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Vayera

Genesis 21:1-22:24 (Plaut p.132; Hertz p.71)

Haftarah Second Kings 4:1-37 (Plaut p.149; Hertz p.76)

Parashat Vayera includes the well-known report of Abraham’s plea to God to save the lives of the inhabitants of Sodom and Gomorrah. While the effort that Abraham is prepared to invest in order to save these two wicked cities may be considered admirable, one cannot help but notice the sharp contrast between his actions here and the way he behaves later in our parashah. As our parashah draws to a close, we read how Hagar and Ishmael are expelled without mercy; Abraham protests but obeys Sarah’s words as God instructs him. However, in the next chapter, Abraham takes his son Yitzchak to sacrifice him on Mount Moriah, responding to God’s call without protest. Where is the fighter for human rights who earlier exclaimed, “Will You sweep away the innocent along with the guilty?” Why is Abraham prepared to set aside ethical considerations, and just obey orders?

Torah often confronts us with hard-to-understand situations, or even those, which are unacceptable to us. Perhaps it would be easier, if we could re-write or edit the text in order to get a book, which would be easier to grasp. Torah is not a pleasant novel that we can read in the evening in bed. I think the opposite is true. Torah holds up a mirror to what we see our real lives, positive and negative, ups and downs. Torah presents us role models we can identify or disagree with, and challenges to struggle against. Torah wants us to grow in a world, which needs perfection, developing options for us showing how human beings might create a more just society. But sometimes the Torah also makes us wonder or feel uncomfortable while studying the text. We learn that the guide laid out by the Torah isn’t enough to change things. We need to think critically about what happens in the Torah, as it reflects what is going on around us. We need to think for ourselves, make up our minds; only after thorough reflection, should we act.

Do I think Abraham was a problematic figure? Yes, I think he made some very problematic choices in his life. I wish he had been more sensitive to his wife and family. It seems to me that it was much easier for him to “save the world” than to deal with his own family. A NETZER principle says: “Before Tikkun Olam comes Tikkun Atzmi”, teaching us that we should start local, with ourselves, and the closest to us, before we can make the next step. Otherwise, there is a good chance that we will lose contact with those who keep us grounded, or that we will become some kind of slaves to our own mission, following principles without understanding what is behind them, obeying orders without fully considering the broader impact of our deeds.