Va’yera (Genesis 18:1 – 22:24)

You are getting this early because I will be taking next week off and trying to think as little as possible.  Unfortunately, my brain is already shutting down.  I was thinking last night about what I wanted to write about this week’s portion (we read Genesis 21:1 through 22:24 on Rosh Hashanah, so if you have a stronger sense of déjà vu than usual regarding the weekly Torah portion, that’s why).  This morning, I saw that what I wanted to write this year is essentially what I wrote last year, though I don’t remember it.   So I hope you will indulge me. I’ve added a few comments in brackets. Different jokes though.

Lots of stories this week:  Three angels confirm that Sarah and Abraham will have a son [interesting that this is the second time Abraham is told, but not Sarah].  Sodom and Gomorrah are destroyed but Lot and his daughters are rescued [I assume what happens to them afterward is left out of the Hebrew school version].  Abraham again tells a host ruler, this time Abimelech, that Sarah is his sister (OK, he’s afraid for his life and she actually is apparently his half-sister (see 20:12 and also the lack of the names of Sarah’s parents in 11:29), something understandably soft-pedaled in the Torah).  Isaac is born, [circumcised on the eighth day], named , weaned. [Though we’re told “Yitzchak” means laughter, there’s a lot of ambiguity here.  Laughter? with or at? Also, unlike the names of Abraham and Jacob, his name is not a descriptor of his life.] Ishmael and Hagar are banished.  Abraham and Abimelech come to an accord over wells.  And Abraham almost sacrifices Isaac, the incident referred to as the “Akedah” (binding).  

Throughout this portion, we learn more about the relationship between Abraham and the Lord, which is more advanced than Noah’s and presages that of Moses. In 18:1, we read that the Lord appears to him, without any particular reason, like a command or a new revelation (unless one equates the Lord in 18:1 with the three visitors in 18:2).  At 18:17-19, the Lord ponders how much to tell Abraham about the impending doom of Sodom and Gomorrah: “Shall I hide from Abraham what I am about to do, since Abraham is to become a great and populous nation and all the nations of the earth are to bless themselves by him? For I have singled him out, that he may instruct his children and his posterity to keep the way of the Lord by doing what is just and right…”  So he takes Abraham into his confidence and, sensing that this is a teachable moment (one Noah wasn’t capable of, though many more were about to be destroyed), allows his protege to argue on behalf of the (unfortunately nonexistent) righteous inhabitants of the cities, as Moses will be allowed to argue (more successfully) for the Children of Israel centuries later.  

We also learn that Abraham is a good and generous man, at least to those outside his immediate family.  He runs to meet the three visitors and joyfully arranges ample hospitality for them, while having no knowledge of who they are.  [He’s still recovering from his own circumcision, so this also introduces the mitzvah of visiting the sick.] He looks out for his nephew Lot.  He cares for the people of Sodom and Gomorrah.  He loves both Ishmael and Isaac.  Yet his focus and generosity are mainly directed outward (or upward?), and his family, like that of Moses, suffers as a result.  He refuses to intervene between Sarah and Hagar when Hagar is pregnant.  He is distressed but agrees to banish Hagar and Ishmael, with few provisions.  He risks Sarah’s safety on two occasions.  And, when commanded to sacrifice his beloved son, not only does he not argue, but he does not even discuss it withe Sarah.  

When we read about the Akedah, we are explicitly told this is a test of Abraham (22:1), and we’re pretty certain Isaac will survive, since he has no progeny yet and the Lord has not cancelled the promise that the great nation will come from Abraham through Isaac.  But it is not clear that Abraham really “passes” the test by putting the Lord’s command above his love for Isaac. [Note that the Lord’s conversation with him afterwards, except for the part about Abraham’s willingness to sacrifice his son Isaac, is very similar to their first conversation, i.e. , just a couple of verses about being progenitor of a great nation, a source of blessing for the world.  In fact, the message is not even delivered by the Lord, but by an angel.  It looks like the relationship between the Lord and Abraham has just taken a big step backwards. ] 22:19 reads “Abraham returned,” in the singular,to his young servants.  Whether or not Isaac is with him at that point (there is rabbinic folklore concerning this), it is clear that Abraham is alone.  The Lord never speaks to him again.  And he is about to lose his wife Sarah as well.

