Parsha : vayera

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Date : 18 Chesvan 5759, 7-11-98

The Best of Parshat HaShavuah” Articles taken from list subscriptions on the internet, edited, reformatted and printed for members of Kibbutz Sde Eliyahu (Editor: Arieh Yarden)

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  • 4th of the 54 sedras (4th of 12 in B'reishit)

  • 147 verses - ranks 7th (4th)

  • 2085 words - ranks 2nd (first)

  • 7862 letters - ranks 3rd (2nd)

  • Its verses are above average in length (words & letters) This explains its higher rankings in those categories

  • Vayeira is the second largest sedra in the Torah

  • None of the 613 mitzvot are counted from Vayeira, but a wealth of mitzva-lessons are found in the sedra

  • We do not learn how to be good Jews only from the 613 mitzvot. Hospitality, for example, is usually considered part of the mitzva of G'milut Chasadim. But many of the details are derived from the behavior of Avraham Avinu. Similarly, Bikur Cholim is part of G'milut Chasadim as well as being part of the mitzva to emulate G-d. The connection is contained in the Midrashim on Vayeira (and other sources). Some mitzva-counters do count some individual forms of Chesed as their own mitzva.


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.

Perhaps 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. G-d, so to speak, first felt that Avraham needed rest. He then "realized" that in Avraham's case, his special activity 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, hospitality.)

[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.

[SDT] From the opening verses of Vayera, we are taught that hospitality is greater than "welcoming the Divine Presence". This is so because Avraham asked G-d (so to speak) to wait for him while he ran to greet three approaching strangers. But how do we know that Avraham acted correctly in this case? Perhaps he was wrong to do what he did.

An answer can be found in the fact that "the sun was removed from its envelope" (this is the explanation of the Torah's description of this episode being "in the heat of the day") in order to prevent travelers from being on the road, thereby "bothering" the convalescing Avraham. If being in G-d's presence would supersede hospitality, there would have been no need to make the day "extra hot".

[SDT] Avraham sat at the entrance to his tent to see if people would pass by, OVEIR VaSHAV. This can also be understood as OVEIR - a person who violates G-d's laws, VaSHAV - and repents his wrongdoing, was welcomed by Avraham and "converted".

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 by 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] The Gemara identifies the three angels as Micha'el, who came to announce the birth of Yitzchak, R'fa'el, to heal Avraham, and Gavriel, whose task was the destruction of S'dom.

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'minma - other TT :) - 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 inter personal relationships. Thus the reward for Avraham covers the whole range of Jewish life.

SH'LISHI - 3rd 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 verses 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 cantillation mark (trup), the shalshellet, which musically emphasizes the reluctance of Lot to (believe 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, demon strating their faith and confidence in G-d.

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 - 4th 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. "And Avraham gets up early in the morning to the place where he STOOD before G-d."

[SDT] Avraham return 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".

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 destined to come from Lot). 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 once 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. Note that no such explanation was offered to Par'o when the similar situation occurred in Egypt. The commentaries point out that Avraham detected a qualitative difference between the two kings. Avraham sensed that Avimelech would respond positively to the implied reproach. And so he did. 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 circum cises Yitzchak at eight days of age, as G-d has commanded.

[SDT] The reference to Sara's pregnancy immediately following the Avimelech incident, prompts the commentaries to learn the lesson that praying on behalf of others sometimes brings the benefit of one's own needs being fulfilled.

On another note, the juxtaposition of Sara's pregnancy and her captivity led scoffers to say that she was carrying Avimelech's baby. Rashi in the beginning of To'l'dot refers to the uncanny resemblance between baby Yitzchak and father Avraham as a clear refutation of that claim. Rashi here says that her pregnancy began before Avimelech and his people were cured of the infliction that rendered them infertile. Nechama Leibowitz a"h points to the unusual grammar PAKAD, instead of the more common (in the Torah, that is) Vayifkod, as an indication that we have past perfect, not merely past tense - And G-d had remembered Sara as He had promised...

CHAMISHI - 5th Aliya - 17 p'sukim (21:5-21)

Avraham is 100 years old when Yitzchak is born. Avraham makes a great party upon the occasion of his being weaned.

G'MATRIYA Some interpret the word for "weaned" as Hey + Gimmel = 8 "mal", meaning that the party was on the occasion of 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.

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 city of Be'er Sheva receives its name from the double meaning of the 7 sheep used as tokens of the covenant and oath sworn between them. (Sheva means both 7 and swear.) 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 - the symbol of hospitality for all generations.

SH'VI'I - 7th Aliya - 24 p'sukim (22:1-24)

This is the portion of the Binding of Isaac - the Akeida. Thorough treatment of this portion is impossible in the limited space of Torah Tidbits. The Akeida is one of the few passages from the Torah to be incorporated into our daily davening. It represents the epitome of commitment to and love of G-d. Although none of Avraham's descendants (us, 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 and Jewish values.

