- Written by Daniel Sandground
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This week's sedra is the truly epic Parashas Vayeira in which we have a lot to talk about, so I think a brief introduction this week is certainly necessary...! Included in this lengthy fourth parasha of the book of Bereishis are the events of the angels coming to visit Avraham and their promise to Sarah that she would finally have a child. The sedra then moves on to give over the story of the destruction of Sodom, with a long account of the intense davening which Avraham undertook in order to desperately try and save its residents. The very strange scenarios surrounding Lot and his rescue from the destruction follows with him finally fleeing Sodom with his wife who famously became a pillar of salt for peering behind and his two daughters who righteously acted to save humankind, thinking the whole world had been destroyed. About halfway through the sedra we then have the second abduction of Sarah, this time by the wicked Avimelech, and her subsequent return which is immediately followed by the perek of the birth of Yitzhak. The final expulsion of Hagar and her son Yishmael is then given over with Sarah asking Avraham to... “drive out the slave-woman and her son” [21:9] due to her mocking and according to Rashi, Yishmael's corrupt and evil behaviour. The sedra continues with the alliance between Avraham and Avimelech at Beersheva in which the Rashbam describes how Avimelech came to seal this covenant with Avraham because he had acquired knowledge of all the miracles that G-d had performed for Avraham, in particular that of the birth of Yitzhak at Sarah's incredible old age, as this event occurred at the same time. Sforno also interestingly notes here the fear of Hashem shown by Avimelech who stressed that he sought a treaty of friendship with Avraham because he saw that... “G-d is with you in all that you do” [21:22] and not merely because of Avraham's wealth or power which he had accumulated up until this point. The concluding perek of Vayeira concentrates on the tenth and final trial of Avraham, which was of course that of 'The Akeidah', the binding of Yitzhak on the altar. The final possukim of the parasha give over a preview into next week's sedra with a brief genealogy which informs us of the birth of Rivka.
So... the sedra starts with the words “וירא אליו/Vayeira aylav Hashem”... and Hashem appeared to him, from which we learn the mitzvah of visiting the sick as chazal informs us, this event occurred on the third day after Avraham's circumcision, when the wound is most painful and the patient most weakened. The Baal HaTurim also interestingly points out that these words also happen to have the same gematria as the phrase “זה בכבוד מילה נגלה אליו/it is in honour of the circumcision that He appeared to him” which is also an evident idea in the commentary of the Or HaChaim who explains that when people undertake such impressive efforts to serve Him, Hashem reveals himself in approval... which we also saw by the construction of the Mishkan, where He appeared there in the Midbar upon its completion. Avraham had therefore become pure enough to be considered as holy a resting place for the Shechinah as the Mishkan, as the Midrash described his status at this point to be that of a “chariot of the Divine Presence”. As discussed in last week's Dvar Torah, Avraham emitted an image of such extreme holiness, that even a common layman was prepared to lend to him; in this week's sedra we see the attribute which Avraham was best known for at play, which was that of Chesed, love and kindness.
Hashem appears to Avraham while “he was sitting at the entrance of the tent in the heat of day” [18:1]. It is explained by the mefarshim that despite the pain and weakness which would have been experienced due to the recent circumcision, Avraham was such a Baal Chesed that he was craving the opportunity to perform a mitzvah of Chesed by sitting at the entrance of his tent so that he could look out for passers-by. It is brought down in the Midrash that Hashem brought the sweltering heat of Gehinnom to this world for Avraham's sake so that he would not have to entertain guests in his weak condition, as it is written (in Bereishis Rabba)... “Hot air will soothe his wound, at the same time saving him from the effort of having to wait on guests, since the hot weather will prevent anyone from travelling on the roads” [48:8]. But what happens next? “He lifted his eyes and saw... three men were standing over him” [18:2]... so why did Hashem suddenly change his tune and send Avraham guests after performing this unique miracle of sending a heat wave just to prevent Avraham from having to exert himself? The answer to this question appears in a Midrash which describes how Avraham was agonised by the thought that he would be unable to practice his usual hospitality and on viewing this distress, Hashem sent these three melachim in the disguise of men to satisfy his need to perform the mitzvah. A huge amount can be learnt from this attitude which was inherent in Avraham; first and foremost is his orientation towards Chesed and Avraham's longing for guests in order to perform the will of Hashem, even under such strenuous conditions... a Tzaddik is said to never be content with past accomplishments but is always seeking to serve Hashem at all times. As Rav Hillel teaches however, Avraham shows signs far beyond that of a Tzaddik but rather hits the category of a Chassid and beyond. Using the ideas brought down in his book 'Ascending the Path', Rav Hillel explains that one who performs all the mitzvahs of the Torah can be described as a Tzaddik, but to go one step further and seek out further ways to serve Hashem is to reach a much higher medraiga than this and is what the Ramchal refers to as a Chassid. We should strive to adopt the same attitude towards mitzvahs... they should not be seen as 613 problems to overcome but rather as a source of potential for growth which we should seek out with all our efforts. Avraham is upset because he is missing out on the ability to serve Hashem through the character trait which he has perfected, Chesed. When we miss opportunities we should be similarly affected... that is the level of the Chassid.
There is a Midrash that says Avraham originally sent his faithful servant, Eliezer to look for guests to entertain but he returned unsuccessful and alone; to this Avraham reacted by saying, “can't trust in slaves” and sat at the entrance of the tent in order to scout them out himself. The question must be asked however, why did Avraham react in this way to Eliezer's attempts to find people to serve? If there wasn't anyone there when Eliezer originally searched then how can Avraham react in this negative way? Why blame him? The answer which I originally heard from Rabbi Kaplan sheds beautiful insight into human nature and Hashem's reaction to it. The classic example is when a wife will ask her husband to search for something in order to help her, for example, if she were to ask him to go and get a tea-towel to wipe some dishes. The reaction that follows is usually that of 'where is it?', 'which draw'... and usually the wife will have to come and get it herself as her husband is happily unsuccessful. If however the wife was asking him to find his football boots to go and play with his friends, no such questions would be required and it is almost guaranteed that he will successfully locate them. What is the difference between these two circumstances?... רצון, the person's actual will to do it. When Eliezer returned without any guests, Avraham's attack on him was not down to the fact that there weren't any people to bring, rather it was because he could see that Eliezer obviously didn't really want to find any guests otherwise he would have been able to. It says in the Gemara that “אין דבר עמוד לפני רצון/nothing stands before someone's will”... in other words if you really want something then Hashem will grant it to you. Eliezer's true will could not therefore have been on finding guests otherwise he would have found them! To give a theory, maybe he realised that he would have to be the one preparing the food for them and therefore would not have truly wanted them? Avraham however desperately sits at the entrance of his tent looking out for guests... and what happens? Despite it not being in Hashem's original plans, he is granted what he truly wants... guests to serve. To apply this concept to ourselves we see that if we really want to achieve something in life, no matter what it is, we will be able to do so. We must therefore make sure, first of all, that we are wanting to accomplish the right objectives and we must then make sure that we have the right amount of רצון/will for Hashem to merit us to achieve it.
May we all have success in everything we pursue with Hashem's great help. Shabbat Shalom,
Daniel Sandground, (student at Ohr Somayach Yeshivah, Jerusalem)