Shabbat shalom,

Visiting The Sick

Several women from church were visiting elderly Mrs. Diamond who had been ill for a very long time.
After a while, they rose to leave and told her, “Esther, we will keep you in our prayers.”
“Just wash the dishes in the kitchen,” the ailing woman said, “I can do my own praying.”



Definition of Hospitality: Making your guests feel like they are at home, even if you wish they were.

 (Harmon Wilbury)


A Few Pregnancy jokes

Q. Should I have a baby after 35?
A. No, 35 children is enough.

Q. When will my baby move?
A. With any luck, right after he finishes high school.

Q. Do I have to have a baby shower?
A. Not if you change the baby’s diaper very quickly.

Q. Our baby was born last week. When will my wife begin to feel and act normal  again?
A. When the kids are in college.

Afterbirth : When the hard part begins…………….
———————  (pp. 2-4)

About Laughter

Hearty laughter is a good way to jog internally without having to go outdoors.
Norman Cousins

If I have caused just one person to wipe away a tear of laughter, that’s my reward.
Victor Borge

It seems that laughter needs an echo.
Henri Bergson

Laughter is an instant vacation.
Milton Berle


Students in both Jewish and Christian parochial schools were asked to write about the Bible. The following are some of the  responses (bless their little hearts!):

In the first book of the Bible, Guinness, God got tired of creating the world, so he took the Sabbath off.

Adam and Eve were created from an apple tree.

Noah’s wife was called Joan of Ark.

Noah built the ark, which the animals came on in pears.

Lot’s wife was a pillar of salt by day, but a ball of fire by night.

A Different Take on the Akedah

 [From “Without Feathers,” by Woody Allen, Random
House, NY, 1975, pp.23-4 of the hardback version.  I sent it to some of you a while ago, but it’s a classic, in my opinion. IGP]

…And Abraham awoke in the middle of the night and said to his only son,
Isaac, “I have had a dream where the voice of the Lord sayeth that I must
sacrifice my only son, so put your pants on.”  And Isaac trembled and said,
“So what did you say?  I mean when he brought this whole thing up?”
        “What am I going to say?” Abraham said.  “I’m standing there at two
a.m. in my underwear with the Creator of the Universe.  Should I argue?”
        “Well, did he say why he wants me sacrificed?” Isaac asked his
        But Abraham said, “The faithful do not question.  Now let’s go
because I have a heavy day tomorrow.”
        And Sarah who heard Abraham’s plan grew vexed and said, “How doth
thou know it was the Lord and not, say, thy friend who loveth practical
jokes, for the Lord hateth practical jokes and whosoever shall pull one
shall be delivered into the hands of his enemies whether they can pay the
delivery charge or not.”  And Abraham answered, “Because I know it was the
Lord.  It was a deep, resonant voice, well modulated, and nobody in the
desert can get a rumble in it like that.”
        And Sarah said, “And thou art willing to carry out this senseless
act?”  But Abraham told her, “Frankly, yes, for to question the Lord’s word
is one of the worst things a person can do, particularly with the economy in
the state it’s in.”
        And so he took Isaac to a certain place and prepared to sacrifice
him but at the last minute the Lord stayed Abraham’s hand and said, “How
could thou doest such a thing?”
        And Abraham said, “But thou said – “
        “Never mind what I said,” the Lord spake.  “Doth thou listen to
every crazy idea that comes thy way?”  And Abraham grew ashamed.  “Er – not
        “I jokingly suggest thou sacrifice Isaac and thou immediately runs
out to do it.”
        And Abraham fell to his knees, “See, I never know when you’re
        And the Lord thundered, “No sense of humor.  I can’t believe it.”
        “But doth this not prove I love thee, that I was willing to donate
mine only son on thy whim?”
        And the Lord said, “It proves that some men will follow any order
no matter how asinine as long as it comes from a resonant, well-modulated
        And with that, the Lord bid Abraham get some rest and check with him tomorrow.

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