VAYERA: 4 Speeches Print Email

Faith in the Tree of Life

In the very beginning of this week’s portion, we read about Abraham sitting at the entrance of his home waiting for wayfarers to come by so that he may invite them into his house to feed them. This is the third day after his circumcision and, as after any operation, it is the most painful day. Abraham suffers great pain and G-d, not wanting to disturb him because of his pain, decides to make the day burning hot so that there would not be any wayfarers or travelers to bother him. However, G-d Himself comes to visit Abraham to see how he is doing. Three men appear before him. Abraham, seeing these men, (who are actually angels) runs to greet them and invites them into his home. He then says to them, “Please let there be fetched a little water and wash your feet and recline yourselves under the tree.”

Faith in the Tree of Life

In the very beginning of this week’s portion, we read about Abraham sitting at the entrance of his home waiting for wayfarers to come by so that he may invite them into his house to feed them. This is the third day after his circumcision and, as after any operation, it is the most painful day. Abraham suffers great pain and G-d, not wanting to disturb him because of his pain, decides to make the day burning hot so that there would not be any wayfarers or travelers to bother him. However, G-d Himself comes to visit Abraham to see how he is doing. Three men appear before him. Abraham, seeing these men, (who are actually angels) runs to greet them and invites them into his home. He then says to them, “Please let there be fetched a little water and wash your feet and recline yourselves under the tree.”

A question immediately comes to mind: Ordinarily, if he wanted water to be brought he would send one of his servants to do this. Why did he have to say to his guests, “please let there be fetched some water?” It had nothing to do with them. What he should have said was, “Would you please wash your feet.” This we understand. The angels appeared in the image of Arabs who travel barefoot and, therefore, their feet were covered with dust from the road. Abraham felt that it was only proper before entering his house to wash the dust off their feet. But asking please that water be brought, this had nothing to do with them and yet he is speaking to them. What is this all about?

We find that the Talmud in Baba Metziah tells us, Ibid 86:2 that Reb Yannai, in the name of Reb Yishmael said that when Abraham told these three men to wash their feet they replied, “Do you suspect us of being Arabs who bow down to the dust of their feet?” Why were they disturbed by this request? After all, everybody used to travel this way and it was nothing new for an individual to ask for a guest to wash his feet before entering the house.

However, Abraham took a look and saw that on a burning hot day these people were traveling to do business. What was the reason for them to travel in this kind of weather? It was only because they were trying to amass more money and a greater fortune. A person with this drive never tires and is never satisfied – the more he has, the more he wants. This becomes an obsession with people. Once they get that taste and desire for money they never stop. The more they try to satiate their passion for money the more their hunger and lust for money grows. We see this in our everyday life – people kill themselves for a buck. They give away their lives to make more and more money, only dedicating themselves to amassing fortunes and adding to the bank balances. It’s not a question of need, but they have this constant burning desire for money which is so great that they cannot quiet it.

This concept is symbolized in serving the “dust of the feet.” They ran with their feet to do business. The feet carried them to the customer and the place where they would be making money. Abraham, upon seeing this, was sickened by it and wanted to impress upon these people that this was not the way to live. Abraham tried to make them understand that they should drink a little bit of the waters that symbolized Torah and this would make them open their eyes and understand that it should not be the goal of a person’s life just to make money and amass fortunes. What Abraham wanted was to give them a little taste of “the tree of life to those who hold onto it,” which is, of course, faith in A-mighty G-d.

Abraham wanted them to understand that money, health, nachas and pleasure are all in the hands of G-d and one cannot acquire these things by oneself. Abraham wanted them to realize that one could work very hard and not make any money, or if he makes the money, he could lose it, or if he doesn’t lose it he may G-d forbid have to give it away to doctors. Everything comes from G-d and if he blesses you then everything you do will be profitable.

He wanted them to understand that G-d, through His Divine Providence, controls the life of every individual and gives them their means of sustenance. Therefore, Abraham said to his guests, “I beg you, let there be taken some water.” In other words, gentlemen why don’t you take a little of the water of Torah. Understand that through this you will be able to wash the dust off your feet, which symbolizes that by working hard, by running and doing, you alone are making money and sustaining yourself. Not only that, why don’t you relax under the “Tree of Life” and take it upon yourself to depend upon A-mighty G-d and appreciate that it is He Who gives food to each and every one. He is the Giver of life and the means of life.

We find people who do business on Shabbos and pray to G-d that He should send them good customers. Is that what you call faith in G-d? These are people who, on the one hand call to G-d and on the other hand bow down to the dust of their feet. Abraham wanted them to wash the dust away, place their complete faith in A-mighty G-d, and remember that upon Him does life depend. If you do, your life is a blessed one.

