Parashat Vayera– Erev Shabbat 6 November 2020
Week of 01-07 of November 2020
Torah portion: Genesis 18:1- 22:24 Haftarah: 2 Kings 4:1-37
Theme: The manifestation of God and human reaction
The name of our parasha this week (Vayera/ וַיֵּרָא) literally means “and He appeared”. This “He” refers to the LORD himself who appeared to Abraham as three men figures – “…and there it is three men” (VeHine shalosha anashim/ וְהִנֵּה שְׁלֹשָׁה אֲנָשִׁים – 18:2). Scripture narrates in different passages, ages and contexts that God is always visiting and communicating with his people in different ways. The consequence of all these appearances is a great transformation as we shall note in this week’s stories of Sarah (Gen 18: 1-15) and the Shunammite woman (2 Kgs 4: 12-17). Both were old and married to old men and according to nature they would not be able to bear children anymore. The three men in Sarah’s case and the Prophet Elisha in the Shunammite woman’s case granted this miracle through God’s power to these women to generate life in unusual circumstances. Their amazement is expressed similarly as disbelief: Sarah laughed and her son Isaac is named after this laugh (Itzhak/ יִצְחָק) and the Shunammite woman did not believe “do not lie to your handmaid” (v. 16). In spite of any reaction or disbelief, God is the one whose appearance transforms and enables the life to be.
A second parallel in these stories is also related to life but this time in the threatening of someone’s life. In the passage of Isaac’s pending sacrifice (Gen 22: 1-19), God called to Abraham and commanded that his Son, with Sarah, should be sacrificed to God. The text from the Haftarah (2 Kgs 4: 18-37) tells about the Shunammite woman who called the “man of God”, the prophet Elisha, to heal her Son who was ill. It was too late as the son had died so instead of healing him, Elisha brought her son back to life and handed him back to her.
As we know Isaac was not sacrificed to God because God’s angel intervened and stopped Abraham from killing his son. The text in Hebrew says that “God tried Abraham” (VeElohim nisa etAvraham/ וְהָאֱלֹהִים, נִסָּה אֶת-אַבְרָהָם – 22: 1). It may sound a little uncomfortable that God would give life and then demand its ending. The power and might of God go further and higher than our limited human vision and comprehension. By believing in God’s will, Abraham was, contrary to our expectations, ready to offer his Son as a sacrifice. Instead of death, God preserved Isaac’s life and granted to Abraham descendants and from them a people according to the LORD’s covenant as read in the previous parasha (Gen 17:1-8).
For Reflection and Discussion: 1. How did the biblical characters in this week’s prescribed readings recognize the manifestation of God through the three men and Elisha? Are we able to recognize God’s manifestations nowadays? 2. What is my reaction when I read in these texts the unexpected actions of God and thus meet the ‘God of Surprises’? Would I tend to react more like Abraham, Sarah, or the Shunammite woman? Is my reaction different from theirs? If so, how is it different?
Bibliography: McKenzie, J.L. Dictionary of the Bible (New York: 1965)
This week’s Parasha Commentary was prepared by
Tiago Rangel Cardoso,Israel, Bat Kol Alumnus: 2017