Table for Five: Vayera
Edited by Salvador Litvak, the Accidental Talmudist
The LORD appeared to [Abraham] by the terebinths of Mamre; he was sitting at the entrance of the tent when the day grew hot. – Gen. 18:1
Salvador Litvak, Writer, Director, Accidental Talmudist
When the Rebbe Rashab (Rabbi Sholom Dovber Schneersohn, the Fifth Lubavitcher Rebbe) was only four or five years old, he approached his grandfather, the Tzemach Tezedek (Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneersohn, the Third Lubavitcher Rebbe) on Shabbos Vayera and began to cry. At that age, I probably cried for sweet treats. The future rebbe asked, “Why did G-d reveal Himself to Avraham, but does not reveal Himself to us?” His grandfather answered, “When a Jew…decides at the age of 99 that he must circumcise himself, he is worthy of having G-d reveal Himself to him.”
Now I too long for the Divine Presence. Shall I invent some massive act of devotion to bribe G-d into revealing Himself to me? Well, Avraham didn’t pull circumcision out of thin air. G-d told him to do it. So, G-d had already appeared to him before this. But what about the first time? It seems Avraham figured out on his own that G-d made and runs the world, and he let that be known to others, and then G-d appeared to him.
How did Avraham let G-d’s presence be known? The same way he acts here: even when inconvenient, and even while in physical pain, he sits at his door scanning for people to help. He feeds them, warms them with good company, then credits G-d for all his blessings and the opportunity to pass them along to his new friends.
When I act that way, I may not experience a supernatural vision, but I certainly see G-d’s presence everywhere I look.
Aliza Lipkin, Writer and educator, Maaleh Adumim, Israel
The reason God deemed Avraham worthy to be the founding Father of the Jewish nation is subtly planted in the first pasuk in Vayera.
God revealed Himself to Avraham in Elonei Mamrei. The commentators are perplexed as to the lack of subsequent dialogue. However, when looking carefully at the full story it becomes clear that this was not a typical revelation which is meant to convey a specific message. This was a revelation of God achieved when one acts in consonance with the will of God.
Avraham devoted himself, body and soul, to God as he had just performed a brit milah on himself in his old age. It was not that act alone that merited the vision of God. At the time, he resided with Mamrei, one of his allies who helped him battle the 4 kings against the 5 kings to save his nephew Lot who was taken captive. It was this ability to reside in the space between his service to Hashem and his service to others that is represented by the entrance to his tent. He was able to maintain this balance particularly in the most trying times as it says, “in the heat of the day.”
Avraham found God within and revealed God throughout his service to others. He represents that firm root that keeps us connected to the Source enabling us to blossom and produce sustenance, shade and comfort to others.
Dini Coopersmith, Teacher, Israel-trip Coordinator, reconnectiontrips.com
God finally appears to Avraham, just to “hang out” and visit. This occurs after Avraham’s brit mila, which God says is the way for him to “walk before me and become whole (complete)”. The Maharal states that there are 3 aspects of becoming complete: whole with oneself, with God and with others.
There are times when we are conflicted, uncomfortable and unhappy with ourselves, we feel disenchanted with God, disappointed in His conduct, and disapproving and judgmental of the people around us.
Conversely, when we are at harmony with ourselves, have a sense of purpose and direction, feel connected to Hashem, see our friends and family with positivity and grace, this is wholeness. The Torah is telling us that at this moment, even though Avraham was in a place filled with people who disagreed with his way of life, and “at the entrance of his tent” – an unsettling, confusing place to be, neither indoors nor outdoors, and “in the heat of the day”- the weather uncharacteristically, distractingly hot, still, Avraham had the serenity and ability to engage in conversation with God, ask him to “hold on a moment” while he greeted his guests with energy and alacrity, and later pray selflessly for the evil people of Sodom.
This is wholeness.
Perhaps we can follow in Avraham’s footsteps and despite Covid’s distractions and disruptions of our routines, we can try and rise above the troubles and confusion, give to others, pray for others and become closer to God and more “whole” in the process.
Miriam Kreisman Esq., Tzaddik Foundation, mother of 4
“And G‑d revealed Himself to Avraham.” Rabbi Chama bar Chaninah said: ‘It was the third day after (Avraham’s) circumcision and the Holy One, blessed be He, came and inquired about his well-being.” What was this sickness that so required G-d to come and heal Avraham? Granted circumcision is painful but there has to be a deeper understanding (see Lubavitcher Rebbe Likutei Sichot, vol. 10).
Our Sages speak of the “50 gates of understanding” which grant man knowledge of G‑d. Within the scope of mortal knowledge, it is possible to “enter” only 49 of these gates. The 50th is by definition above our grasp. At this moment, Avraham was on the 49th level of holiness. A person who has attained the 49th level appreciates his inadequacy, and wants to rise above it. The fact that his very humanity prevents him from doing so makes him sick at heart. Only the direct manifestation of G‑d fulfills this yearning, allowing him to realize his innate G‑dly essence and function beyond his mortal limitations.
This G-dly “visit” healed Avraham, suffusing every aspect of his personality. Moreover, the Torah mentions that this revelation took place “in the plains of Mamre,” indicating that Avraham was to extend the revelation beyond his own person, transforming his environment. Avraham left this heritage to his descendants. By observing the Torah and its mitzvos, every Jew has the potential to transcend his individual nature and enter into a limitless bond with G‑d, transforming the world.
Dr. David Porush, Student, Teacher, Writer at davidporush.com
Why the heat?
Midrash says it’s about Abraham’s hospitality. Even at 99 years old, on the third, most painful day after circumcision, he’s so eager for visitors he waits outside in the heat.
But maybe the heat is also metaphysical. The only other time the word ‘chom’ appears in the Torah is after the Flood. God promises Noah that “as long as the Earth remains, there will be planting and harvest, cold and heat, summer and winter, day and night.” Why will the world endure this time despite all our continued sinfulness? Because Abraham will successfully spread monotheism to the world. With his ‘brit’, Abraham has finally sealed his deal with God. Now, right here, on this hot afternoon, under the big tree, God appears to him and – as Or HaChaim says about this precise moment – Abraham “in kabbalistic terms becomes a carrier of the Shechinah,” the particular aspect of God’s immanence, the divine settling or inhabiting of the world.
From then on, humanity’s plantings and harvestings and seasons will persist so Abraham can spread his seed and his vision of God can take root. In the snow squalls of war, persecution, exile, and martyrdom we will suffer spiritual frostbite and much worse. We will endure whole empires of freezing pagan winters. But inexorably the knowledge of one God that flows from Abraham and this hot afternoon outside his tent will win the world. Angels will visit. This is transcendent global warming. It leads to redemption.
With thanks to Salvador Litvak, Aliza Lipkin, Dini Coopersmith, Miriam Kreisman, and Dr. David Porush,
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