If only more people would take these words to heart and set the right priorities in their lives, their lives would be blessed. After all, can one really eat up all the fortunes he amasses? What can one do with all the money he accumulates? For whom is he working and for whom is he saving these monies? I can understand one working in order to make a living. But if thank G-d one has all his needs and it is only a question of leaving an inheritance for others to enjoy, where is the sense in it all? Wouldn’t one be better off utilizing his time for more precious and meaningful matters rather than just chasing after money? If you’re worried about security, know that G-d Who gives life will give sustenance to life. Trying to make it by yourself doesn’t always work. There are too many actual situations where people have made serious mistakes by thinking they could make it all, have it all and enjoy it all. It doesn’t work that way. One must be worthy in the eyes of G-d to have His blessings and with it, the ability to enjoy His blessings.

A Mother’s Love?

In this week’s portion, Abraham, fulfilling the command of his wife, drives Hagar and her child out of the house. The Torah tells us that after her water supply had been used up, Hagar takes her child, casts him under one of the shrubs, walks away and says: “Let me not look upon the death of the child.” She lifts up her voice and cries. At this point, A-mighty G-d hears the voice of the child and an angel from G-d calls to Hagar and says to her: “What aileth thee, Hagar? Fear not, for G-d hath heard the voice of the lad where he is.”

Why did the angle of G- d have to ask what ailed her? He knew exactly what was happening to her and her son. That was the reason he was there. The second question that comes to mind is, after he asks her “What aileth thee,” why doesn’t he wait for an answer? Why does he immediately continue to say, “Fear not, for G-d has hear the voice of the child where he is?” I would like to offer the interpretation here.

Actually, the words “What aileth thee Hagar” are not really a question. In fact, Torah doesn’t say that the angel asked her, but that he said unto her. This was a protest the angel was registering with a mother because of her heartless conduct with her child. At a time when the child hovered between life and death, how can she take the child, throw him under one of the shrubs, sit down from a distance and say, “I cannot see in the death of the child.” When the angel saw what this mother did he scolded her saying, “What are you doing Hagar! Is this the way to conduct yourself? Where are your motherly instincts and your mother’s heart? How could you desert your child, letting him just lay there and die under such bitter circumstances? What do you mean when you say ‘I cannot see how the child will die?’ At a time like this how could you be away from your child? How could you not share with your child his last moments on this earth?”

“Is your love for yourself, for your own personal feelings so precious to you that you are able to leave him to die under such bitter, terrible and inhuman circumstances? Do you mean to say that they pity for yourself is greater than they pity for your child? At a time like this, your child belongs in your arms, not under a shrub. You should be cuddling and kissing him and giving him the warmth, love and affection that only a mother can give to her child which is, indeed, boundless. At such a time, you dare not separate yourself from your child even for a second. You are duty bound to strengthen this child, to do everything in order that they child be able to exist, and not sit from a distance and cry, the way you did.”

The angel doesn’t wait to hear Hagar’s answer. At this point he says, “Your voice may not have been heard in the Heavens but your child’s voice was hear and although he is not righteous and won’t be a tzaddik, nevertheless, in his present condition his voice was heard. A-mighty G-d judges a man according to his position at the time.”

This is the message the angel wanted to get across to us. At a time such as this a mother must not desert her child. This is the time for the mother to give everything she possesses, more than under normal circumstances. It may look like the child may die, but those last final moments of the child’s life could be changed perhaps by a miracle or in some other way. One thing is for sure, this is no time to walk away from the child or neglect him.

By the same token, spiritually we find there are children who are slowly but surely dying from thirst for the word of G-d. They don’t have the water of Torah when they need it because there wasn’t much there in the first place. At a time such as this, mothers take their children, throw them away and say, “What can I do? I can’t help it. It’s too late. I cannot see my child die.” They sit aside, moaning, groaning and crying. Nonsense, this is not the way to react. At a time like this, your child needs you the most. Give that child a way of life. Show that child the love of spirit you possess. Give him the inspiration and encouragement. Try to revive and resuscitate the child and bring new life into him. Try to bring that child back into the fold. Try to give him an identity and a place in life. Try to make him feel that he is not forgotten.

Groaning and hysterical weeping will not end the problem. The first ones who must make a move in the right direction are the parents. This is the time when a child needs his parents the most.

The Lesson of the Akeida

In the final chapter of the portion of Vayera is the story of the Akeida. G-d tests Abraham by telling him to take his one and only beloved son and bring him for a sacrifice upon Mount Moriah for the sanctification of the name of G-d. It is interesting to note that the complete story of the Akeida has been included in the Shacharit services which we recite each morning. We also read the story of the Akeida on Rosh Hashana day. Evidently, there must be a very important message that comes forth from the story of the Akeida – a message which is important to the individual in his daily life and also on Shabbos and Yom Tov. What could this lesson be? In addition to the many interpretations that have already been given to the Akeida, perhaps the one which I offer here today may be valuable.

