Vayeira (Genesis 18:1-22:24)

This Shabbat (Sabbath), many in the Jewish community are reflecting upon the rabbinic teachings connected to the weekly biblical reading of “Vayeira” (Genesis 18:1-22:24; Kings II 1:1-22:24). The following is a reflection rooted in these. For more about the sources, please go to

The biblical text describes G!d “appearing”  to Abraham at the opening of his tent, when Abraham sees two people wandering in the desert, and he leaves to run after them and invite them into his home, whereupon they reveal that he and Sarah will have a miracle child that they did not expect, and the reader learns that these two men were really angels.

Traditional rabbinic commentary learns several profound lessons from this passage: (1) the purpose of spiritual encounters are to teach us to live, not to simply enjoy privately… and just as Abraham left G!d’s Presence to try to help the strangers, so too we must realize that all religion exists to teach us to live more compassionately, and should inspire us to run after strangers to help them, (2) the people we meet in life, seemingly randomly, are really angels… “malachim”, which is Hebrew for messengers from above, and (3) regardless of where Abraham tried to run, once he had entered into a space where he was able to see G!d’s Presence, everywhere he went, he encountered spiritual messages… Once you are on the journey… once you see, you can’t unsee… you can’t go back.

The text continues with Abraham arguing with G!d to try to rescue Sodom and Gomorrah. From this, we learn yet another profound lesson about faith- true faith opens us up to recognize injustice and to want to fight against it. Too often in our own day, we have this idea of spirituality- it is a joyful peaceful place, but the biblical account of faith is far messier, and involves opening our eyes to see and rage against the injustice that is everywhere. Our prophets did the very same thing, often decrying what passed for religious piety, demanding that real religious fasts not abstain from food but from exploitation and greed.

And so we see the Call to faith that led Abraham to abandon all that he was and to venture forth into the unknown… to encounter G!d and begin to see more clearly… we see the ways in which this spiritual journey involves praying with one’s feet not with one’s mouth…. Going forward into the world to help those we do not know and doing everything we can to eradicate injustice… often done in the name of religion…

This coming week, let us ask ourselves what we can do to see more clearly, and let us chase those we do not know to see if we can help them and listen to everyone we meet as if they have a profound message from above to teach us… let us be willing to get angry and risk angering those we might even see as god in order to fight for what is right…

What is one thing we can do this week to speak up and venture away from the spirituality we know and from which we draw comfort to do what needs to be done for those that are in harm’s way?