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There is a commandment given to Israel that once every 7 years, during the Festival of Sukkot, they should assemble ALL the people to hear the Torah read to them. (Deuteronomy 31:10-12). Chazal (a Hebrew acronym that means, “our sages of blessed memory”) instituted a continuous cycle of reading the Torah. They defined weekly sections so that Jews would be reading and hearing Torah every single week and complete the 5 Books of Moses in a set time. The teachers I learned under taught me to follow the yearly Torah cycle and I discovered that Chabad divides their Torah study into daily aliyot. When the Torah portion is read in its entirety on Shabbat in the synagogue, there are seven sections, seven aliyot. The Chabad tradition is to study one aliyah each day, starting Sunday and going through to Shabbat. One who does this can get a double dose of the same Torah Portion each week.
Additionally, the Ashkenazic and Sepharidc, that is Eastern European and Spanish or Iberian Peninsula communities sometime differ on how they divide the Torah Portions.
It’s time to explore Torah Portion Vayera, aliyah by aliyah.
VAYERA – GENESIS 18:1-22:24
Aliyah 1 – Genesis 18:1-14
18:1 HaShem appeared to Avraham by the oaks of Mamre as he sat at the entrance to the tent during the heat of the day.
[18:1] This almost implies that HaShem was just visiting Abraham, like one visits a sick or injured person. Is this shortly after the circumcision?
18:2 He raised his eyes and looked, and there in front of him stood three men. On seeing them, he ran from the tent door to meet them, prostrated himself on the ground,
[18:2] Does Avraham turn away from the Most High to attend to these men? Is it OK for him to prostrate himself before this man? Is that a cultural gesture and not an act of worship?
18:3 and said, “My lord, if I have found favor in your sight, please don’t leave your servant.
[18:3] Does it feel strange that Abraham is calling these men, or more likely, one of these men “lord?” The CJB uses a lower-case L, that suggests to me that it isn’t the circumlocution LORD, but rather Avraham is humbling himself and calling this apparent man “lord” out of deference and hospitality. It reflects a radically different culture from mine.
18:5 and I will bring a piece of bread. Now that you have come to your servant, refresh yourselves before going on.” “Very well,” they replied, “do what you have said.”
[18:5] I find it odd that these so-called men are shown to respond all as one. The verse here doesn’t make one of them prominent or easily identifiable in any clear way. They almost come across as a collective or hive mind.
18:10 He said, “I will certainly return to you around this time next year, and Sarah your wife will have a son.” Sarah heard him from the entrance of the tent, behind him.
[18:10] When one of these so-called men predicts the birth of Isaac, he isn’t treated in any way that would make him seem significant. It is quite odd.
18:11 Avraham and Sarah were old, advanced in years; Sarah was past the age of childbearing.
[18:11] HaShem can easily bring life where there is none. That is how we are all here today, afterall.
18:12 So Sarah laughed to herself, thinking, “I am old, and so is my lord; am I to have pleasure again?”
[18:12] This laughter is so human and so reasonable. I love that it is included here. Keep in mind that it has been 25 years since Abraham was promised he would be blessed with a son and that he and Sarah had been married for some time before then. They were already 65 and 75 when the left Ur, Avraham being the elder.
18:13 HaShem said to Avraham, “Why did Sarah laugh and ask, ‘Am I really going to bear a child when I am so old?’
[18:13] All of a sudden, HaShem is in the picture again. This verse definitely makes it seem like one of the men is HaShem in a human form.
18:14 Is anything too hard for HaShem? At the time set for it, at this season next year, I will return to you; and Sarah will have a son.”
[18:14] HaShem has lead Avraham and his men to victory over the army of the Four Kings, He saved Sarai from Pharaoh and blessed Avram through it and He has sustained and lead them on this journey so far. He has not shown all of His might yet. Sarah and Avraham are still learning who HaShem is and what he can do.
Aliyah 2 – Genesis 18:15-33
18:19 For I have made myself known to him, so that he will give orders to his children and to his household after him to keep the way of HaShem and to do what is right and just, so that HaShem may bring about for Avraham what he has promised him.”
[18:19] Last week I asked why Avram was chosen. Is this the answer to that question? HaShem says that He knows that Avraham will order his children to do what is just and right and to follow after HaShem. He knows because He knows all, for all time. But what about Avraham? Does he know? Does he know that he will be able to keep his children on the right path? How does he do it? What is the method that ensures obedience to right and wrong and continuing to follow after HaShem? I’d like to know so I can use it with my children and my grandchildren after them.
Aliyah 3 – Genesis 19:1-20
19:9 “Stand back!” they replied. “This guy came to live here, and now he’s decided to play judge. For that we’ll deal worse with you than with them!” Then they crowded in on Lot, in order to get close enough to break down the door.
