Are we able to see beyond our own noses?
Cheshvan 18 5780
Several words are repeated over and over in this portion Vayera – appear, see, look, to emphasize a principle for us from our Creator. Sometimes things happen to us that get us to open our eyes. Blind faith is not what the Bore Olam wants from us. It is not easy for me to believe; I even doubt my own shadow! What does it mean when the Torah says, God appeared, or we saw? We are not only material beings. Have you been able to see your thoughts or the physicality of your words? When we finally understand something, we cry out “Oh, now I see!”
These stories in the Torah are filled with meaning far beyond the literal sense. For example, there is a Midrash about the three angels, Michael meaning Who is like our God, the greatest of the angels and Gabriel from the Hebrew word gibor, the mighty one, the head of the LORD’s armies and Rafael, the healer, the physician. They show us how much the Creator cares for His people. The Midrash says that these three angels visited Abraham on the third day after his circumcision when he was in the most pain. In spite of this, in the great heat of the day, Abraham shows them the utmost hospitality. Our sages have difficulty with this portion because Abraham called his servants to kill a calf and serve them milk and butter. They try to explain the incongruencies between the Torah and their Midrashim by saying that Abraham forgot the laws of Kashrut or that it was only a dream. The Torah, however, tells us three times, twice in Exodus and once in Deuteronomy (Exodus 23:19, 34:26 and Deuteronomy 14:21) “you shall not boil a kid in its mother’s milk”. This is speaking about idolatry and mercy; it has nothing to do with the man-made laws of kashrut which has caused much division in Judaism.
This is a very difficult portion for us to understand. We saw in the last parashah that Abraham struggled greatly when Sarah forced him to get rid of Ishmael; after all, wasn’t he also his child? It is always important to understand the times in which these stories were told. For example, the Hammurabi Code stated that if you expelled a wife and child, that child could not inherit from the father. This is most probably what Abram believed in the case of Ishmael. The Creator, however, told him to listen to Sarah. How could Abraham have allowed this?
We ‘see’ that Abraham interceded for Lot who was far from righteous and for Sodom and Gomorrah, both of which had reached the ultimate level of immorality. Here, we can clearly “see’ the power of intercessory prayer through which Avraham Avinu was able to save his nephew Lot. That is why we in Judaism believe in the merits of the righteous men who went before us. But he remained silent when it came to fighting for his own two children. At the end of this portion, Abraham (according to our sages) would go through the last of his ten tests by the Creator, the “Akeda”, the binding of Isaac which he passed with flying colors.
The greatest gift that the Creator gave us is Free Will which makes us responsible for our actions. The Creator chose Abram not because of who he was, but because He knew his heart and his intentions. He saw a man who wanted to do what was right “in his generation”. Abraham was not super-human; he made many mistakes, but he always remained faithful to his calling. He was in a close relationship with the Creator and always ready to learn from Him. Anything that he was able to accomplish was because of our Creator, even when he chose wrongly and failed. This shows us how much our Creator allows us to utilize our free will and that He will always be with us despite our poor choices.
The bottom line is that we have formulated theological ideas that we hold onto instead of allowing the Creator to show us His ways. We get caught up in minutiae instead of stepping back to see the bigger picture. The key to this parashah is “appear, see, look”. He wants us to see – to understand His desires for us as human beings. The worst enemy of mankind is man himself. We are responsible for our behavior. Yes, there are evil people in the world, but the rest of humanity allows them to get away with murder by saying and doing nothing.
This portion shows us that God’s promises endure forever. We may not see them come to fruition within our lifetime, but we can know that one day they will be fulfilled. The Creator promised Abraham that he would be the father of many nations and that his seed would be a blessing to all. They knew that Isaac was the seed of the promise, yet Sarah laughed when she heard that she would be a mother at 89. How did God respond? “Is there anything impossible for the Creator?” Abraham understood this when he took Isaac to Mount Moriah to be offered up to God. When we are reassured that God will keep His promises to us, we can do whatever it takes to build our trust in the Creator. Let us put our Faith, Emunah into action, to become Trust, Bitachon as Abraham did. Believing is certainly not easy but throughout the years the Creator has shown us how real He is through our spiritual sight. I am certain that if you look back over your life, you can see how God has appeared to you in so many ways. Let us keep that in mind and in our hearts as we continue our daily walk with Him.