Vayeira (Genesis 18:1 – 22:24)

(2016 comments, lightly edited) 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 overhears and laughs incredulously since Abraham is 99 and she’s 89. 

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 some decent people there, so he bargains with God, who agrees not to destroy the city if there are a mere 10 innocents.  There aren’t. 

Nephew Lot lives in Sodom. Like his uncle, he 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; their children are the progenitors of the nations of Moab and Ammon.

Then Abraham pulls that “but Sarah’s my sister” trick again, this time on Abimelech. Abraham excuses the ruse by saying he and Sarah have the same father, so she is his (half-)sister as well as wife. Abimelech sends them on their way enriched with livestock, slaves, and money, and 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.

Finally, 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 is about to kill his son when he is stopped by an angel, now that 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 his traumatized son went at that time.

The episodes of Sodom and the Akedah 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 Joshua 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

Shabbat shalom,


I stumbled upon a really neat source for essays interpreting each Torah portion,  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?


tph isaac and the comma 2


tph sodomandgomorrah_weatherreport


Hotel Jokes

I had to leave the hotel earlier when two grand masters arrived and started talking about their best tournaments. I can’t stand chess nut boasting in an open foyer.

A photon checks into a hotel and is asked if he needs any help with his luggage. “No, I’m travelling light.”

Stayed in a posh hotel with towels so thick I could barely shut my suitcase.

Stayed in an Elvis themed hotel. The restaurant is for people who Love Meat Tender.


Pregnancy Tweets

From Zoe vs. the Universe @zoevsuniverse
4-yr-old saw picture of me pregnant.

I explain that she was inside me.
She thought for a bit then said: “I never want to do that again.”

From Sweatpants Cher @House_Feminist
Yelp review for pregnancy:

1/5 stars
Took way too long
Super uncomfortable & crowded
Aesthetically just very bad
No alcohol

From MyQuestionableLife  @2questionable
Some days I want to time travel back to pregnant me and whisper, “Go take a nap.  This is your last chance!”


Quotes about Laughter

We need more kindness, more compassion, more joy, more laughter. I definitely want to contribute to that. Ellen DeGeneres

The human race has one really effective weapon, and that is laughter. Mark Twain

Laughter and tears are both responses to frustration and exhaustion. I myself prefer to laugh, since there is less cleaning up to do afterward. Kurt Vonnegut

From the moment I picked your book up until I laid it down, I was convulsed with laughter. Someday I intend reading it. Groucho Marx

I believe there is a direct correlation between love and laughter. Yakov Smirnoff


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