[19:9] There is much more going on here than the text tells us. What was going on in this town? This doesn’t feel like hedonism to me. The men of the town don’t seem to be interested in sexual pleasure, especially because they seem to threaten to rape Lot and do worse to him than they wanted to do to the angels. What does that mean? What could that mean? Had they raped Lot before? How long had he lived there? How had he protected his virgin daughters before then? Why did his other daughters wish to marry Sodomites? Were Lot’s sons-in-law from Sodom, or were they from his herdsmen?
Aliyah 4 – Genesis 19:21-21:4
20:6 G-d said to him in the dream, “Yes, I know that in doing this, your heart has been pure; and I too have kept you from sinning against me. This is why I didn’t let you touch her.
[20:6] What a fascinating exchange. First, I find it interesting that HaShem speaks to this godless, or rather idolatrous king. Second, I find it interesting that HaShem affirms that Avimelekh pure in his intentions. Having multiple wives was permissible even under the Torah, so it seems that there was nothing inherently sinful in Avimelekh desiring to add Sarah to his Household. Perhaps he wanted to take her as a wife because she was so beautiful. Perhaps he simply desired her as a concubine. I believe she is 89 or 90 at this time, as Isaac is soon to be conceived. Obviously he felt enough desire to have Sarah that he took him to himself. I find it strange that he restrained himself, but that leads to my next observation. Third, despite the fact that Avimelekh’s heart was pure, HaShem prevented him from transgressing unbeknownst to him. I guess that is something that can happen. Does HaShem allow people to sin, but then stop them from sinning at times? I don’t think HaShem would make someone sin, that doesn’t seem right or just at all. What about Pharaoh’s hard heart in the Exodus account? We’ll get to that later.
Aliyah 5 – Genesis 21:5-21
21:15 When the water in the skin was gone, she left the child under a bush, 16 and went and sat down, looking the other way, about a bow-shot’s distance from him; because she said, “I can’t bear to watch my child die.” So she sat there, looking the other way, crying out and weeping.
[21:15-16] When is a boy no longer a boy? Ishmael was circumcised at 13. I believe it was one year later that Isaac was born. Weaning likely took place between 2 and 3 years of age at that time, which means Ishmael should have been 16 or 17 years old during this account. It strikes me as odd that he seems so tender and that Hagar feels so much more resilient than her son. Was Ishmael sheltered? Was she one tough lady? Why was he described in such unmanly terms?
Aliyah 6 – Genesis 21:22-34
21:22 At that time Avimelekh and Pikhol the commander of his army spoke to Avraham. They said, “G-d is with you in everything you do. 23 Therefore, swear to me here by G-d that you will never deal falsely with me or with my son or grandson; but according to the kindness with which I have treated you, you will treat me and the land in which you have lived as a foreigner. 24 Avraham said, “I swear it.”
[21:22-24] Avraham had 318 men with him at last count from about 15 years prior to this. They did defeat the Four Kings. Still it strikes me as almost preposterous that a king with an army and a commander over it would need to make a peace oath with a 100 year-old wandering shepherd. Think about what a miracle it is and what a sanctification of the name it is that through HaShem’s might and blessing, a single man would be of account to a king and his army. Glory be to the Almighty!
Aliyah 7 – Genesis 22:1-24
22:18 and by your descendants all the nations of the earth will be blessed — because you obeyed my order.”
[22:18] This made me think, “faith without works is dead,” so I decided to look up the passage with some context.
14 What good is it, my brothers, if someone claims to have faith but has no actions to prove it? Is such “faith” able to save him? 15 Suppose a brother or sister is without clothes and daily food, 16 and someone says to him, “Shalom! Keep warm and eat hearty!” without giving him what he needs, what good does it do? 17 Thus, faith by itself, unaccompanied by actions, is dead.
18 But someone will say that you have faith and I have actions. Show me this faith of yours without the actions, and I will show you my faith by my actions! 19 You believe that “G-d is one”? Good for you! The demons believe it too — the thought makes them shudder with fear!20 But, foolish fellow, do you want to be shown that such “faith” apart from actions is barren? 21 Wasn’t Avraham avinu declared righteous because of actions when he offered up his son Yitz’chak on the altar? 22 You see that his faith worked with his actions; by the actions the faith was made complete; 23 and the passage of the Tanakh was fulfilled which says, “Avraham had faith in G-d, and it was credited to his account as righteousness.” He was even called G-d’s friend. 24 You see that a person is declared righteous because of actions and not because of faith alone.
That concludes my journey through Vayera for the year 5782.
I hope these words have been a blessing to you.
May our Heavenly Father give you peace and joy.
This is Matthew and I am Walking In Liberty.