Torah reading for this Shabbat is Vayeira, Genesis 18:1 – 22:24.[i] The haftarah is found in Second Kings 4:1-37 and the reading from the Apostolic Writings is John 2:1–12.
This week’s Thoughts could well be retitled, A Tale of Three Women. While Vayeira begins with the visitation of the “three men” and the expression of Abraham’s great hospitality, it is Sarah hiding behind the tent flap that draws our attention. Here is a woman who apparently stood beside her man through thick and thin, whether she understood him or HaShem’s plan for him. She left her home and family and had reached the point that she had even given up on having a family of her own with Abraham. But ADONAI had promised, that ninety-year-old Sarah would have a son with her one hundred-year-old husband (Genesis 17:19). When one of the “three men” reaffirmed this promise, Sarah had to laugh, possibly because the situation was more than humorous. But more than likely it was a nervous laugh that resulted from her imagining herself as mother. Then when ADONAI caught her laughing, suddenly her laughter became one of embarrassment. In the end, she had a son, and he became the second of the three patriarchs of Bnei Yisrael upon whom the promises of ADONAI would rest. But we have to ask, in the natural, was Sarah really looking to get pregnant at ninety years of age? For sure earlier in her marriage with Abraham she desired children, even if only through a surrogate, hence the episode with Hagar and Ishmael. But at this point in the story she had “stopped having the way of women,” … and had “grown decrepit,” (Genesis 18:11-12, these are her words not mine), did she really want to bear children?
The second of the three women is in the haftarah, the Shunammite woman. Apparently she was determined to meet the needs of Elisha and Gehazi when they were in her area. Elisha wanted to tangibly thank her for her kindness and hospitality. After she rejected his suggested acts of gratitude, Elisha turned to Gehazi for suggestions. Gehazi suggested that she needed a son, as she was barren and her husband elderly (2 Kings 4:15). The Shunammite’s immediate response was one of shock, excitement and hope, “No, my lord, do not lie to your handmaid, man of God,” (4:16). Whether she was recoiling from the idea of childbirth or simply of being compensated for her acts of charity and hospitality, we are not told. But she like Sarah had a child, a son in spite of her condition. According to some traditions, her son was the prophet Habakkuk who prophesied in Judah during the time of Jeremiah and King Jehoiakim.
In the concluding prayers of Shacharit, in ובא לציון גואל (a redeemer will come to Zion) we read “Blessed is my LORD for day after day He burdens us [with His blessings]; God is our salvation, Selah!”[ii] This phrase is based upon Psalm 68:20, “Blessed be my LORD!
day by day He bears our burdens—the God of our salvation! Selah.” While it is true that He does in fact bear our burdens, if we allow Him to do so, at times His blessing may well seem burdensome, as both Sarah and the Shunammite woman discovered. We need to remember that ADONAI always has our best in mind just as He did for Jeremiah,
For I know the plans that I have in mind for you,” declares ADONAI, “plans for shalom and not calamity—to give you a future and a hope.” (Jeremiah 29:11)
It was this hope that brought strength to Sarah as she raised a son in her old age. And it was this strength that motivated the Shunammite woman to turn to Elisha when her son seemed to be taken away from her. However, sometimes we have to hold on to these words of hope and shalom, even when we do not see the desired outcome, like those in Hebrews 11:35-40, who in spite of not seeing their deliverance, still stood strong in their faith in ADONAI.
But there is a third woman in our tale this week, one who, like Sarah and the Shunammite woman, had a son through a miraculous birth, Miriam. Though Miriam was much younger, she too had to face difficulties with her special son. In this week’s reading however, it was her son who had to face difficulties with her. They were at a wedding and the worst possible thing happened – the wine ran out. Miriam stepped in like a good Jewish mama and fixed the situation. Looking at the servants she said, “Do whatever He tells you” (John 2:5). Mom! I told you, “my hour hasn’t come yet,” (2:4), indicating that he wasn’t going to step in. Yeshua’s time in the Gospel according to John does not come until his arrest and crucifixion (John 13.1, 17:1). Whether Miriam understood the depth of her son’s comment or not, she exercised extreme faith in her son and his ability. Then she walked away, confident that Yeshua would do what she asked. Maybe this faith was the root of Yeshua’s statement to his disciples,
“Ask, and it shall be given to you. Seek, and you shall find. Knock, and it shall be opened to you.” (Matthew 7:7)
The common thread in the tale of these three women, like the three stranded cord of Ecclesiastes 4:12 is a unique birth experience, each had a special son, and most importantly, each had faith in ADONAI that He would accomplish His will and purpose in their lives and the lives of their children. We should be encouraged by the faith of these three women, knowing that as HaShem worked on their behalf, He is more than faithful to work on our behalf as well.
[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] Sacks, Jonathan, The Koren Siddur, Nusah Ashkenaz, Hebrew/English edition. Jerusalem: Koren Publishers Jerusalem Ltd., 2009, p 176.