Hebraic Studies - Parashat Vayera

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Parashat Vayera

Bereshit - Genesis chapter 18 verse 1 to chapter 22 verse 24.

 

With Rabbi Reuven Ben-Avraham.

Let me commence back to ParashatLech Lecha” for chapter 17 does set the scene;

“As for Me, behold, My covenant is with thee, and thou shalt be the father of a multitude of nations. Neither shall thy name any more be called Abram, but thy name shall be Avraham; for the father of a multitude of nations have I made thee” Bereshit - Genesis 17:4-5 (“Jewish Publication Society” (JPS) of the Torah).

We should understand that the Hebrew letter  “He” - “h” was added to Avram’s name by the Almighty later in his life. Thus it was not added until chapter 17; verse 5, where the “” was added and then Avram then became “Avraham,” which means the “father of many.”

“And Avraham was ninety years old and nine, when he was circumcised in the flesh of his foreskin. And Ishmael his son was thirteen years old, when he was circumcised in the flesh of his foreskin. In the selfsame day was Avraham circumcised, and Ishmael his son. And all the men of his house, those born in the house, and those bought with money of a foreigner, were circumcised with him” Bereshit - Genesis 17:24-27 (JPS).

Parashat Vayera:

At the very beginning of the Torah portion Vayera, Elohim, blessed be His Sanctified Name, appears to Avraham by the terebinths of Mamre, very close on the heels of Avram having been given the Name of Avraham, with the addition of the “He” as well as having been circumcised, aged ninety nine.

And then the Torah tells us that Avraham looks up and sees three men standing nearby. Immediately he leaps into action and apparently whatever discomfort he may be still suffering seems to be minimal, or is mitigated by his strong impulse toward hospitality and rushes to greet them, bowing low and urging them to come, and washed their feet, rest, and dine with him.

Later in the portion (at the beginning of chapter 19) the men are referred to as “Malachim” - – “Angels”. But when they first appear to Avraham they have appeared like ordinary men. Avraham’s fervent hospitality is his usual modus operandi. He’s not offering these men the royal treatment because he perceives them to be messengers of the Holy One. He just genuinely wants to make these men feel very welcome!

A practical person might argue that he is obliged to offer any strangers in the desert life-giving water and nourishment, in order that they will offer him the same sustenance when he may be in need. But I tend to think there was more to Avraham’s openness than that. For one thing, Avraham goes beyond a kind of formal greeting; he instructs his wife to bake bread right away, and a serving-boy to kill a fatted calf. (Which, incidentally, he serves alongside curds and milk).

The point is, he treats these men like great returned who have returned from afar. Granted, we learned the previous portion that he came back from his sojourn in Egypt with sheep, oxen, donkeys and camels aplenty; thus he certainly had no shortage of food to eat. But there’s no necessary correlation between his wealth and generosity. Avraham may have had plenty of animals, but he still made the conscious decision to slaughter one to feed strangers who materialized outside of his door.

Think about it in a modern sense, how would you react, but I suppose the world is very different now, and a dangerous place at that! What really strikes me about Avraham is his stance, and the personal and ethical principles the stance implies. If I glanced up from my desk right now and saw three strange men standing in my yard, some part of me might well be somewhat fearful. I might feel tempted to be protective and would certainly not open my door open wide, until I could ascertain who the strangers might be. This is not because I am paranoid, or because I live in an unsafe place but I still might feel an instinct to be guarded with strangers, especially strangers who appear out of nowhere.

Not so with Avraham, he rises from his tent and rushes out to offer a Shalom Aleichem. He draws the men inside to rest, to wash away the dust of the road, and to dine on the finest food his wife and servant can muster. He matches words of welcome with actions that embody that welcome into being. He wants all who pass his dwelling to find sustenance there. This is radical hospitality at its finest.

The Chuppah beneath which we Jews marry is typically open on all four sides, and one teaching holds that in this it evokes Avraham’s tent. A Chuppah offers spiritual shelter, and represents the home a couple will build together, but it's not a permanent structure, nor a structure that can be entirely insular. The sense of home it represents and creates is a portable one, and one that’s open to the presence of Elohim in all directions. When we marry beneath a Chuppah we affirm our intention to be like Avraham, opening our doors and our larders to the messengers of Elohim who appear in our lives.

What Avraham knew, and what we struggle to remember and affirm, is that the people we encounter are indeed messengers of the Holy Blessed One. The message we all bear is that we are created  – “B’tselem Elohim” - “in Elohim’s Image”, no matter our differences, we are all reflections of the living Elohim, blessed be He!

When we choose to open our doors and our hearts to the people we meet, we embody the wise welcome that was characterized by our ancestor Avraham in his desert dwelling. As we orient ourselves in relationship amongst ourselves, but also to others in the world, may we experience Avraham’s ability to make the stranger very welcome? It is a blessing if we can offer friendship and good will to the people we encounter and in doing so knowing Elohim is with you, be assured that we will discover that you will have that special feeling that you may well be - “B’tselem Elohim” - living “in His Image”!

- Prayer of Dovid:

“Teach me, , Thy way, that I may walk in Thy truth; make one my heart to fear Thy Name. I will thank Thee, O Lord my Elohim, with my whole heart; and I will glorify Thy name for evermore. For great is Thy mercy toward me” Tehillim - Psalms 86:11-13 (JPS).

Yeshayahu

, Thou art my Elohim, I will exalt Thee, I will praise Thy name, for Thou hast done wonderful things; even counsels of old, in faithfulness and truth” Yeshayahu - Isaiah 25:1 (JPS).

Always remember our motto seen on the logo at the top of this page: “The More Torah, the More Life”, for Elohim, blessed be His Sanctified Name, is the one who gave us our Life!”

Rabbi Reuven Ben-Avraham.

 

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