We learn the concept of mercy from G-d and know that as an all-merciful Father, He extends great kindness to His children. If this is the case, when G-d wanted to see whether or not Abraham would be ready to offer his son upon the altar of G-d, why did He require that Abraham alone be the one to take his son, bring him upon the mountain, bind him, slaughter him and finally burn him? Couldn’t he have been spared doing this to his own child and been allowed to send one of his servants to perform this merciless deed instead? Wouldn’t it have sufficed to accomplish this by proxy?

The message from the story of the Akeida is “mesiras nefesh” – self-sacrifice! Abraham was the symbol of sacrifice for the sanctification of G-d’s name. It was Abraham who set the pace for all future generations of the children of Israel, under all circumstances, wherever they may find themselves. It was Abraham who taught us to what ends one must go to uphold the word of G-d, and observe His Torah and Mitzvos. Therefore, I believe that A-mighty G-d was trying to convey to Abraham the following: “Abraham, if you want your children and all the children of Israel until the end of time to have mesiras nefesh, then you have to be the one to show it first. Don’t expect this to be done by someone else. Don’t expect to accomplish this by a messenger or by giving someone the power of attorney. It will never happen. The only way your son will live by the dictum of sacrifice for the Name of G-d is if he sees his father doing so. Therefore, take your son, lead him to the mountain, and bring him upon the mountain. Let your son see that his father, who is the symbol of chesed and has been the epitome of kindness to the wayfarer, the stranger and all peoples of the world, can now go against all of his natural inclinations and slaughter his own child for a burnt offering if it means fulfilling the word of G-d.

The lesson of the Akeida is an important one in this and every day and age. We have a habit of sending our children to Hebrew school or to synagogue for services, but we ourselves are busy doing something else. If a father wants his child to walk in the paths of righteousness and Judaism, he cannot accomplish this by sending his child; he must take his child. He must be the one to set the pattern and show his child exactly how he observes and fulfills the Torah, then he can expect his child to do the same. If, on the other hand, he decides that he can go golfing or do some other trivial business and his son will grow up to be a religious Jew, an observant Jew, one who will live by the tenets and the commandments of A-mighty G-d, it will never happen. If you want your child to be like you, you have to show him how to do it. Commanding him to do one thing and you another will never accomplish what you are hoping for. Perhaps this is the reason why A-mighty G-d felt that it was important for Abraham himself, not a butler or servant, to fulfill His commandment.

VAYERA The Akeida – A Test for Father or Son?

The final chapter of this week’s portion recounts the story of the Akeida. The story beings, “and it came to pass, after all that took place, and G-d tested Abraham and said to him, take your son, your one and only son, your beloved son, and bring him up upon the mountain that I will show until you.” We all know that G-d wanted Abraham to take his son Isaac and bring him upon Mt. Moriah to be sacrificed as a burnt offering for the sanctification of the Name of G-d to see if Abraham was sincere in his devotion and commitment to Him to the extent that he was even ready to give up his most beloved and most precious possession for G-d. We could all very well understand why this was a test for Abraham. After all, a man waits 100 years to be blessed with a child, finally is given this blessing from Heaven and then is told to bring him for a sacrifice. One could very well imagine that a person would hesitate and have second thoughts whether or not he ought to do it. We know that in last week’s portion, Abraham, in speaking to the A-mighty, said to Him, “What are all my life and my wealth worth if I go barren?” At that point Abraham stressed the significance of having someone to take over after he is gone and impressed upon the A-mighty that every blessing he had up to that point was really meaningless to him unless there was someone to carry on. So, it certainly presents a very serious problem when he is asked to take his one and only child, in whom he had vested so much of his future and happiness, to bring him for a sacrifice and end his life.

By the same token, was this not also a test for Isaac? After all, Isaac was not a baby. He was already 37 years old. At this stage of the game he was a grown man with a mind of his own. Why was this less of a test for him than it was for his father? Well, one may reason, a man of 37 is still young; he wasn’t married, with a family; he didn’t have too much to lose, even if it meant he had to give up his life at this point. But still, why doesn’t the Torah at least say that G-d tested Abraham and Isaac? Let us say it wasn’t as serious a test for Isaac as it was for Abraham, but it certainly was a test for him! On the other hand, one may argue that when G-d spoke to Abraham and told him to take his son, Isaac didn’t know yet that he was going to be the sacrifice. However, at the end of the story he is still the one who is brought up upon the mountain and bound to be slaughtered. Furthermore, on the way to the mountain Isaac comes to that realization and, therefore, when he is being bound, he says to his father, “Bind me tightly so that the shechita should be a kosher one, without any blemish, without any question of a doubt.” Why couldn’t Torah give him at least a little credit and acknowledge that this was also a test for him as well as for his father?

