Numbers in [square brackets] are the Mitzva-Count from Sefer HaChinuch.
Kohen – First Aliya – 14 p’sukim – 18:1-14
And G-d appeared to him (Avraham) [SDT] The use of the pronoun “him” rather than using the name Avraham is significant. EILAV (to him) refers us back to the previous parsha – Avraham’s circumcision, indicating that the purpose of G-d’s appearing to Avraham was Bikur Cholim, visiting the sick. Furthermore, the fact that the Torah does not indicate that G-d said anything to Avraham at this “appearance”, tells us that He had another purpose, viz. Bikur Cholim. He is sitting at the entrance of his tent (watching for travelers to welcome) in the heat of the day.
[SDT] It was unnaturally hot; that was G-d’s doing, to spare Avraham the bother of visitors. However, Avraham is distressed by the absence of visitors, so G-d sends three angels to him in the guise of wayfarers. This can teach us something about how to behave towards the elderly and infirm. Sometimes, we insist that they rest or tell them what “conventional wisdom” says is good or bad for them. But each person is an individual. Calm, peaceful retirement works well for many older people. But not for everyone. Bed rest and taking things easy is a helpful formula for SOME recovering invalids. But not all. G-d, so to speak, first felt that Avraham needed rest. He then “realized” that in Avraham’s case, his special activity of Hachnasat Orchim, hospitality, was a far better treatment for what ailed him, than resting.
Avraham sees the three “men” and runs to greet them, after asking G-d to wait for him (so to speak). (From here we are taught the greatness of the mitzva of Hachnasat Orchim.)
This is one of the ways to interpret the pasuk – that ADO-NAI means G-d, and that Avraham was addressing Him. ADONAI can also mean “my sirs”, in which case Avraham could have been speaking to the men/angels. Each possibility causes minor awkwardness in the flow of the p’sukim. The word is considered holy (meaning the first opinion prevails), and Sofrim write it with the Kavana for G-d’s name, but some say that one should use a conditional “sanctification”.
[SDT] “Speak little, but do much.” This maxim from Pirkei Avot is manifest in Avraham Avinu. He offers the angels a bit of water and some bread, but in fact prepares for them (with the help of Sara and Yishmael) a sumptuous meal. The Mishna states that Avraham’s meal for the strangers was proportionally greater than the feast of Shlomo HaMelech in celebration of the building of the Beit HaMikdash. Avraham and Sarah are the ultimate models for hospitality, one of the hallmarks of the Jewish People.
One of the angels informs Avraham of the pending birth of Yitzchak. Sara’s reaction is to laugh (a slight doubt in the ability of a 100 year old to father a child and of a 90 year old woman to give birth). G-d asks Avraham why Sara would doubt His ability to permit an old woman to conceive.
[SDT] Rabbi Yehuda says in the name of Rav (Bava M’tzi’a): What Avraham did for his guests by himself, G-d did for the People of Israel by Himself; what Avraham did via another, G-d did likewise. Avraham said: YUKACH NA M’AT MAYIM. Rashi explains the strange grammatical form by saying that Avraham did not provided the water to the stangers himself (it does not say K’CHU…) So too, when G-d was to provide water to Avraham’s descendants, He commanded Moshe Rabeinu to throw the stick into the water, to strike the rock, to speak to the rock. But Avraham fed the angels himself – “and I will get the bread, etc.” When G-d needed to feed the People,He provided us with Manna. Moshe did not bring it about. G-d gave it straight to the People.
[SDT] attributed to the Admor of Modzitz. Rashi teaches us the famous lesson from Avraham’s behavior that “Hospitality is greater than greeting the Divine Presence”. Maybe it isn’t greater, maybe they are equal? No. In Kiddush L’vana we quote Rabbi Yishmael as saying that if we had only one opportunity in a month to greet the Sh’china, it would be sufficient. If Hachnasat Orchim were equal, then one act of hospitality a month would suffice. But it isn’t. Hospitality is a constant ongoing mitzva. Hence it is greater than Kabalat P’nei HaSh’china.
Levi – Second Aliya – 19 p’sukim – 18:15-33
Sara would like to deny that she laughed (and doubted), but she cannot. The three angels each had a single task: One to heal Avraham, one to announce the birth of Yitzchak (both missions accomplished), the third to destroy S’dom. That angel is now accompanied by R’fael, whose new task is to save Lot and family. Avraham escorts the angels on their way to S’dom.