[SDT] "Take your son, your only, whom you love..." It would have been easier for Avraham to carry out G-d's command to sacrifice Yitzchak, if he (Avraham) could have somehow suppressed his feelings of love for his son. The "greatness" of this test of Avraham's faith is that he was willing to sacrifice his son, his only one, HIS BELOVED. (Chidushei HaRim)

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.

Notice how much family nachas Nachor has, while Avraham Avinu is having such a rough time of things. Think about it.

These last 5 verses are reread for the Maftir.

HAFTARA - 37 verses - 2 Kings 4:1-37

Rabbi S.R. Hirsch points out that the sedra has shown us the stark 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 episode which forms 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 haftora 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.


Some sources teach that it is considered proper for the host to "break bread" for his guests, as we see Avraham said: "I will take the bread" and then "and you shall partake of the food..."

Although the host breaks bread for his guests, it is proper to let a guest lead the Birkat HaMazon (except for the Pesach Seder, when the Baal HaBayit should lead the benching, for he is the Seder leader and the benching is part of the Seder).


Note: Torah Tidbits has been appearing weekly for almost five and a half years. A while before its first issue in Sivan 5752 (June '92), there was a brief (5 or 6 week) run of a single-paged dvar Torah courtesy of the Israel Center called... Torah Tidbits. There was no sedra summary, no sponsors, no events announced, no pull-outs, no Torah stats - just one dvar Torah. It wasn't even distributed anywhere. It was available on our flyers shelf. The very first Israel Center Torah Tidbit was the following, from MAAYANA SHEL TORAH (Wellsprings of Torah), in the name of the CHIDUSHEI HA'RIM. It has been "freshened up" for inclusion in this issue of TT.


Three angels came to visit Avraham. Rashi tells us that one was to announce the impending birth of Yitzchak, one to destroy S'dom, and one to heal Avraham - because one angel does not perform two missions. After their visit with Avraham, two angels go to S'dom - one to destroy S'dom and one to save Lot. We are taught that the angel that healed Avraham took on the mission to save Lot, accompanying the destroyer angel. Once an angel has performed his mission, he may undertake a new task.

The question is, if angels can do different missions consecutively, why would not two be sufficient? And a better question is why weren't four angels sent to accomplish the four tasks? Is their a shortage of angels, that one had to double up?

The answer to the first question might be that angels do one TYPE of mission - an angel that destroys does only that. Healing the ailing and saving someone are similar tasks that can be performed by the same angel. In other words, had G-d sent two angels to Avraham - one to heal him and one to tell Avraham and Sara about Yitzchak - then after they had done so, one could then go on to destroy S'dom and the other to save Lot. Perhaps that would not be possible, for the abovementioned reason.

A possible answer to the second question is that originally there were only three missions - to announce to Sara, to heal Avraham, and to destroy S'dom. Whether Lot was to be spared the destruction of S'dom was not decided. Lot had some merit - he was Avraham's nephew and had learned some of his uncle's good traits, but that by itself was insufficient to save him.

Lot was ultimately saved in the merit of one of his descendants - Ruth the Moabite, great-grandmother of King David, the Mother of Royalty. (It is remarkable that in G- d's eyes, one's merit can come from the past or the future.) And that future merit was not yet "confirmed". On what basis could Ruth be accepted into the Jewish Nation - the Torah forbids a Moabite from entering "the Congregation of HaShem"? If that prohibition of the Torah were to apply to Ruth, then she would never become Boaz's wife and the great-grandmother of David, and Lot would not have sufficient merit to be saved.

But - you say - the rule against Moabites applies to the males but not the females, so there's no problem with Ruth. Good point, except that what permitted the Sages to say that the rule applies only to the males? The key is the Torah's reason for excluding Moabites (and Ammonites), namely, that they refused us food and drink following the Exodus. This cruel lack of human decency precludes their joining the People of Israel... ever. Was this inhospitable behavior a sin of all the Moabites, or just the men? The answer is that men would go out to encounter the approaching Israelites; women would modestly remain in their homes. Therefore, we fault only the males of these two nations and we do allow their women to convert and marry Jews.

And where does the notion come from, that women take a modest, more passive role in these affairs - from Sara Imeinu. When the angels ask where she was, and Avraham said "in the tent", it was at that moment that Lot's merit became sufficient to be saved. It was at that moment that women of all nations "received" their modest, non- confrontational dispositions from the Mother of All Nations.

At this point, the angel that had come to heal Avraham received a new mission, to save Lot. No angel was originally dispatched because Lot was not worthy of being saved at the time.

And The Two of Them Walked Together

Twice, this beautiful, poignant phrase is used in the Portion of the Akeida. When Avraham and Yitzchak arrive at the Place, they leave the donkey and the lads behind, take the "equipment" with them and walk on together. Rashi comments that Avraham knew who the intended sacrifice was, he knew he was going to offer Yitzchak as a korban, yet he walked on with the feeling of joy at doing G-d's bidding. Yitzchak, at this point, was unaware of what was intended, and he accompanied his father willingly.

