Weekly Reading Insights:

Vayera 5782



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Overview of the Torah Reading

To be read on Shabbat Vayera, 17 Cheshvan 5782/Oct 23, 2021

Torah: Genesis 18:1-22:24; Haftorah: Kings II 4:1-37 (because of v.22, similar to the angels' promise to Avraham)

Vayera is the 4th Reading out of 12 in Genesis and it contains 7862 letters, in 2085 words, in 147 verses

Avraham interrupted a conversation with G-d to run and offer three people walking by a rest stop and food. They were angels from G-d, who told him that Sarah would have a son next year, and that G-d was about to wipe out Sodom. Avraham prayed for the people there. The messengers continued to Sodom, and were invited home by Lot. They told Lot to flee with his family, and not to look back. They ran, but his wife looked back and became a pillar of salt. The five cities were destroyed. Lot and his two daughters moved into a cave. Thinking they were sole survivors in the world, the daughters got their father drunk and had his sons. Avraham visited Gerar, announcing that Sarah was his sister. The king Avimelech took her, but G-d told him in a dream that she was already married and that he must return her to her husband. Sarah gave birth to Yitzchak, whom Avraham circumcised when he was eight days old. Avraham sent Hagar and Yishmael away, as Sarah did not want Yitzchak to share his inheritance. G-d promised Hagar that Yishmael would also become a great nation. Avraham and Avimelech made an oath regarding the well which Avraham had dug, and a peace treaty. G-d tested Avraham and told him to bring his son Yitzchak as an offering. At the last moment a voice from heaven stopped him, telling him that he had proved his faith. Avraham offered a ram instead. G-d blessed him that he would have many descendants.


An Essay from
Rabbi Shaul Yosef Leiter, Director of Ascent

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It is said about the Chafetz Chaim [1] that on Friday evenings his custom was to first sing songs to welcome Shabbat (probably those printed in both Ashkenazi and Sefardi prayer books) and only after this he would "make the seuda", begin the Shabbat meal. Nevertheless, when he had a guest, he would quickly start the meal and only sing afterwards.

As a very respected rabbinical figure, his every action was a considered one and in line with understanding the spiritual needs of the situation. Instead of changing his custom he could have asked the guest if he was hungry or not. However, the Chafetz Chaim was afraid that the visitor would be embarrassed to admit that he was hungry (and he was probably right). Therefore, to give the visitor a good feeling and, even more important, not to cause him or her any discomfort, the Chafetz Chaim would start the meal promptly. He gave the commandment of welcoming and honoring guests every priority, even if it meant personally inconveniencing himself.

As Jewish people, we learn about the importance of the commandment of welcoming guests from the very beginning of this week's Torah portion, Vayeira. It describes how Avraham actually got up, even though weak from his recent circumcision, and, with apologies to G-d, ran away from His presence, to welcome some guests (who were actually not human at all but angels) to his tent.

Rabbi Moshe Levi Soloveitchik points out something interesting. In general, Avraham is known and praised for his attribute of alacrity, getting up early and not procrastinating, particularly in connection to G-d's command that he bring his son Yitzchak as a sacrificial offering (at the end of this week's Torah portion). Five times the Torah repeats expressions of swiftness in connection with Avraham welcoming his guests. "He ran to meet them", "He speeded to the tent of Sara", "Quickly take three measures of flour", "He ran to the cattle" and "He hurried to prepare it". Because of this alacrity to fulfill G-d's wishes, he merited to be the father of the Jewish people.

But, if you think about it, Avraham did all of this for guests (angels) who were not in truth hungry and did not need all this effort and attention. Nevertheless, Avraham received the merit and recognition for what he did, even if he did not in fact fulfill the end result of the commandment of caring for guests (in a physical sense - the angels did not eat).

Rabbi Soloveitchik suggests that the Torah is teaching us that the main part of the commandment is not the care of the guests, that the needy person should be fed. The needy person is the vehicle through which we fulfill the real commandment, to have mercy and concern and feel the needs of another person and then make every effort to help them and fulfill their needs. To make it part of our consciousness to feel the needs of others.
(Adapted from the Hamodia Torah magazine 2013)

The Lubavitcher Rebbe teaches we can actually learn both aspects, not just the inner need to care for the other but also to actually help the other person physically. Avraham lived before the Torah was given on Mount Sinai, when it became possible to fuse the physical with spirituality. For Avraham and the forefathers, the main emphasis was to fulfill G-d's commandments in their most inner spiritual context.
After the Torah was given and the material world and the spirituality of Torah because connected, it became possible to transform the material world into something spiritual. Only then did it also become part of the intention of the (hospitality) commandment to physically welcome and honor and help the guest too. The commandment was no longer only to refine and spiritually elevate the person who observed it.
(Rebbetzin Tzirel Livnoni. Shulchan Shabbat)

Rabbi Levi Yitzchak of Berditchev [2] once came to Lelov and went to the home of one of the town's wealthy residents for a place to sleep. The rich man did not recognize the Rabbi and sent him on his way. The Rabbi next went to the home of a simple schoolteacher and stayed there. The word got out that the Grand Rabbi Levi Yitzchak of Berditshev was in town and everyone came to see him and ask for his blessings and advice. When the wealthy man came and realized his mistake, he explained that he had not known who the Rabbi was and now insisted that he come and stay with him in a lodging that was on a level with his great honor.

Rabbi Levi declined and explained. "Why do we give so much praise to Avraham for welcoming and honoring guests? In the same Torah portion, his nephew Lot seems to do a much better job, risking his life and that of his family to fulfill the commandment."

He then answered, "Lot saw angels and received them to his home. He received angels, not people! On the other hand, Avraham saw three people who looked like poor travelers covered with dust from their journey and ran to greet them. This is the commandment of welcoming guests!!!"
(Adapted from Rabi Yehuda Leib Levine. Chassidim Mesaprim)

Shabbat Shalom, Shaul

Footnotes:
[1]Rabbi Yisrael Meir HaKohen Kagan. 1838-1933. His book, Chafetz Chaim: Desires Life on the laws of Lashon hara, speaking ill of others.Known for his legendary humility, concern and love for people.
[2] 1740-1809. A Chassidic leader renowned for his love for the Jewish people, and his characteristic role of advocating before the Heavenly court on behalf of the Jewish nation


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For last year's essay by Rabbi Leiter on this week's Reading, see the archive.


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one sample:

Ascent Lights



Quietly Carrying On

By Shaul Yosef Leiter

By receiving from G-d an additional hei to their name, Abraham and Sarah each became more effective vessels for G-d's blessings and merited a miracle. Abraham merited that G-d revealed Himself to him and Sarah well past childbearing age, was blessed with news of a son.

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