[SDT] Once again, we learn the proper behavior of a host from Avraham: it is considered even more important to escort guests out than to greet them! HaShem next tells Avraham of his intention to destroy S’dom. Avraham pleads and bargains on their behalf, but there aren’t enough righteous people to save the cities.
The dialog between Avraham and HaShem is an astounding (and unique) example of the close relationship between them.
[SDT] Avraham’s expression of humility before G-d is “and I am dust and ash”. Says the Gemara, because of Avraham’s humility, his children merited two mitzvot – the ash of the Para Aduma and the dust of the Sota. Torah T’mima (he was TT before Torah Tidbits) explains that the Para Aduma ash represents the epitome of spiritual purity (which can be thought of as the realm of “between the Jew and G-d” mitzvot). The hopeful outcome of the Sota procedure is Shalom Bayit, being a major example of interpersonal relationships. Thus the reward for Avraham covers the whole range of Jewish life.
Shlishi – Third Aliya – 20 p’sukim – 19:1-20
The two angels arrive in S’dom and are taken in by Lot. [The nephew of Avraham Avinu has learned something from his uncle.] The people of S’dom demonstrate their evil nature. It is clear from the p’sukim as well as Midrashim and commentaries, that Lot was not sufficiently pious or believing in his own right, but he compared favorably with the people among whom he lived.
[SDT] The word “and he lingered” is read with the rare trup mark, the shalshellet, which musically emphasizes the reluctance of Lot to (believe what he was told by the angels and) leave. The same word is used in contrast to this behavior of Lot, in describing the haste with which the Children of Israel left Egypt at G-d’s command, symbolized by the matza which they hastily baked rather than to linger for the dough to rise and produce a “proper ” bread demonstrating their faith and confidence in G-d. Interesting, is it not, that Lot is described as baking matzot for the visitors. Rashi’s comment: It was Pesach.
Lot is led out of the city by the angels, his wife and two daughters with him. They are told to flee for their lives, without looking back at the destruction of the cities. Lot pleads for permission to seek refuge closer by.
R’vi’i – Fourth Aliya – 40 p’sukim – 19:21-21:4
2nd longest R’vi’i in the Torah Once Lot and family are safely away, the destruction of S’dom takes place. Lot’s wife looks back – against orders – and turns into a pillar of salt. (Her punishment is specifically with salt as a measure-for-measure for her stinginess when guests were around.)
“And Avraham gets up early in the morning to the place where he STOOD before G-d.”
[SDT] Avraham returns to the same spot to speak to G-d. From here is derived the idea of having a MAKOM KAVUA, a fixed place for prayer. The Talmud says: “he who fixes himself a place for davening, the G-d of Avraham will help him”.
Of course, more fundamentally, it is this pasuk and another that combine to “support” the Gemara’s statement that Avraham instituted T’filat Shacharit. That AMIDA, to stand before G-d, means to pray is learned from the pasuk VAYA’AMOD PINCHAS VAY’PALEIL… And Pinchas stood in prayer (we can say) – T’hilim 106:30. The pasuk here in Vayeira links AMIDA with Avraham Avinu and with early in the morning, hence Shacharit.
The Torah reiterates the point that Lot was saved in the merit of his uncle Avraham Avinu (and Ruth, the “mother of royalty” who was to come from Lot – G-d can work merit either from the past or the future).
Lot’s two daughters, having witnessed the total destruction of S’dom, assume that they are the sole survivors of mankind. They plot to get Lot drunk and sleep with him in order to continue humanity. Moav and Amon are the results.
Avraham and Sara now travel to G’rar where they again present themselves as brother and sister. Sara is taken to Avimelech, but G-d appears to him and warns him not to touch her. Avimelech confronts Avraham who explains that his fears were based on the lack of “Fear of G-d” in the place.
Avraham then prays on behalf of Avimelech and his people who were stricken with a disease which rendered them temporarily sterile.
From this point (21:1) to the end of Vayeira, is the Torah reading of both days of Rosh HaShana.
G-d fulfills His promise and Sara becomes pregnant. She bears a son to Avraham in his advanced age, and he is called Yitzchak. Avraham circumcises Yitzchak at eight days of age, as G-d has commanded.
Avraham’s having prayed on behalf of Avimelech for children is juxtaposed to Sara Imeinu conceiving. Our Sage teach us that selflessly praying for others can sometimes result in the same prayers being answered for yourself.
