21st Century P’shat: 1-2 minute divrai Torah for each aliyah

Vayeira

  1. Avraham promises his guests a morsel, but gives them a feast. Why? My brother Isaiah points out that he sees G-d in the men. He recognizes the divine in others. While I think this is true, I think the point here is a little different. Avraham promises them a morsel, but never says they should eat or drink it. He realizes these are angels. So why make a feast of it, with cream, milk, lamb, cake? It shows his fundamental pleasure in serving the divine. This is Love. And perhaps this is why the angels eat – to reciprocate.
  2. The p’shat has the cadence of negotiation, but not actual evidence of movement by the parties. You could read it as Avraham simply be asking Hashem – how much goodness is enough to save the city? Avraham could be trying to learn about Hashem – unwilling to accept the idea that the righteous can’t save the wicked. Perhaps Avraham stops the questioning at 10 because he too doesn’t see that as enough to rescue the place.
  3. Lot seems like Avraham in so many ways. He offers up his daughters to protect total strangers. But the differences become apparent with the food. Lot serves the man matzoh. This is no feast. Why not? Perhaps Lot is saving their lives out of a sense of duty, Avraham serves his guests out of a sense of joy. Lot is righteous, but he wouldn’t live in S’dom if he sought the joy of service.
    1. Why does Lot offer up his daughters? Because he cares about the men enough to do so. The problem is that he doesn’t care about his own daughters sufficiently. He lacks Sarah – who sees that it important to protect not just the present, but the future.
    2. What is Sodom’s sin? They seem to be extremely productive, but totally lacking in the characteristics that provide security to others. One might argue they have a bit too much Ayn Rand in them.
  4. Avraham explains to Avimelech that he saw no fear of G-d and so he figured he had no protection of G-d.  But he’d just seen S’dom – not a G-d fearing place – crushed and Hashem has already promised a quiet death in old age. So how could he think this. Maybe he didn’t. He made the argument to Sarah, when they went to Egypt – but he didn’t make the argument to her here. It is quite possible that she decided to deploy it here. And he just followed along. Why? We’ll see more about her soon.
    1. Why is Sarah so attractive despite being so old? Sarah was a powerful person – far more forceful with her husband than any wife in Chumash. Perhaps, to men of power like Pharoah and Avimelech, she offered a new kind of relationship.
    2. Lot’s daughters sleep with their father. But it seems they made the right call given what they knew. Perhaps this trace of appropriateness is what enables the elder daughter to be the ancestor of David. The younger one just goes along and doesn’t get this honor.
    3. There is a critical scene of prayer here. The origin of Shacharit, Avraham rising and standing in a place where he had encountered Hashem. But no words are spoken and Hashem does not respond. Instead, Avraham is ‘zochered’ indicating he was suffering an existential crises seeing S’dom destroyed. Hashem saves Lot as a result – but doesn’t tell Avraham anything. It is a lesson to us in prayer. We can stand ‘where’ G-d has been encountered before, and we can pour out our souls. Even if we don’t see the results, and even if Hashem doesn’t speak to us – he may still respond and address our deepest needs.
  5. On one level, Sarah seems to be a hateful and mocking person – oppressing and then driving out Hagar, laughing at the concept of Yitzchak. She is different than Avraham, but an important part of their union. Avraham loves to serve and protect others – he is Chesed. But she stands up for their legacy. Avraham acts in the present and prays for the future. Sarah actively works to secure her legacy and that of her husband. We should learn from her: even with the promises of Hashem, we need to actively defend our future.
  6. Avraham internalizes the lesson of Sarah – and faces Avimelech directly. He is now mixing the love of service with the active self-protection of Sarah. It represents a tremendous growth.
  7. And now we have the Akeidah. Now Avraham is ready for the ultimate test. He has trust, he understands his must protect his legacy, he defends others’ interests even at risk to himself. But now he must show and learn that Hashem is at the core of all of it. Legacy, trust, others interests – all have to be subsumed below one consideration, fear of Hashem. It is an impossible challenge, Avraham can’t make sense of it. But he performs it anyway – calling Hashem’s bluff. And this somehow guarantees his legacy, locks in his trust and shows that his middah of carrying for others is the core attribute that sets him apart.

Please look to the Rosh Hashanna Day One and Rosh Hashanna Day Two for a totally separate analysis of the latter part of this parsha.