Parsha Veyera — Living with Uncertainty and the Battle of Good Versus Evil
This blog is part of my theme for this year’s weekly Parsha Readings — How God Can Thrive in the Age of Sustainability. Sustainability, in its essence, means leaving a better world for future generations. This includes ESG — Environment, Society, and Governance (Ethics /Morals).
Parsha Vayera is the fourth weekly Torah portion in the Book of Genesis (Bereishit) and covers Genesis 18:1–22:24. It includes several significant events and stories:
Visit of the Three Angels: In this Parsha, three mysterious angels visit Abraham and Sarah, who are living in their tent. They deliver the news that Sarah will give birth to a son in her old age. This event underscores the importance of hospitality and the fulfillment of God’s promise to provide Abraham and Sarah with a child.
The Prayer for Sodom and Gomorrah: Abraham engages in a conversation with God, pleading for the salvation of the wicked cities of Sodom and Gomorrah. He bargains with God, asking if He would spare the cities for the sake of a righteous few. Ultimately, the cities are destroyed due to their wickedness, except for Lot and his family who are rescued.
The Birth of Isaac: As foretold by the angels, Sarah gives birth to a son and names him Isaac, which means “he will laugh.” This birth is a miraculous event because Sarah was well past her childbearing years.
Expulsion of Hagar and Ishmael: Sarah insists that Abraham expel Hagar, her maidservant, and Ishmael, her son, from their household to ensure Isaac’s inheritance. God reassures Hagar and promises to make Ishmael the father of a great nation.
The Binding of Isaac: One of the most famous stories in the Bible, this narrative describes how God tests Abraham’s faith by commanding him to offer his beloved son Isaac as a sacrifice. Abraham demonstrates his unwavering faith, but an angel intervenes at the last moment, preventing the sacrifice.
Parsha Vayera highlights themes of faith, hospitality, divine promises, and the consequences of sin. It also sets the stage for the ongoing stories of the patriarchs and the formation of the Jewish people.
Living with Uncertainty and the Battle of Good Versus Evil
In our ever more intricate world, we frequently grapple with uncertainty and contradictions. These challenges have been part of the human experience for centuries. One compelling example of such contradictions is found in the story of Abraham and Isaac. The decision not to sacrifice Isaac represents a profound shift in values. In an era when child sacrifice was horrifyingly common, this act of mercy was a departure from the prevailing norms, underscoring the sanctity of life.
To gain a deeper understanding of this historical context, I recommend reading James Michener’s — Makor “The Source,” which sheds light on the prevalence of child sacrifice and rituals involving firstborns.
Nonetheless, as we’ve moved away from such gruesome practices, we continue to confront new and evolving uncertainties. Recent events in Israel serve as a stark reminder of the ongoing battle between good and evil in our world. The conflict between Israel and Hamas extends beyond mere issues of land or religion; it embodies a struggle of moral principles and the legacy we aim to leave for future generations.
The current situation in Israel is deeply distressing, with innocent hostages and brutal violence orchestrated by Hamas. It forces us to ponder how we can lead ordinary lives in such turbulent times. While the United Nations has called for a ceasefire, it might be time to address the root problem directly. Rather than solely pursuing a ceasefire, we should demand the release of hostages, condemn Hamas’s actions, and call for their surrender. Only through this unwavering stance can we hope to avert further loss of innocent lives.
As we confront the grim reality of 240 hostages and heinous acts committed by Hamas, we are reminded of the alarming absence of a unified global moral response to such acts of terrorism. This issue extends beyond the Middle East; it is a worldwide concern. Anti-Semitism is rearing its head in various parts of the globe, and we cannot afford to turn a blind eye.
History has taught us the devastating consequences of appeasement in the face of evil. The failures of appeasement during the First and Second World Wars loom large in our collective memory. Today, the stakes are high, and we cannot afford to appease organizations like Hamas on a larger scale. It’s a time for strength, a time to confront evil head-on. We must stand together, demand the release of hostages, condemn terrorism, and work towards a safer and more just world.
The battle of good versus evil transcends specific regions; it is a universal struggle. It’s time for the world to awaken and unite in the pursuit of certainty, peace, and a brighter future for all.
Indeed, the question posed by Uri Pilowsky highlights a significant contradiction: Do we perceive Avraham Avinu as the “Ba’al Chesed” with an open tent, teaching about God, or as the warrior who took up arms to save his nephew Lot?