Chamishi – Fifth Aliya – 17 p’sukim – 21:5-21
Avraham is 100 yrs. old when Yitzchak is born. Avraham makes a great party upon the occasion of his being weaned.
Although the plain understanding of B’YOM HIGAMEIL ET YITZCHAK is when Yitzchak was weaned – Rashi says at 24 months of age, there is a REMEZ (hint/clue) in the word HIGAMEIL, HEI+GIMMEL = 8, MEM-LAMED, MAL, was circumcised. It can mean that the party in question was to celebrate Yitzchak’s BRIT.
As Yitzchak is growing up, Sara notices the potential negative influence of Yishmael and demands of Avraham that he send Yishmael and his mother, Hagar, away. Blinded by his great “kind heart”, Avraham has to be told by G-d to listen to Sara. Hagar and Yishmael once again are on the verge of death in the wilderness, but Yishmael’s prayers are answered and they are saved. Hagar is assured by an angel that they will survive. And indeed they do, and Hagar subsequently marries Yishmael off to a woman from the land of Egypt.
Both Hagar and Yishmael prayed to G-d when Yishmael was dying. G-d heard “the lad’s voice”. Rashi says, from hear we learn that the strongest prayer offered on behalf of someone who is ill are those of the sick person himself. (Of course, others should pray on his behalf as well…)
Shishi – Sixth Aliya – 13 p’sukim – 21:22-34
Avimelech and his commander Pichol (alway called Fichol because of DIKDUK rules) enter into a pact with Avraham. The pact has to do with wells that Avraham dug, that the servants of Avimelech stole, the return of those wells and the acknowledgement by Avimelech that the wells do actually belong to Avraham. The city of Be’er Sheva receives its name from the double meaning of the 7 sheep used as tokens of the covenant and the oath sworn between them.
Avraham plants an “Eshel” in Be’er Sheva. In addition to being a type of tree, the word ESHEL is considered an acronym of the Hebrew words for Food, Drink, and Lodgings (or Food, Sleeping, Escort) – the symbol of hospitality for all times.
Sh’vi’i – Seventh Aliya – 24 p’sukim – 22:1-24
This is the portion of the Binding of Isaac – Akeidat Yitzchak. The Akeida is one of the few passages from the Torah to be incorporated into our daily davening (there are those who did not include it in the davening). It represents the epitome of commitment to and love of G-d. It also belong is the portion of the davening called KORBANOT for the obvious reason.
Although none of Avraham’s descendants (we, the Jewish People) can ever be tested in so drastic a way, we do derive tremendous inspiration from this portion of the Torah. It is part of our Heritage and, even more, part of our Essence. Tests of Faith are relative to the individual. Each of us is challenged in different ways throughout our lives.This is also so for us as a Nation. May we be always guided by deep commitment to Torah & Jewish values.
There is more. Akeidat Yitzchak is our identity card. It define who we are… even when our own behavior is contradictory to our Torah standards. We stand before G-d on Judgment Day – Rosh HaShana, and we blow the Shofar made from a ram’s horn. We ask G-d to remember Akeidat Yitzchak and have mercy on His (sometimes undeserving) children. We read the Akeida in the Torah and we refer to it repeatedly in our Rosh HaShana davening and Slichot, to inspire us and to identify us.
The parsha ends with mention of the birth of Rivka, to serve as a link to the next phase of the development of Judaism – viz., the means of its transmission and continuity.
Haftara – 37 p’sukim -Melachim Bet 4:1-37
The sedra shows us the sharp contrast between the kindness and hospitality of Avraham & Sara on the one hand, and the cruel “business is business” and “what’s in it for me” nature of S’dom. The haftara is about the widow of a prophet who was facing losing her two children because of her poverty and the twisted state of Israel’s society that lost sight of the legacy of Avraham and Sara. The prophet Elisha performs a miracle and the family is spared that plight.
The haftara also tells of the Shunamite woman who prayed so fervently for a son. She had a son but he died. He is miraculously resuscitated by Elisha. This forms a counterpart to the birth of Yitzchak and the subsequent almost-losing him at the Akeida. (According to a Midrash, the angel did not stop Avraham in time and Yitzchak died. There are prayers that refer to Yitzchak’s ashes. this makes the connection between the sedra and haftara all the stronger.)