My dear friends, the answer to this may be as follows: It is told that two people were once standing in the street involved in a conversation. One was the son of wealthy, philanthropic parents and the second was the son of a very stingy miser whose father never gave a penny for charity. A pauper came over to them and begged for alms. They both hurried immediately to give this poor fellow a very handsome contribution. This was observed by a person who was standing from a distance, who was very much surprised at the actions of the son of the stingy man. He went over and asked him, “How come you gave this poor man such a beautiful donation?” At this point his friend asked, “Why are you surprised at him, why aren’t you surprised at me?” To which the person answered, “You see, you are a son of people who were always charitable and generous, and, therefore, you have seen this all your life. It’s no wonder to me that you are open handed, good-hearted, and ready to give of yourself for someone in need. But this fellow is the son of a stingy miser who never had pity on anyone and certainly never gave anything to anyone. How is it possible that he, without seeing it from his parents or his surroundings, was able to perform such a magnanimous act? This, to me, was certainly startling and, therefore, I had to come and ask the question.”

The same could be said in the case of Abraham and Isaac. We know that parents bequeath to children certain character traits, and children are also the product of their environment. That which children see in their parents is usually carried over to them when they grow up and become adults. Isaac was born in the house of an Abraham and Sarah. What did he see in this house? Only hospitality, generosity, charity, goodness and readiness to sacrifice for someone else. He knew that his father had been thrown into a burning furnace to sanctify the Name of G-d when he was confronted by King Nimrod who challenged his belief in the one and only G-d. This, of course, had made a very deep and lasting impression upon the mind of Isaac. It is, therefore, no surprise to us that if Isaac, the son of Abraham and Sarah, is called upon to perform a similar act, he would be ready to do it without any hesitation. He saw a mother who was constantly involved in doing work similar to her husband, constantly sacrificing on behalf of G-d and Yiddishkeit. It was no great surprise that Isaac was ready to respond when the call came.

Abraham, however, was the son of Terach – an idol worshiper. Nevertheless, at the age of 3 years, he himself recognized that there was a G-d and went about spreading the word of G-d throughout the world. Now, in addition to all the other sacrifices and hardships he had gone through, he is called upon to take his one and only beloved son, whom he loves more than he loves himself, and bring him for a sacrifice upon the altar of G-d, only because G-d commanded him to do so. Where did he get such strength in his convictions to be able to go through all these different difficulties? He certainly didn’t get it from his parents. He certainly didn’t get it from his surroundings. And yet, when he is called upon to perform this final act, which touches him more than any of the others, nevertheless, he proclaims, “Hineni,” “here I am, ready and willing.” He awakens early in the morning, takes his son and starts on the journey which would end any hope for his future. This, indeed, was a great test for Abraham.

Perhaps this will make us understand how much respect we should have for Baalei Tshuva today. These young men and ladies come from homes which are totally devoid of any Torah and Yiddishkeit, without any kind of observance or adherence to any tenet or precept of our Torah, and yet they turn around and become totally religious upholding Torah and Mitzvos to an extreme. We who come from wonderful parents who have given us values, from wonderful homes where we have seen a definite Jewish way of life, a religious way of life, what surprise is it if we walk in the same footsteps and uphold this manner of living and practice? However, when young men and women who did not see it in their own homes and backgrounds come into the fold of Judaism and live true to their convictions with mesiras nefesh, with total devotion and dedication to every iota of Yiddishkeit then we certainly must stand in awe before them with the utmost of respect. For them, it is certainly a great test which they have proven themselves capable of overcoming.

We may even go a step further. True converts are those who come into the fold of Judaism not because of love for someone or any other ulterior motive but because they have come to the realization, through study, observance and practice, that there is a One and Only G-d on this earth – the G-d of Israel, G-d of Heaven, earth and the entire universe. He is the One to whom they must be subservient, whom they must obey and whom they must serve. And so, they take upon themselves the entire yoke of Judaism. We can understand why they have a definite place amongst Jews and Judaism.

The Torah teaches us that we should always be aware of our obligations and responsibilities and remember from whence we come. We should bear in mind that there is more expected from us, than perhaps from those who didn’t have our kind of upbringing. We must also bear in mind that G-d will demand an answer for all those things within our province that we do not do.

So, the call of the hour is for each and every one of us to come back to our roots and to remember that we have a great job to perform in the observance of Torah and Mitzvos and in the fulfillment of our commitment to our G-d, our Torah and our people.