Parashah 4: Vayera
(He appeared) Chapters 18:1–22:24
The Birth of Isaac
The first portion of Parashah Vayera, He Appeared, speaks about the integrity and humility of Avraham, when he welcomed the three ‘strangers’, revealed to be two angels of Yahweh, God, and God Himself, believed by modern scholars to be the preincarnate Messiah. It has been three days, since Avraham’s circumcision, the point at which the pain is its most severe. When Avraham say the approaching visitors, he literally ran towards them, even though he was in such pain, showing his righteousness and his loving kindness towards strangers.
From the moment of Isaac’s birth, there were relational difficulties between Hagar and Sarah. It appears Hagar became proud that she gave birth to Ishmael and, when Sarah couldn’t conceive, she may have scorned her. This attitude appeared to have been captured by Ishmael, as may be seen in the following observation made by Sarah: Sarah saw the son of Hagar the Egyptian, whom Hagar had borne to Avraham, making fun of Yitzchak. (Genesis 21:9) This so enraged Sarah, who appeared to be looking for any excuse to get rid of Hagar and Avraham’s first son, Ishmael, she ordered him to remove both of them from the camp. At first, Avraham was reluctant to do this, as you might imagine; he believed sending the woman and her child out into the wilderness was a death sentence. However, the Angel of Adonai came to Avraham and said, Don’t be distressed because of the boy and your slave-girl. Listen to everything Sarah says to you, because it is your descendants through Yitzchak who will be counted. But I will also make a nation from the son of the slave-girl, since he is descended from you. (Genesis 21:12-13) With this assurance, some food and a flask of water, Avraham led Hagar and Ishmael out of the camp and into God’s hands. Listen to how Adonai shared with Hagar her son’s destiny, Get up, lift the boy up, and hold him tightly in your hand, because I am going to make him a great nation. (Genesis 21:18) And, so this chapter in Avraham, Sarah and Isaac’s life comes to an end. However, the adventures continue.
The Binding of Isaac (Akeidah Yitzchak)
Earlier I shared with you Avraham had great faith; he left his home with all his people and possessions and went to a place where God commanded him, without complaint or question. Now we begin a chapter in Avraham’s life where both his and Isaac’s faith is elevated to a higher plane. This episode is called, Akeidah Yitzchak, the Binding of Isaac. Adonai called Avraham to take Isaac to Mount Moriah (Genesis 22:2) and sacrifice him. Once more Avraham obeyed God. Listen to the interchange between father and son, as they travel towards their destiny: Yitzchak spoke to Avraham his father: “My father?” He answered, “Here I am, my son.” He said, “I see the fire and the wood, but where is the lamb for a burnt offering?” Avraham replied, “God will provide himself the lamb for a burnt offering, my son”; and they both went on together. (Genesis 22:7,8) At this time Isaac was a young man; it is estimated, given the passage of time, he would be in his late teens or early twenties. He knew what was going on.
When they arrived at the site, where the Temple Mount in Jerusalem now stands, Avraham built an altar and bound Isaac on top a small pile of wood. The knife poised at its zenith, Avraham stopped, almost as if contemplating what he was doing and, in his humanity, questioning God’s command. Then, as he was about to direct the knife into Yitzchak’s heart, he heard a voice commanding him to stop: Don’t lay your hand on the boy! Don’t do anything to him! For now I know that you are a man who fears God, because you have not withheld your son, your only son, from me. (Genesis 22:12) Now, imagine yourself in Avraham’s shoes, or sandals at the time. Many years ago, when Avraham was a younger man, in his 70s, God promised him his descendants would be so vast, they would not be able to be counted; now he has been told to kill the only one who could physically bring this about. For him there would only be two possibilities: first, Adonai would not permit Avraham to continue with sacrificing Isaac or second, once Isaac was sacrificed, God would bring him back to life. In any event, Avraham knew with perfect trust Isaac would return with him to Sarah. Listen to what he said to the servants who traveled with them to Mount Moriah, Stay here with the donkey. I and the boy will go there, worship and return to you. (Genesis 22:5) Well, if Isaac was not sacrificed at Mount Moriah that day, what was? And once again God provided what man needed. As Avraham lowered his knife, out of the corner of his eye, he saw movement. Let’s read the account in Genesis 22: Avraham raised his eyes and looked, and there behind him was a ram caught in the bushes by its horns. Avraham went and took the ram and offered it up as a burnt offering in place of his son. (Genesis 22:13)
|Are you able to imagine how much trust Avraham had to obey God’s command to sacrifice his son? I challenge you to look within yourself – do you have that much trust in anyone you know?|
Do you trust God that much? I suspect the answer to the first question might be “perhaps” and I believe it might be difficult for you to say you trust God that much. Why do I believe that? Because only God can provide us with that much trust. Think about it – that amount of trust requires that we give ourselves completely over to God, completely. With the amount of material worth we have around us and all the conveniences available to us, why would we need to trust God? Certainly, if we had no food, no mode of transportation other than our feet or some pack animals, if we had to dig wells to provide water for ourselves and for our animals, with only stones and rocks as tools, that might be a different story. But we do not have to endure any of these hardships in the Western World. Until we do, developing trust in God will only come by our surrendering our will for His. And that requires we invite Him into our lives to begin that process of change. But now I’m getting away from the story of Torah.
 Rabbi Nosson Scherman and Rabbi Meir Zlotowitz, General Editors, Op. Cit., Ps. 78-79.