Undoubtedly, our forefather Avraham understood the importance of kindness. Rabbi Uri’s question is intriguing, challenging our perception of Avraham as primarily characterized by kindness and hospitality. Some argue that Avraham was akin to a lawyer fighting for justice. The stories from last week’s Torah reading, particularly the Battle of the Four vs Five Kings where Avraham sought to rescue Lot who had been kidnapped, illustrate his fight for justice and the return of a hostage or family member. This struggle mirrors the challenges we face today.
While we, as Jews, strive for peace, mercy, and kindness, the case of Hamas reminds us that kindness extended to our enemies can sometimes lead to cruelty. We provided free electricity, water, and services for years to people in Gaza, and yet, our kindness was met with hostility. This dilemma poses a vital question: Can we continue being kind to our enemies when it sometimes leads to cruelty?
This is an important question posed by Rabbi Uri, reflecting a story that echoes in our lives and resonates in the narratives of Sodom and Gomorrah. It’s a reminder that as we move forward in this evolving world, we’re not just witnessing a physical war; it’s a spiritual war — a battle for God, morality, and ethics, a struggle for a sustainable future, a fight for civilization. This is our modern-day challenge, and it’s crucial that we confront it head-on.
I thought this answer extracted from Chat GPT makes interesting reading.
What can learn from eradicating Evil in the story of Sodom?
The story of the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah, as found in the Bible in Genesis 18:16–19:29, provides several moral and ethical lessons about eradicating evil and the consequences of wickedness. Here are some key takeaways:
The Severity of Sin: The story of Sodom and Gomorrah illustrates the extreme consequences of rampant wickedness and depravity. The cities had become so corrupt that God decided to destroy them completely. This serves as a stark reminder of the destructive nature of sin and the importance of moral behavior.
The Power of Righteousness: The story also emphasizes the potential impact of righteous individuals. Abraham’s negotiation with God to spare the cities if even a few righteous people were found within them highlights the value of righteousness and the potential to influence the fate of a community.
The Importance of Hospitality: One of the underlying issues in the story is the lack of hospitality displayed by the inhabitants of Sodom. Their inhospitality and cruelty towards strangers and guests exemplify how moral decay can lead to a lack of compassion and kindness. Hospitality is considered a significant virtue in many cultures and religions, and this story underscores its importance.
Divine Justice: The destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah demonstrates the concept of divine justice. God’s judgment is portrayed as just and righteous, punishing the wicked while sparing the righteous. This emphasizes the belief that there are consequences for one’s actions and that justice will prevail in the end.
Lessons in Repentance: The story also highlights the importance of repentance. God was willing to spare the cities if there were even a few righteous individuals who could reform the community. It suggests that it’s never too late for individuals and societies to turn away from evil and seek a path of righteousness.
Collective Responsibility: The story reminds us of the idea of collective responsibility. The entire community was held accountable for its collective wickedness, emphasizing that society as a whole bears responsibility for its moral and ethical character.
In summary, the story of Sodom and Gomorrah serves as a cautionary tale, teaching us about the consequences of widespread evil, the value of righteousness, the importance of hospitality, divine justice, the possibility of repentance, and collective responsibility. It underscores the significance of moral choices and their impact on individuals and communities.
Haftorah Summary for Parshas Vayera
Kings II 4:1–37
Sometime around the year 3043–705 b.c.e., Elisha took over the mantle of prophecy from Eliyahu. Elisha served the Jewish people as their mentor and protector, and this week’s Haftorah relates two of the miraculous incidents that he performed. The first story is of Ovadya’s widow and the pitcher of oil that continued to pour until she had enough oil to pay off all her debts and make a decent living.
The second is the Shunamis who was unable to conceive children. After being blessed with a son, the child dies and Elisha performs the miracle of resurrecting the boy’s life. In both instances, basic human needs were satisfied through the righteous individuals trust in the Navi and in Hashem’s providence. The widow’s husband was the great Ovadya who risked his own life and fortune to protect 100 prophets from the murderous purge of Achav and Ezevel. The Shunamis and her husband were wealthy, G-d fearing people who generously provided for all who needed. Both women could have expected that their basic needs for income and family be deservedly provided by G-d.
The theme of Vayera is trusting Hashem beyond the limits of rational and assumed justice. As with Sarah and Avraham, the trust that Ovadya’s widow and the Shunamis had in Hashem was unrelated to their limited human expectations. They trusted Hashem to provide as He saw fit, without any strings attached.
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