April 13, 2024 |

Parshat Vayera: Walkthrough

Loyalty to the literal text, with a modern voice.

(Recall, at the end of last week’s Parsha, 99-year-old Avraham has circumcised himself, Ishmael, and every other man in sight.)

So God appears to Avraham as he was at the front door of his tent in the middle of the day: Avraham looks up and what do you know – there are 3 men standing there. He ran to greet them, saying “Gentlemen – please stick around! Take a shower, have a drink, take a rest, and in the meantime I’ll make you something to eat.” “Yes – what you just said.” they replied.

Avraham made them a big meal and the men ate. They then asked him “Where is your wife Sarah?” “In the tent,” Avraham replied. Then one of them said, “I will return next year, and your wife Sarah will have a son.” (Sarah was listening out of sight).

Now Avaraham and Sarah were old, long past their years of fertility. So Sarah laughed inside, thinking “My old man husband and his past-her-prime wife are gonna have a baby?”

Then God chimed in and said directly to Araham, “Why is Sarah laughing? Is there anything that is beyond My abilities? You’ll see -- I’ll be back in a year and Sarah will have a son.”

Then Sarah said, “I did not laugh! I was just scared.” Said God, “No, you laughed.”

From there the men started heading to Sodom. God mused, “Should I be keeping secrets from Avraham? He’s the one who will father a great nation and teach them all how to be charitable and just as I am...”

God then said, “Sodom & Amorah have gotten truly awful. Let me go see if it’s as bad as I hear – if so I’ll destroy it, and if not, at least I’ll know.” And the men went to Sodom as Avraham continued his conversation with God.

Avraham then continues to establish the idea that if there are as few as 50 righteous people, God will not destroy Sodom. “How about 45”, he asks. And so on and so forth, politley but firmly, Avraham negotiates God down to 10 righteous people.

The two angels (formerly 3 men) get to Sodom, where Lot welcomes them as his uncle Avraham did, but they decline politely, preferring to sleep in the street. Lot insists, and they give in. Luckily, since they hadn’t even finished dinner when the locals surround the house. “Send your guests out, we’d like to get to know them a bit”, said the friendly neighborhood Sodomites.

“No, please don’t touch my guests!” implores Lot, winning some points with the reader. “Take my two innocent daughters instead!” suggest Lot, immediately losing said points. “Hey the new guy on the bloc is suddenly telling us what’s right & wrong? We’ll do worse to you than we were gonna do to them!”

Just in time, Lot’s guests yank him inside and blind the angry mob, slowing them down. If there was any doubt, the fate of Sodom has been sealed, and the men dragged Lot, his wife, and his two daughters kicking & screaming from the city. “Run for your lives, and don’t look back!” instructs God. Lot gets to safety, and God rains fire & brimstone down on Sodom and totally upends Sodom & the neighboring cities.

PS: Lot’s wife DID look back, and she turned into a pillar of salt.

The next morning Avraham woke up to survey the scene (remember from when he & Lot parted ways, he was able to see the whole Jordan valley from the land he chose for his flocks), and it was utter destruction. The fact that God saved Lot & his family at all was a personal favor to Avraham.

Back to the story: A panicked Lot flees the city where he sought refuge and heads for the hills. His older daughter suggests to the younger that since their father is old and the entire planet has apparently been wiped out, the only way to propagate the species would be to get their father drunk and sleep with him (remember, these girls grew up in Sodom). So they each take one night, with Lot too drunk to understand what was going on (remember, HE just saw his wife turn into salt). They both got pregnant, eventually naming the children Moav and Amon. (This is the linguistic equivalent of “Daddy’s Boy” and “All In The Family”, leaving little doubt as to THEIR conception story.)

Avraham then moved south back to the Negev, to Grar. Again, he tries telling the locals that Sarah is his sister, and again, the king (Avimelech) takes her. And again, God tells Avimelech who she really is, and suggests that he get back in Avraham’s good graces. Avimelech protests to Avraham that he took Sarah not knowing about the wife thing. “What were you thinking?” he asked.

“Well,” said Avraham, “People here have no fear of God. Besides, it’s not REALLY a lie, since she is my half-sister. And I asked her when we started this whole ‘Leave your father’s house for the land I will show you’ thing (cf Parshat Lech Lecha) if she would just do that one thing for me, to emphasize the sister part over the wife part;”

So once again Avraham makes out with much livestock & property, and God backs off Avimelech.

Now God had remembered Sarah, and did what He promised. It was a boy, exactly when God said he’d be born. Avraham named this boy Isaac, child of both him and Sarah. At 100 years old and 8 days after Isaac was born, Isaac gets circumcised, as God commanded.

They had a party when Isaac finished nursing, and Sarah saw Ishmael making trouble. She told Avraham to evict both him & his mother, which angered Avraham, since this was after all his son as well.

“Don’t be angry,” God told him. “Ishmael will also be a great nation, but listen to your wife on this one.”

Avraham obligingly set aside supplies and sent Hagar and Ishmael on their way. They got as far as the desert around Beersheva when they ran out of water. Hagar distanced herself from her son so as not to watch him die of thirst, but God tells her that He has heard Ishmael’s cries, and that he will be a great nation. He opens Hagar’s eyes (she may have been delirious with fear, so much so as to miss what was right before her), and she sees a well, which saves their lives. He grows up and marries an Egyptian woman.

At that time, Avraham tells Avimelech that his people are stealing wells that he had dug – the two of them get together and sign a treaty in which Avraham gives Avimelech 7 sheep, which by accepting them Avimelech acknowledges that the well was in fact dug by Avraham. The “well of the 7” was then called Beersheva.

And so it was, after all this, the Lord tests Avraham, saying “Take your son, your only son, your beloved Isaac, and ‘lech lecha’, head out to the Land of Moriah, and offer him up as a burnt offering on one of the mountains.”

Without a word, Avraham wakes up early in the morning and begins the journey, As they get close to the place, he has Isaac carry the wood. Isaac asks, “We have all the equipment, but where is the lamb?” Avraham replied cryptically: “God will see for himself, my son, the sacrifice.” And still they continued on.

When they finally arrive, Avraham builds the altar and binds his son, and as he’s about to
slaughter his son, an angel calls to him from heaven: “Do not harm the boy – I now know you fear God, that you would go even this far for me.” Avraham looks up and sees a ram caught by its horns in the bushes, and sacrifices the ram instead. And he calls the place by the same name that they use “today” to refer to the place where people go for the three annual pilgrimages.

God then repeats once again his promise of great numbers of descendants who will inherit the land to Avraham, who returns to Beersheva.

And setting the stage for next week: Avraham’s brother Nachor has 8 children (first cousins to Isaac), one of whom is named Betuel, who then has a daughter named Rivka.


Jack Kustanowitz

Joined: July 15, 2007

Jack is an Internet professional living in Silver Spring, MD. He is a proud alum of the Frisch School in Paramus, NJ as well as Boston University, where he was active at BU Hillel.

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