Parshat Vayera

The current Torah portion is Vayera, Genesis 18:1-22:24. Abraham sits in his tent in Mamre, and he sees the three men-angels coming, and he rushes over to greet them. He is anxious to provide hospitality to them, running to tell everyone to prepare food for the guests. One of the men tells Abraham that he and Sarah would soon have a son; Sarah laughs at that idea-becoming a mother at ninety! That happens sometimes, wishing for a good thing to happen to you, but you don’t believe it would come, and you laugh at it. Abraham confronts Sarah for laughing; Sarah denies laughing, lying-she feels guilty- and Abraham says “Yes you did laugh.” It’s like she knows she did something wrong-was it not having faith in God, like Abraham did? (18:1-15)

The three visitors go off to Sodom; God tells Abraham that he planned to destroy the wicked city of Sodom and Gomorrah; Abraham pleads with God to spare the two cities from destruction, is there are a certain number of righteous people in the city-first fifty, then forty-five, forty, then finally all the way down to ten righteous people. Abraham acts like, “Please LORD, be patient with me,” as he tries to bargain with God; God allows His/Her self to be   persuaded by Abraham, apparently not anxious to carry out the plan. (18:16-33)

The two angels-what happened to the third one?-arrived at Sodom, and Lot welcomes them into this house, with the same hospitality Abraham displayed to them. All of a sudden, the men of Sodom crowd in front of Lot’s house, wanting to “be intimate” with the two visitors; why were they so excited by them? What was it about them? Lot pleads with the men not to harm the visitors, and offers his own daughters for them to do what they want with them-his own children were expendable! The men of Sodom got closer, and the visitors grabbed Lot and drug him back inside the house. What was the real sin of the men of Sodom-hatred of outsiders, of “the other,” like in the discussion about undocumented immigrants today? (19:1-11)

The visitors, now known as angels, urge Lot to take his family and evacuate the city, since the LORD was going to destroy it. His sons-in-law didn’t take the warnings seriously, and the angels drag Lot, his wife, and his two daughters outside the city, warning them not to look back. Fire rains down on Sodom and Gomorrah, and Lot’s wife does look back and turns into a pillar of salt; she looked back at the past, not the future, being frozen in the past, a form of being emotionally paralyzed. (19:12-26)

Chapter 21 deals with the birth of Isaac, which the angel-visitors promised to Sarah, even though she laughed at the idea. Sarah, seeing Hagar and Ishmael, demands that Abraham take the two of them out of the household; God tells Abraham to do as Sarah says, saying, “…it is through Isaac that offspring shall be continued for you. As for the son of the slave woman (Hagar), I will make a nation of him, too, for he is your seed.” (21:12-13) Going into the wilderness of Beer-Sheba, Hagar and Ishmael run out of water; Hagar places Ishmael under a tree and breaks down crying, thinking “let me not look on as the child dies.” God hears Hagar crying, and tells her, “What troubles you, Hagar? Fear not, for God has heeded the cry of the boy  where he is. Come, lift up the boy and hold him by the hand, for I will make a great nation of him.” Then God opens Hagar’s eyes, and she sees a well of water. (21:14-21)

Sometimes, due to circumstances, we have no choice but to make some change in our lives, such as, like Hagar and Ishmael, leaving a  bad but familiar domestic situation and striking out on your own. There would be rinks along the way, such as Hagar running out of water, and then you fall into despair; God, however, reassures Hagar that a great future lies in store for Ishmael, who is the legendary father of the Arab peoples.

Chapter 22 is one of the most frightening parts of the Torah, the binding of Isaac, where Abraham, hears God telling him to sacrifice his son, who was to be his heir. Along the way, Isaac asks his father about the sacrificial animal, and Abraham replies, “God will see to the sheep for His burnt offering, my son.” (22:1-8) Isaac must have thought, “what’s going on here, where’s the lamb to be sacrificed?” And what was Abraham thinking, getting ready to make a burnt offering of his own flesh and blood? History is full of people who are ready to have their own children killed, or other wise find expendable, for the sake of some belief-I see a parallel to Lot offering his daughters to the howling mobs in Sodom to be raped.