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Parashat Vayera 5777: Fulfilling G-d’s Promise

As Abraham sits in the opening of his tent, he sees three men coming toward him. He offers them hospitality, they accept, and as the food is prepared they ask after Sarah. One of the guests tells Abraham that when he returns a year later, he will have a son. Overhearing this, Sarah, in one of the most famous moments of Bereshit, laughs. “Is anything too wondrous for Hashem?” God, who is apparently one of the guests, responds. The focus of the scene abruptly changes, as God tells Abraham that he intends to destroy Sodom and Gomorrah. Rather than resign himself to God’s announcement, Abraham argues with God against such collective punishment. God listens and agrees not to destroy the cities if there are ten righteous people there. Two angels go to Sodom to warn Lot of the impending catastrophe; he invites them to stay, as the townspeople surround his house and demand that he surrender the guests to them for abuse and humiliation. Pleading with them not to violate his hospitality, Lot offers his daughters to the mob instead. But the angels pull Lot back inside, blinding the townspeople and protecting the daughters. Lot and his family flee as the cities are annihilated and, in one of the images that has come down through the ages, Lot’s wife turns back, becoming, by doing so, a pillar of salt. The plains are destroyed. Convinced that they are the only humans to survive the destruction of the planet, Lot’s daughters sleep with their intoxicated father in order that the human race should continue. One conceives Moab, ancestor of the Moabites (and later of Ruth), and the other Ben Ammi, ancestor of the Ammonites. Once again, Abraham tries to pass his wife off as his sister, this time to King Abimelech of Gerar. Again God protects her and Abraham and the king part amicably. As promised, Sarah conceives and bears Isaac. After an ambiguous incident, she insists that Abraham expel Hagar and Ishmael, a demand that God tells Abraham to meet. Hagar and her son move to the wilderness of Paran. Abraham and Abimelech sign a friendship pact. Now comes one of the most overwhelmingly difficult moments in the whole of the Bible. God tests Abraham, telling him to sacrifice his son, “Isaac, whom your love”. The two proceed in silence for three days until they arrive at Mount Moriah. At the top of the mountain, Abraham builds an altar, straps his son onto it, and lifts the knife to slay his son. “Abraham, Abraham”, calls an angel, interrupting him; “Hineni”, responds the patriarch, “Here I am”. The angel tells him not to harm the boy. Looking up, Abraham sees a ram caught in a nearby bush, and slaughters the ram in Isaac’s stead. In response to Abraham’s obedience to a commandment, God again promises to multiply Abraham’s descendants and to give them Eretz Yisrael. “All the nations of the earth shall bless themselves by your descendants, because you have obeyed My commands”, God tells him. Based on the Bedside Torah by Rabbi Bradley Artson

Questions for discussion 1- Why did God wait for Abraham to be in his old age to fulfil his promise to give him a child? 2- Usually Lot’s daughters are judged under a negative light, but shouldn’t we see them as heroes doing whatever is necessary to ensure human survival? 3- Who was being tested: Abraham, Isaac or God? Was the test successful? Maybe the right answer was not to obey the command and the blessings he got are “consolation prizes”?

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