Then Yitzchak asks his father about the the sacrifice itself, and the indication from the text is that Yitzchak understood what was to happen. And the Torah again tells us that they walked on together.

Avraham Avinu had rediscovered G-d on his own. His parents and whole environment were idolators. He had no help on his road towards belief, no Baalei T'shuva yeshiva to guide him, no support system. He came to belief of G-d on his own. And that belief was so powerful, that trust in HaShem was so strong, that he was prepared to sacrifice his son, despite the total illogic of the situation.

Yitzchak, on the other hand, was taught by his father to believe in G-d. Yitzchak was neither a baby nor a young child, as some pictures of the Akeida seem to convey. He was 37 years old and quite aware of what was happening. His confidence and trust, and belief was not the result of direct personal discovery; it was based on the new, short, Chain of Tradition. Yitzchak's certainty that they were doing the proper thing was no less than Avraham's. And they walked on TOGETHER.

In a way, this is the key to the greatness of the episode of the Akeida. That an individual can rise to the great heights of belief in G-d is one thing. That he is so successful in transmitteing that system of beliefs to the next generation is truly remarkable.

That Moshe received the Torah from Sinai is one thing. That he successfully gave it over to Yehoshua is the crucial thing. One link is not a chain; it is a circle (or oval) of gold. But two links is already a chain.

Not everyone comes to Judaism, to Torah, to belief in G-d on their own. At least, not at the beginning. Most of us are introduced to Torah by our parents and teachers. Our commitment to the Torah must be not less strong that those who stood at Sinai and declared NAASEH V'NISHMA. The Baal T'shuva and his son, an FFB, will have come to Torah in different ways. Their success will be VAYEIL'CHU SH'NEIHEM YACHDAV.

The Shulchan Aruch recommends that we say the Akeida every morning at Shacharit. In fact, it fund its place in the Siddur as an introduction to the davening. Before we begin our "service of the heart", we draw inspiration from Avraham and Yitzchak. We ponder their dedication and devotion and commitment to G-d and we pray for a mere fraction of it. We proudly proclaim our descendancy from these giants of faith, and we humbly read the moving story of this ultimate act of faith.

The portion of the Akeida is skipped over by many, and plowed through by others. It behooves us to say the portion well, to ponder its meaning and implacations, and to grow as Jews in the footsteps of the Avot and Imahot.



Extract from SHABBAT-B'SHABBATO, published by the Zomet Institute of Alon Shevut, Israel


by Rabbi Shimon Golan, member of the Rabbinical Office, Efrat, and Midrasha for Torah, Bar Ilan University

There are two items in this week's Torah portion related to the treatment of guests. In the first, Avraham greets "three men" [Bereishit 18:2], and in the second one, Lot receives "two angels" [19:1]. The difference between "men" on one hand and "angels" on the other hand was purposely emphasized, in order to illustrate the difference between the way Avraham and Lot received visitors. Avraham makes an effort to satisfy his guests, even though they are simple people, while in the case of Lot we cannot be sure if he would have expended the same effort for simple travelers. He may have sensed that the people who appeared before him were unique in some way.

But this is not the only difference between how the different guests were treated. Avraham was sitting at the entrance to his tent, "In order to see if anybody passed by, so he could invite them into the tent" [Rashi, 18:1]. This was in spite of the fact that he was suffering from pain on the third day after his circumcision. In contrast, Lot sat at the gates of Sedom, since "he had been appointed a judge on that day" [Rashi, 19:1]. This shows that Lot was completely integrated into the society of Sedom and their local ideology.

The fact that Avraham ran to meet his guests is not surprising. In doing so he only had to overcome physical hardship, which would certainly have been outweighed by his strong desire to receive guests, as shown by the way he hurried in all his actions: "He ran towards them from the entrance of the tent [Bereishit 18:2] ... And Avraham hurried [18:6] ... And Avraham ran to the cattle ... and he rushed to prepare it" [18:7].

However, the account of how Lot greeted his guests is much more surprising. It is true that Lot's actions are on a much lower level than Avraham's. Instead of the hustle and bustle which involved all of Avraham's household, Lot himself is the only one involved in caring for the guests: "He prepared a meal for them and he baked matzot, and they ate" [Bereishit 19:3]. In addition, Rashi comments on the verse, "She was transformed into a pillar of salt" [19:26] - "She sinned with salt, and she was thus punished with salt. He requested, 'Give some salt to the guests,' and she replied, 'Are you trying to bring this bad custom to this place, too?'"

In spite of all this, the fact that Lot took in guests is quite remarkable in itself. And as is always true of good traits, this characteristic of his did not disappear from the world. It is true that Lot's descendents included Amnon and Moav, two nations which were cruel to Bnei Yisrael when they refused to give them bread and water on their way out of Egypt - and this is without a doubt characteristic of Sedom. However, Lot's offspring also included Ruth, who was the very essence of kindness and compassion.

Avraham's trait of charity and kindness, which appeared in a small degree in the actions of Lot, remained in limbo until it returned to its natural place, when Ruth became part of the nation of Yisrael.

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