Musings of an Orthodox Jew

Thoughts on Torah and the Jewish world today.

Parshas Vayeira 5771: How do we speak?

Parshas hashavuah Question: In this weeks parsha we have Avraham pleading with G-d not to destroy Sodom?
and the cities around it and also G-d ordering Avraham to sacrifice Yitzchak. What similarity is there in the two speeches and what can we learn from it?

This weeks parsha is Vayeira Bereishis (Genesis) 18:1-22:24

What is the commonality between these two speeches? Lets look at how they go:
Avraham starts at 50 righteous people, then slowly decreases until he reaches ten. He goes from the easiest to justifyto the hardest. After all, in a group of cities if there are fifty righteous people it is easy to justify- if there are only 10 it is much harder to justify. It is the minimum number for a community- thus the amount for a minyan, but at the same time one could argue it does not make sense to save a few cities if between them they can only offer up a bare minimum for a community of righteous people!

G-d starts of telling Avraham that he must sacrifice his son and progresses to the specific son of Yitzchak. Now, Avraham lived in an era where the sacrifice of a child as a form of worship was known, if not common. However, there were limits- the son of the king, due to inherit the mantle of royalty, would not be sacrificed; the child who was to inherit and head up the family was not sacrificed; it was those that came afterwards that wereconsecrated to idols. In a similar vein we see later in history during the medieval period that in royal families where there children beyond the necessary heir- carreers in the military or priesthood were the norm so they would not be there to compete with the heir. But here the item that does nto make sense is the one that is being pushed- the heir, the one to continue the nation, the one destined to to lead the Jewish people is to be sacrificed. Again we see the progression from the understandable to the finality which seems to not make sense and which cannot be justified.

So we see this common idea in both speeches- but we also see that in both cases the people do not go straiight to the final idea, but progress down to it. There is a progression and a chance for the unexpected, the strange to be able to become more familiar and more acceptable.

This idea has both positive and negative implications- on the positive side we can learn that when we seek tot each, to bring people into, or improve, their Jewish observance, we should do it slowly. Let them progress at a speed where they can assimilate an idea, adjust to it and thus move from what makes the most sense and is easiest to them, to that which may not make sense and is thus harder for them to implement. On the negative side you have the often repeated idea that as peopel desacend into sin they generally do the “lighter” actions first. As they become acclimatised to that, they progress downwards going deeper and deeper into sin until they are performing actions that previously they would have found unthinkable but now they are comfortable with. For this reason chazal warn us against associating with sinners or even doing things that are allowed if they would lead us into this negative spiral. Just because something is allowed, does not mean it is desirable- and the yetzer hara utilises our own weaknesses and feeling of comfortable with acts , forbidden or marginal, to eventually make those acts which are completely forbidden seem desireable-after all.

October 20, 2010 Posted by | Parshah, Torah | , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 10 Comments

Parshas Vayeira 5770- Welcoming guests

In this weeks parshah we have the infortunate incident of the destruction of Soddom and Gemorrah.  Before it happens, we have the incident of the three angels coming to Avraham.  The Torah tells us that Avraham was sitting in the shade of his tent when G-d came to visit.  Here rashi tells us that the purpose of the visit was to visit the sick, as Avraham was still recovering from his Bris (circumcision).  While Avraham is sitting there, he sees three people passing in the distance and gets up to run to greet the, to call them in to visit and to refresh themselves.  never mind he is ill, in pain and recoverring himself- he stands and rushes to greet his guests. using words designed to get them to agree. 

Perhaps that last staement needs clarification- he does not go and trick them- but he observes their behaviour and from it he derives what their needs are.  he does nto ask them to stay overnight or to stay over long, for he can see they were due to travel past him, and thus it would be wrong for him to delay them unnecessarily.  so instead he greets them, and offers them rest and respite from the road until they can continue onwards.  Nor does he see the greeting of guests and seeing to their comforts as an onerous task.  W ehave just read that when he went to war he had 318 men with him, they would hae had wives, children and families; he had many followers and servants around him, yet he hastened to select a calf himself, to see to the preparation of their food and to see to their needs himself.  In the mind of Avraham, clearly the greeting of guests was of paramount imortance!

The torah doe snto stop there in teaching this lesson.  When the angels leave, Avraham bargains with G-d to try and save the inhabitants of Sodom and gemorrah and the related cities.  Not even ten righteous men can be found- the only righteous man in all those cities is Lot.  yet it does nto appear that Lot is all that righteous himself!  he chooses to live amongst idol worshippers that are immoral, murderers and hostile to all merely to gain money.  He does not teach the values he has learned from Avraham to even his son-in-laws, who scoff and mock when he tries to get them to leave to avoid the coming destruction.   Also, when the people seek to rape and destroy the angels, Lot tries to save them by offering the mob his daughters!  Clearly he is not altogether righteous but he must have some merits to have been granted the title.

What merit can we see in Lot?  teh parshah shows us two, one directly and the other via a hint.  His first merit was that of hachnasat orchim, the welcoming of guests.  He is in a city where the commentators remark it was forbidden for non-residents to stay over night unless known to the residents.  Strangers could expect the immoral and dangerous behaviour that the residents wanted to inflict on the angels. Lot, knowing their danger, knowing that if strangers entered and slept on the street they would be raped and killed, sits at the entrance to the seet, tellign people to come to his house, but to come their indirectly in the hopes they would not be seen and traced and could thus spend the night unmolested.

The other merit is that it appears that Lot, like the Avot, kept many of the mitzvot of the Torah prior to their being given.  The Torah states that Lot gave the angels matzot, and Rashi remarks that it was Pesach.  Thus, like Avraham and the other Avot, while living in the land promised to the Jews he kept the Torah.   However, it seems that the primary merit of Lot is in the receiving of guests, his actions in this regard going so far as to him trying to sae them from the mob.


Note: As a;ways comments, corrections and discussion are welcomed

November 2, 2009 Posted by | Parshah, Torah | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment