekha is used at two crucial points in Abraham’s story. First when he is asked by God to leave behind his past and the second time when he is seemingly asked to give up his future. To the reader’s eye it was “only” a test and never meant to end with a sacrifice. But Abraham did not know that. The phrase can be translated as “go forth” but also in the sense of “go to yourself”, i.e. go to what is truly you, your innermost part, the part, where you are intimately connected with the Divine. It might have been there, that Abraham found his strength to trust God completely. He once trusted God, who led him forth from a past which did not match his human and spiritual standards. And here he trusts God again to give him a future against all odds – a future where he and his offspring would do what is just and right in God’s eyes and even teach it.
For Reflection and Discussion: 1. Do you recall a situation where you trusted God against all odds? 2. Let’s pray for the numerous human “sacrifices”, caused by humans’ wars.
Bibliography: Etz Hayim Thora and Commentary (New York: 1999); Rabbi Nosson Scherman, The Chumash with commentary, Stone Edition (New York: 1995)
This week’s Parasha Commentary was prepared by
Barbara Kauffmann, Germany, Bat Kol Alumna: 2010, 2011, 2012