PARASHAT VAYERA — GENESIS 18:1-22:24
OVERVIEW OF PORTION (from A Torah Commentary for Our Times –Rabbi Harvey Fields — UAHC)
Parashat Vayera begins with the visit of three men to Abraham. He welcomes them with generous hospitality, and they promise that Sarah will soon bear a son. When the men depart for the city of Sodom, God appears to Abraham and tells him that the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah are about to be destroyed because of the sinful behavior of their residents. Abraham protests, asking God not to destroy innocent people along with the guilty ones. God promises that, if there are as few as even ten innocent people in the cities, they will not be destroyed. Afterwards, two men-angels warn Lot to leave Sodom.. He escapes the next morning as fire rains down upon the cities, but his wife looks back and is turned into a pillar of salt. Abraham travels to the Negev, there Abimelech, king of Gerar, sees Sarah and wants her for a wife. Fearing the king, Abraham claims that Sarah is his “sister.” The king takes her as a wife, but God appears to him and reveals Sarah’s real identity. Abimelech returns her to Abraham along with a great bounty. As the visitors to Abraham had predicted, Sarah bears a son whom they name Isaac. After a few years, Sarah persuades Abraham to send Hagar and Ishmael away, claiming that only Isaac should inherit Abraham’s wealth and position. Abraham agrees when God tells him that “I will make a nation of him (Ishmael).” Several years later, God tests Abraham’s faith by ordering him to sacrifice Isaac on Mount Moriah. Isaac is saved at the last moment when God praises Abraham’s loyalty and tells him to sacrifice a ram in Isaac’s place.
Last week the Temple Shalom Sisterhood hosted their magnificent Fall Fling. It was wonderful to see over 150 synagogue women share some great food, shopping and time together as they raised money to support Sisterhood programs that inspire the entire temple community. The notable guests of the evening were two appraisers from the television series Antiques Roadshow. Women were invited to bring heirloom items and have them appraised by the experts. It was exciting to see so many beautiful pieces of art, jewelry and furniture and learn something about their history.
But this Sisterhood event was not just about food, schmoozing and our luxury items! As each woman shared the story of her heirloom with the community the voices of many generations filled the social hall. For example, Marian Klein Co-President of Sisterhood brought a beautiful bracelet given to her by her mother. She spoke with me about the bracelet describing the priceless watch sliders her mother lovingly collected over many years. The words were Marian’s – but as she described the bracelet – I could see and hear her mother’s voice. For that brief moment, we connected with memories from the past and the stories that make each of us who we are. And this was not my only encounter that evening with the matriarchs and patriarchs of our past. Each woman brought an item and told an important story.
This year’s Fall Fling symbolized the power and meaning of Temple Sisterhood. Women connecting over the generations to share the memories, strength, wisdom and stories that have made the Jewish people a living, breathing whole for thousands of years.
On this Shabbat we will read from the book of Genesis, Parashat Vayera. This difficult portion that we also read on Rosh Hashanah is a reminder of the matriarchs and patriarchs of our past. We read of our mother Sarah’s laugh as she learns she will give birth to Isaac. In this portion, our father Abraham argues with God that even one righteous soul can save the lives of thousands. Parashat Vayera teaches us of the love between a mother, Hagar and her son, Ishmael. And of course, we shudder at the image of the binding of Isaac upon the altar by our patriarch, Abraham. These voices of our past remind us of who and what we are.
What are the values of Parashat Vayera that are so important? This portion teaches that we are a people who value future generations, reveling in the miracle of children. We are a people who fight for justice. We are a people who place the love of family above all. We are a people who will not sacrifice the ones we love.
Ultimately, Parashat Vayera teaches us about the value of human life. Unlike, other ancient Near Eastern cultures, God stays Abraham’s hand; Isaac does not become a sacrifice. Ultimately, the voices and items handed down through the generations have lasting value and teach us important lessons of love and sacrifice, memory and family.
As we learned from Sisterhood’s Fall Fling, for women, heirloom items in particular have important stories to tell. My mother died three years ago. Each and every day I wear a piece of jewelry that belonged to her. In this way I continue to keep her memory alive and feel a precious connection to items close to her heart and now to mine. In this way I add her voice to the voices of the matriarchs and patriarchs of our people – our mothers and fathers, sisters and brothers. In this way the generations of Parashat Vayera remain unbroken, our shalshelet hakabbalah – the chain of Torah and tradition that extends l’dor vador, from generation to generation, from that day to this.