Weekly Reading Insights

Vayera 5763

Overview of the Weekly Reading: VaYera
To be read on 20 Mar Cheshvan 5763 (Oct.26)

Torah: Genesis 18:1-22:24
Haftorah: Kings II 4:1-37(because of v.22, similar to the angels' promise to Avraham)

Stats:VaYera, 4th out of 12 in Genesis, contains 0 positive mitzvot and 0 prohibitive mitzvot.
It is written on 252 lines in a parchment Torah scroll, 5th out of 54 in overall length.

Avraham interrupted a conversation with G-d to run and offer three people walking by a rest stop and food. They were angels from G-d, who told him that Sarah would have a son next year, and that G-d was about to wipe out Sodom. Avraham prayed for the people there. The messengers continued to Sodom, and were invited home by Lot. They told Lot to flee with his family, and not to look back. They ran, but his wife looked back and became a pillar of salt. The five cities were destroyed. Lot and his two daughters moved into a cave. Thinking they were sole survivors in the world, the daughters got their father drunk and had his sons.

Avraham visited Gerar, announcing that Sarah was his sister. The king Avimelech took her, but G-d told him in a dream that she was already married and that he must return her to her husband. Sarah gave birth to Yitzchak, whom Avraham circumcised when he was eight days old. Avraham sent Hagar and Yishmael away, as Sarah did not want Yitzchak to share his inheritance. G-d promised Hagar that Yishmael would also become a great nation. Avraham and Avimelech made an oath regarding the well which Avraham had dug, and a peace treaty. G-d tested Avraham and told him to bring his son Yitzchak as an offering. At the last moment a voice from heaven stopped him, telling him that he had proved his faith. Avraham offered a ram instead. G-d blessed him that he would have many descendants.


"Abraham drew near." (18:3)

Rashi notes that Abraham approached G-d "to speak [with Him] in a harsh manner," to plead that He change His mind and not destroy Sodom. Abraham, the epitome of loving-kindness, nonetheless saw fit to go against his natural inclination and "speak harshly" with G-d! We learn from this that when it comes to saving lives, either literally or in the spiritual sense, a Jew must pull out all the stops and do all in his power, even if it goes against his very nature.

(Likrat Shabbat)



Selected with permission and adapted from the three-volume English edition of
Shney Luchot HaBrit -- the Sh'lah, as translated, condensed, and annotated by Eliyahu Munk.
Rabbi Isaiah Horowitz (1565-1630), known as the 'Sh'lah' - an acronym of the title, was born in Prague. A scholar of outstanding reputation, he served as chief Rabbi of Cracow, and more famously, of Frankfort (1610-1620). After his first wife passed away, he remarried and moved to Israel in 1621, where he became the first Chief Ashkenazi Rabbi of Jerusalem. He later moved to Tiberias, where he is buried, near the tomb of the Rambam.

"G-d appeared to Abraham in the Plains of Mamre while he was sitting at the entrance of the tent in the hottest part of the day.” (18:1).

Since it had been Mamre who had advised Abraham on the matter of his circumcision, he is mentioned here, and G-d appeared to Abraham on his land. Many people ask how it was possible that Abraham should have consulted with this man about such a question. None of the answers that I have seen have satisfied me. I consider it blasphemous for someone to suggest that Abraham made the performance of the commandment subject to Mamre’s advice. All Abraham could have done was to consult with Mamre on how to perform this commandment, since he had also been commanded to circumcise Ishmael and all the members of his household. There was always the chance that members of Abraham’s household would refuse to undergo the operation. We have proof of this from Ishmael’s boast that he had not refused. Abraham therefore consulted how best to convince all parties concerned to comply with G-d's command. The moral lesson to be learned from this is that when one is instructed to fulfill a certain mitzvah, one should consult with a qualified person how best to fulfill it.

Abraham already observed all the mitzvoth of the Torah before they were obligatory. He knew that the mitzvah of circumcision would be commanded sooner or later. He consulted with Mamre whether he should perform this mitzvah prior to being commanded, since unlike other mitzvoth, this one could only be performed once in his lifetime, and, as it turns out, is a commandment which very much hinges on performance on time, i.e. milah bizmanah. The optimal way of performing this commandment is at the appropriate time.

An essay from Rabbi Shaul Yosef Leiter, director of Ascent

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(W:04-63 VaYera)

This week's parsha begins with Avraham welcoming guests, who are, in fact, messenger angels. The Talmud writes that taking in guests-hachnasat orchim-is "greater than receiving the Divine Presence" (Shabbat 127a), and we see that Avraham interrupted a revelation from G-d in order to invite passers-by to his home.
The Ba'al Shem Tov writes that the word guest- oray'ach (aleph-vav-reish-chet) can be broken into two: aleph-vav-reish spelling or (light) and the letter 'chet'. Kabbalistically speaking, the letter 'chet' corresponds with the attribute of binah, understanding. This is because binah is the 8th attribute (the numeric equivalent of the letter chet) in the order of the sfirot if you start from the bottom up. Binah indicates expansion, illumination, the source of all influences and salvation-the source of all blessing. When we welcome guests in our home, we do them a kindness; but even greater, this mitzvah opens up the spiritual source of blessings for our home.

"G-d (revealed himself) to him (Avraham) b(in)'Ailonay Momray". The initials of these four consecutive Hebrew words correspond to the four kingdoms who exiled the Jewish people: aleph/Edom (Rome); yud/Yavan (Greece); bet/Bavel (Babylonia); mem/Madai (Medea). G-d was revealing the future exiles of the Jewish people to our forefather, Avraham, and giving him an opportunity to pray on behalf of his descendents and directions as to how to bring salvation from the exile (from Migaleh Amukot and Toldot Noach).

Divrei Elimelech asks, how could it be that in the midst of this prophecy, Avraham asks G-d to wait while he invites guests into his home? How could Avraham interrupt G-d on the grounds of being hospitable? Surely, one would not interrupt a meeting with a very important person in order to speak to 'simple folk'; how much more so when speaking to G-d Himself! An analogy can answer this question: This is likened to a son who wants his father to come visit. Of course, a father is much happier to see his son when the son is joyous than when his son is distressed and unhappy. Therefore, the son will choose a time for the visit when he is an appropriate mood. This way the son redoubles his father's joy in visiting his son. About what was Avraham so distressed that he wanted to postpone his conversation with G-d?

Every Jew is connected to Avraham, and his deeds affect his descendents forever. G-d's revelation of the difficult future exiles of the Jews was very upsetting to Avraham. Avraham was the embodiment of the attribute of kindness, chesed. He wanted kindness to be drawn into those years of exile in order to "sweeten the severity," empowering the Jews to persevere. When the guests arrived in the midst of the revelation, Avraham deduced that they were connected to the issue, and the key to helping his descendents in their exiles.

Therefore, Avraham excused himself from his conversation with G-d. By taking care of his guests, and asking them to bless G-d for providing their needs, he brought chesed into the times of exile. His disposition soon changed to one of great enthusiasm upon tending to his guests. Avraham was relieved and happy to know that his descendents would experience chesed even under the burdens of exile. Through the joy of attaining his goal, Avraham knew he would be better prepared to finish his discussion. G-d certainly would prefer to see his child in a happy frame of mind than the opposite. This is as it says (Psalm 101) "Serve G-d with joy; come before him with joy"-be happy, and then approach G-d.

May we merit to serve G-d and connect to Him-and may we do so amidst happiness, thereby increasing His joy in us. May we experience the chesed of the END of the exiles with the redemption, NOW!

Shabbat Shalom, Shaul Leiter

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