This is not a G-rated Torah portion.
We start with a nice little story of Abraham’s hospitality, as he recovers from his circumcision, to three strangers. They turn out to be angels who confirm that Abraham and Sarah will have a son; they don’t bother to tell Sarah, but she overheats and laughs incredulously since Abraham is 100 and she’s 90. Then it’s off to Sodom.
God decides to tell Abraham that Sodom will be destroyed but not why. Abraham assumes that there must be a reasonable number of decent people there, even 50, or if not 50, maybe 45? okay, 40? Or 30? 20? certainly ten! And so he bargains to get God to agree not to destroy the city if there are 10 innocents. We know there aren’t. Like his uncle, Lot, who lives there, offers hospitality to two men (angels) (good) and protects them from a mob (good), offering his two young daughters in their place (not good). The angels manage to drag Lot and his daughters out of Sodom but his wife looks back and becomes a pillar of salt as Sodom and nearby Gomorrah are destroyed by fire and brimstone. Lot’s daughters get him drunk, seduce him, and get pregnant; they give rise to the nations of Moab and Ammon.
Then Abraham pulls that “but Sarah’s my sister” trick again, this time on Abimelech (and we learn that yes, she’s his half-sister) and he sends them on their way with livestock, slaves, and money as compensation. They later make a treaty concerning water rights at Be’er Sheva.
So far, we’ve had pimping, seduction, incest, horrific destruction, and lying. And there’s more.
Isaac is finally born, circumcised, and weaned. His name means “laughter” which is the height of irony in view of his future. Sarah does not like Ishmael to “play” with Isaac (shooting arrows at passers-by? pedophilic incestuous sodomy?), so Abraham banishes Hagar and his beloved Ishmael, who nearly die in the desert before God opens her eyes to nearby water and a bright future for her son.
Then, we are told, God tests Abraham by telling him to take “your son, your only son, whom you love, Isaac” and sacrifice him on Mount Moriah. [This episode is referred to as the Akedah (binding)]. Abraham, Isaac, and a few servants set out the next morning, travel for three days, and Abraham is about to kill his son when he is stopped by an angel, because now he has proven he fears God and has not withheld his son, his only son. Note that “whom you love” is no longer part of the description of Isaac. Abraham sacrifices a ram instead and goes home. We don’t know where Isaac went after this trauma.
The episodes of Sodom and the Akedah in a sense bookend the portion. Prof. Reuven Kimelman writes in Testing Abraham: Justice in Sodom
before Loyalty in the Akedah , “Only through challenging God on the basis of justice [concerning Sodom] did Abraham find out that God was just, indeed willing to temper justice with mercy. The result was not only the confirmation of Abraham’s belief in Divine justice but also the maintenance of his worthiness of Divine promises.” As Abraham Heschel notes: ‘It was because of the experience of God’s responding to him in his plea for Sodom that Abraham did not question the command to sacrifice his beloved son.’” However, as persecution became a core experience for Jews during Roman persecution and the Middle Ages, they felt ‘their sufferings and sacrifices exceeded by far everything endured by the original Akedah’s father and son.’ (Shalom Spiegel, The Last Trial, 21). Indeed, they sympathized with Abraham because he couldn’t fully demonstrate his devotion to God by sacrificing his son. “
The portion ends with news of Abraham’s brother’s family, including young Rebecca, about whom we’ll read next week
I stumbled upon a really neat source for essays interpreting each Torah portion,
http://thetorah.com/all-parshas/ which is where I found Prof. Kimelman’s essay. Here are a couple other titles there that are pertinent to Vayeira:
- Biblical and Greek Ambivalence Towards Child Sacrifice
- Lot and his Daughter’s Motives for their Incestuous Union
- The Expulsion of Ishmael: Who Is Being Tried?
A man wrote a letter to a small hotel in a Midwest town he planned to visit on his vacation. He wrote this short letter:
“I would very much like to bring my dog with me. He is well-groomed and very well behaved. Would you be willing to permit me to keep him in my room with me at night?”
An immediate reply came back from the hotel owner, who wrote:
“Dear Sir …I’ve been operating this hotel for many years now, and in all that time, I’ve never had a dog steal towels, bedclothes, silverware or pictures off the walls. I’ve never had to evict a dog in the middle of the night for being drunk and disorderly, and I’ve never had a dog run out on a hotel bill.
Yes indeed, your dog is very welcome at my hotel and if your dog will vouch for you, you’re welcome to stay here, too.”
Copyright © 2015 HarperCollins Christian Publishing
My husband and I had been trying to have a third child for a while. Unfortunately, the day I was to take a home pregnancy test, he was called out of town on business. I had told our young daughters about the test, and they were excited. We decided if it was positive, we would buy a baby outfit to surprise their father when he got home. The three of us stood in the bathroom eagerly waiting for the telltale line to appear. When it did not, my thoughtful seven-year-old gave me a hug. “It’s okay, Mom,” she said. “The next time Daddy goes out of town, you can try and get pregnant again.”
Quotes about Laughter
“Laughter is wine for the soul – laughter soft, or loud and deep, tinged through with seriousness – the hilarious declaration made by man that life is worth living.”
― Seán O’Casey
“I don’t trust anyone who doesn’t laugh.”
― Maya Angelou