Va’yera (Gen. 18:1-22:24)

This week’s portion contains stories characterized by varying degrees of turmoil.  While Abraham is recovering from his circumcision, he receives three guests and provides (or asks Sarah to provide) graciously for them.  Here, we have an example of two mitzvot, providing hospitality and visiting the sick.  The three are angels who confirm Abraham and Sarah will have a son.  Note that no one has told Sarah this, but she overhears and laughs incredulously, since she’s 89 and Abraham, 99.

But before the happy event takes place, are three not-very-savory stories: Sodom and Gomorrah; Lot and his daughters after the fall of Sodom and Gomorrah; and Abraham, Sarah, and Abimelech.  Abraham’s bargaining with the Lord is the one time he really challenges a divine decision, but it turns out S&G aren’t worth saving.  The fate of S&G is also of interest to Abraham because his nephew Lot lives there with his family.  In a parallel to the encounter Abraham has with divine messengers, Lot provides hospitality for two angels by sheltering them (good) and protecting them from a mob (good) by offering his two young, virgin daughters to the mob in their place (very, very bad).  Then, after Lot escapes and his wife becomes a pillar of salt, his daughters get him drunk and seduce him (see above comment re: “not-very-savory”), ostensibly to re-populate the earth.  Via the resulting children, his daughters become the ancestresses of the Moabites and the Ammonites.  Finally, Abraham again passes Sarah off as his sister, this time to Abimelech, which is bad enough, but we also find out that Sarah may really be his half-sister as well as wife (20:12).  Now, is Sarah already pregnant?  Or if not, isn’t it unwise to risk that Abimelech will impregnate her?  Of course, the Torah isn’t always presented in strict chronological order, so some or all of these tales may have occurred earlier.  Still…

Sarah gives birth to a son, Isaac, “Yitzchak,” the root of which means “laughter”.  But there are many kinds of laughter.  Is Sarah laughing because having a baby at 90 is ridiculous?  Is she laughing with delight?  Does she think people will laugh with her, or at her?  Laughter can contain elements of surprise, joy, warmth, love, and happiness; but also bitterness, hate, ridicule, envy, and vindictiveness.  In this story, the ambiguity of Sarah’s laughter is not explicitly resolved.

Anyhow, Isaac is named, circumcised, weaned, and finally is old enough for half-brother Ishmael to torment him.  Sarah thinks this is more than the usual elder sibling bullying, or maybe she just wants Ishmael gone to make it clear Isaac is the sole heir.  Backed up by the Lord when Abraham balks, Sarah has Ishmael and Hagar banished.  As they are dying of thirst in the wilderness, the Lord tells Hagar again that Ishmael will father a great nation and figuratively opens her eyes to a nearby well.  Speaking of wells, Abraham and Abimelech also come to an agreement over wells.  Like the three stories before Isaac’s birth, that one seems like a little interlude or pause before the next major story, the binding (“akedah”) and near-sacrifice of Isaac.

We are explicitly told this is a divine test of Abraham (22:1), but it’s not clear if he passes it.  In Sunday school, we are told that the story is meant to teach us that human sacrifice is wrong, and animal sacrifice is substituted.  As in Hagar’s case, Abraham’s eyes are figuratively opened when he is shown the ram he’ll substitute for Isaac.  But his behavior is odd, at least by our standards.  Why doesn’t he argue with the Lord?  Why doesn’t he at least ask why he is supposed to sacrifice Isaac now, when he has none of his promised descendants yet?  Does this mean the covenant is void?  Maybe Abraham inferred from the Sodom and Gomorrah debate that the Lord is always right and there’s no point in fighting it.  Or maybe Abraham, confident that the covenant is still in force, so Isaac can’t die yet, is testing the Lord, to see who will crack first, and it turns out that the Lord does, sending an angel to stop the sacrifice.

Verse 22:19 reads “Abraham returned,”  and the Hebrew is in the singular.  Whether or not Abraham is physically alone, i.e., without Isaac, he is alone spiritually.  The Lord never speaks to him again.  Abraham moves onward, as do we, and the portion ends with the birth of Rebecca, Abraham’s great-niece.

Shabbat shalom,



The good guest is almost invisible, enjoying him or herself, communing with fellow guests, and, most of all, enjoying the generous hospitality of the hosts
Emily Post quotes (American authority on social behaviour who crafted her advice by applying good sense and thoughtfulness to basic human interactions. 18721960)

It is a sin against hospitality, to open your doors and darken your countenance
Proverb quotes

When hospitality becomes an art it loses its very soul
Max Beerbohm quotes (English caricaturist, dandy, Writer and Wit18721956)

When I sell liquor, its called bootlegging; when my patrons serve it on Lake Shore Drive, its calledhospitality
Al Capone quotes (Famous American gangster in the 1920s and 1930s. 18991947)

Hospitality is making your guests feel at home, even though you wish they were
(Harmon Wilbury)


Top Ten World Series References in Parshat Vayera
by weekly bang staff Posted: 10-27-2007(Viewed 1510 times)

10. Avraham kicked dirt on The Ump, Hashem, arguing the call to destroy S’dom

9. Lot’s Wife became the first pitcher’s mound

8. The Astrodome, Skydome can’t compare to S’dome

7. Boston winning another series??  That’d make even Sarah laugh

6. Avraham and Avimelech cut a deal and call the place “Beer Sheva”, instantly making getting a beer in the 7th inning a mitzvah

5. Sarah Kicks Hagar and Yishmael out together – a double play

4. Youkilis* = You Kill is(aac)??!

3. Avraham took off his shoes on the holy ground, exposing the Red Sox

2. Avraham relieves starter Yishmael, bringing in Yitzchak for the save

1. Hashem brings in the goat to close.

*NY Yankees 3rd baseman Kevin Youkilis (I had to look that up. IGP)


tph sodom and gomorrah


Doctor’s Surprise  Tuesday, July 26th, 2005

woman went to the doctor’s office. She was seen by one of the new doctors, but after about 4 minutes in the examination room, she burst out, screaming as she ran down the hall. An older doctor stopped her and asked what the problem was, and she explained. He had her sit down and relax in another room.

The older doctor marched back to the first and demanded, “What’s the matter with you? Mrs. Terry is 63 years old and has four grown children and seven grandchildren, and you told her she was pregnant?”

The new doctor smiled smugly as he continued to write on his clipboard, “Cured her hiccups, though, didn’t I?””

Laughter is the best medicine

tph laughter is the best medicine

————————– (sent out in 2003)

The Sacrifice of Isaac
Some theologians were trying to figure out how old Isaac was when he was about to be sacrificed. They set a minimum age of 6 because he could tell there wasn’t a sacrifice and was able to help carry the wood. They also set a maximum age of 12, because if he was over that, he would have been a teenager, and that wouldn’t have been a sacrifice.


This entry was posted in Uncategorized and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s