131019 – Parshat VaYera

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Yerushalayim 01

Rabbi Yosil Rosenzweig

rebyosil@gmail.com

PARSHAT VA’YERA

Bereishit (Genesis) 18:1-22:24

Haftorah – II Kings 40:1-37

131019

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This week we read about some incidents in the life of Avraham and Sarah. The Parsha begins with three messengers (angels, each with a specific task) who visited our patriarch Avraham after his painful circumcision. The three messengers were: Micha’el – who informed Avraham and Sarah that they would have a son; Gavri’el whose task was to destroy the provinces of Sodom and Gomorrah; and Refa’el – whose purpose was to heal Avraham after his circumcision (and to save his nephew Lot). Lot is an interesting character, full of contradictions, very much like us and is never included among all the great Jewish heroes and role models.

We talk about the loving-kindness of Avraham; we name our children after him. Yet, don’t we most resemble Lot? In the great travels of our Patriarch and his family, we find that when Avram came to Canaan from Haran, the Torah says: “And Avram took his wife Sarai, and Lot his brother’s son and all the wealth that he had amassed…­” (Bereishit 12:5). And, when Avram returned to Canaan from Egypt after the famine, the Torah says 13:1: “So Avram went up from Egypt, he and his wife and all that was his and Lot with him…” ­Prof. Nechama Leibowitz z”l (Zichrona LiVracha – may she be remembered for a blessing), teaches that in this second verse, Lot is mentioned after all the possessions. The wealth and materialism of Egypt had so affected Lot that he was a changed man. For Lot, possessions meant more than people.

When the family returns from Egypt, Lot, the materialistic nephew, chooses to live in Sodom, where the living is high and the morality low. Avraham comes to Canaan for a new life; Lot comes for profit. Avraham wants a better way of life, but Lot wants a better standard of living. Avraham wants a society based upon what would become Torah‘s values; but Sodom fulfills Lot’s purposes.

Last week’s Parsha described a war between four kings and five kings, during which Lot was taken captive and his possessions were confiscated. Avraham was obligated to rescue his kinsman and nephew Lot, which he did. Did Lot learn from his loss and his rescue? No. He went back to Sodom, and the evil people of Sodom once again affected him. As misguided as Lot appears to us, HaShem thought that Lot should be saved. HaShem sent a messenger (an angel) in the guise of a traveler to save Lot and his family from the destruction of Sodom. Lot trying to be virtuous offers his daughters to the Sodomites so that they would be distracted and not take away his guests.

Another episode in this Parsha deals with Avraham passing through the territory of AviMelech, king of Gerar. Once again, Avraham and Sarah find themselves in hostile territory. Avraham was aware of AviMelech’s strange practice. Like Pharaoh in Egypt, AviMelech, king of Gerar, sought beautiful women for himself. But, just as Pharaoh would never consider taking another man’s wife, AviMelech would have the husband murdered and then force his affections on the widow.

HaShem intervened and Sarah was saved from dishonor. But like Pharaoh, AviMelech is repulsed by Avraham’s cowardly behavior when he lied and pretended to be Sarah’s brother. “Therefore AviMelech rose early in the morning, and called all his servants, and told all these things in their ears; and the men were very afraid: Then AviMelech called Avraham, and said to him, What have you done to us? And in what have I offended you that you have brought on me and on my kingdom a great sin? You have done deeds to me that ought not to be done: And AviMelech said to Avraham, What did you see, that you have done this thing: And Avraham said, Because I thought, surely the fear of HaShem is not in this place; and they will slay me for my wife’s sake” (Bereishit 20:8-12).

AviMelech, a civilized man (according to his standards) wanted to know how Avraham could have done such a thing to him. He was angry, HaShem had rebuked him and he lost honor among his people. Avraham replied: “Because I thought, surely the fear of HaShem is not in this place.” Neither Sodom nor Gerar were places that were conducive to the moral lifestyle that Avraham wanted for his family.

The wrong friends sometimes influence us; we choose neighborhoods, schools and choose our priorities as responses to the wrong signals. At times, we exploit our relationships with others, even though we might have great role models who teach us otherwise. Even if we don’t have someone like Avraham as a role-model, we still have many Torah leaders who are living role models in our time. Do we exemplify their lives, or do we choose the values of those living around us?

HaShem redeemed Lot because HaShem knew that with all his foibles, Lot was redeemable. Despite his mistakes and misdeeds, his pride and selfishness, he was basically a decent fellow. He lived in Sodom, he was becoming part of Sodom, but he wasn’t really happy about it. His redeeming grace was that he knew something was wrong. As warped a community as Sodom was, Avraham always remained an uncle and role-model for Lot.

We don’t have an uncle like Avraham, but we do have something even better – the Torah. It is a reminder to us every day of how we should behave and how we should react to outside influences.

We learn from Avraham pleading with HaShem to save Sodom (18: 20-33) that without a Minyan (a quorum of 10 a minimum group necessary to establish a Torah society), Lot could not survive the moral Galut (exile) of Sodom. But we, who have Shuls (synagogues), communities, and the ability to connect to holiness and to purity, sometimes like Lot, choose the wrong society. The Torah tells us that like Lot we too ARE worthy of redemption. But when we are told to leave Sodom and its ways, do we listen? We can read the message; but do we believe the words? We know the story; but do we react as we should react?

In Yeshiva high School I had a Rebbe asked: “If the Torah contains the laws of the Jewish people, then why are there so many stories?” He answered that often we learn more from the stories because they provide us with an example on how to live a life of Torah.

With G-d’s help, may we muster the strength to improve our lot, just like Lot did.

Shabbat Shalom,

Reb Yosil

1 Comment (+add yours?)

  1. Keli Leeba
    Oct 20, 2013 @ 10:07:53

    Thank you for the practical advice. I enjoy reading what you write while I prepare for Shabbat.
    I hope this finds you well, Reb Yosil.
    Keli

    Reply

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