Thoughts on Vayeira

canstockphoto3712801Once again this week’s parasha, Vayeira (Genesis 18.1 – 22.24),[i] contains several very familiar narratives, such as Abraham’s entertaining heavenly guests in the shade of the terebinth trees as he and the rest of the males in his household recover from their circumcision (Genesis 17.24-27), the promise of a son born from his and Sarah’s union in the coming year, and the episode with Sodom and Gomorrah that ends with a rather unpleasant situation with Lot and his two daughters. Later in the parasha, after Isaac was weaned, Hagar finds herself and Ishmael once more expelled from the camp of Abraham; only this time it is was at least partially her fault (Genesis 21.8-10). It is important at this point to note the unalterable truth of ADONAI’s promises, which Rav Shaul affirms when he reminds the believers at Rome that “the gifts and the calling of God are irrevocable,” (Romans 11.29). Why do I mention this? God encouraged Abraham that Hagar’s son would grow into a nation,

“But God said to Abraham, ‘Do not be displeased about the boy and your slave woman. Whatever Sarah says to you, listen to her voice. For through Isaac shall your seed be called. Yet I will also make the son of the slave woman into a nation, because he is your seed.’” (Genesis 21.12-13)

The LORD had promised Abraham that his seed would become a multitude of nations, “No longer will your name be Abram, but your name will be Abraham, because I make you the father of a multitude of nations” (Genesis 17.5). The covenant, however, was through Isaac (Genesis 17:21) not Ishmael. Ishmael was not the son of promise through which the covenant would be established, but he was a son of Abraham and therefore inherited the promise to be the progenitor of a great nation, even nations. Finally, the end of this week’s parasha contains records the account of the Akedah, Abraham’s willingness to bind Isaac, the son of promise, sacrificing him at HaMakom (the place) of the LORD’s choosing (Genesis 22.2). This place geographically refers to Mt. Moriah, which according to tradition is the place where Jacob encountered ADONAI when he fled his father’s house, specifically fled from his brother Esau (Genesis 28). It is also considered to be the place where Solomon built the first Temple (2 Chronicles 3.1) where the glory of Hashem dwelt visibly (2 Chronicles 7.1). Therefore, the Patriarchs, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, were all linked to Mt. Moriah, as was the dynasty of David which includes the greatest son of David, Yeshua our Messiah, the King of the Jews. Regardless of the UNESCO resolution denying the connection of the Jewish people to the Temple Mount and the Western Wall, the Word of God firmly establishes the eternal connection of the People of God to the Mountain of the LORD.

There is one more point of interest in this parasha. While not necessarily a highlight, it should be a point of encouragement to each of us. Apparently, Abraham did not learn his lesson about trusting God and not fearing man in last week’s parasha (Lech Lecha, Genesis 12.10-13) when he convinced Sarah to tell Pharaoh that she was his sister. He did the same thing again this week before Abimelech, King of Gerar (Genesis 20), only this time Abraham did not have to convince Sarah to say that she was his sister, he proclaimed it. Furthermore, like Pharoah Abimelech was stricken and Abraham was called upon to confess his misdeed, but he also had to pray for Abimelech’s healing. There are numerous discussions on why “Abraham said of Sarah his wife, ‘She is my sister’” (Genesis 20.2), but the aspect of this story that I believe is important today is that the Scriptures do not try to conceal or suppress the flaws of the covenant people. Israel was not chosen because of their righteousness or innate goodness but because Hashem made an everlasting covenant with a man from Ur of the Chaldeans. This man, despite all his flaws and baggage, was chosen simply because he was obedient and trusted in the word of the LORD when he said “lech lecha, go out from this place” (Genesis 12.1). Therefore, if the LORD could use Abraham and even call him friend…

The Scripture was fulfilled that says, “And Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness”—and he was called God’s friend. (James 2.23)

“But you, Israel, My servant, Jacob whom I have chosen, descendant of Abraham, My friend…” (Isaiah 41.8)

…then He surely can use you or me, regardless of our condition, if we simply choose to be obedient and follow Him.

The Haftarah, 2 Kings 4.1-37, provides the accounts of two miracles performed by the prophet Elisha. First is the provision of oil for the widow of one of the sons of the prophets, so that she could pay her debts and prevent her children from entering debt-bondage. In fact, the LORD provided above and beyond the needs; the widow had the resources to continue living and caring for her children (2 Kings 4.1-7). The second is the story of the barren Shunammite woman who provided hospitality for Elisha and his servant for when they were in the area. As a reward for her kindness, Elisha prayed for her and she gave birth to a son. Inexplicably, the boy died in childhood and Elisha raised the child from the dead (2 Kings 4.8-37).

While these narratives are nice, and provide a wonderful testimony to the faithfulness of the LORD through His servant Elisha, how do they connect to this week’s parasha? Michael Fishbane, notes the connection in that both the parasha and the haftarah include the expression of hospitality followed by birth announcements. He also notes that both sons had a death experience – the Shunammite’s son actually died while Isaac was all but dead in the heart and mind of Abraham.[ii] Whereas the Shunammite woman came and complained to Elisha, Abraham walked in faith, knowing that somehow the LORD would honor His covenant and if He had to bring Isaac back from the dead – his lineage would be realized through Isaac his son. And it was that very faith that caused the Angel of ADONAI to reaffirm the promise,

“In your seed (Abraham) all the nations of the earth will be blessed—because you obeyed My voice.” (Genesis 22.18)

Shabbat Shalom

[i] Unless otherwise noted, all Scriptures are from the Tree of Life (TLV) Translation of the Bible. Copyright © 2015 by The Messianic Jewish Family Bible Society.

[ii] Gleaned from: Michael Fishbane. The JPS Bible Commentary: Haftarot. The Jewish Publication Society, Philadelphia, 2002. p19.

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