Things have not changed very much in the last four thousand years, it would seem. In this week's portion of the Torah, called vayera, which deals with the life and times of our father, Abraham, we read that he made peace with Abimeleh, a king or chief in the land of Canaan -- and yet had to reproach him for dealing treacherously with this first Jew in the matter of the well he had dug. Today, in the land of Israel, there is a new understanding between the "dwellers of the land" -- the Palestinians, and the seed of Abraham. I know -- I was just there!
I would like to report to you about my recent visit to Israel. I have had a chance to speak to people in high positions and people "on the street." I conversed with politicians and kibbutzniks, with college professors and young men and women on military duty in the army. There was a national point of view that I discerned: not surprisingly, all wanted peace. All wanted to believe that the discussions with the Palestinians will lead to a lasting peace built on mutual understanding of needs and aspirations, and a willingness to compromise for the sake of peace. There was also an undercurrent of anxiety and a feeling of incredulity. People just cant believe that the Palestinians and their fellow-Arab nations are willing to settle for only part of the pie. Many point out that compromise is not the Palestinians long suite.
Arriving at the Ben-Gurion airport you realize that the status-quo has not changed. Israel is the only nation in the world whose security needs dictate that the planes remain a distance from the terminal. I asked one of the security officers on the ground, "will you lose your job now that the P.L.O. has agreed to make peace?" He answered, "First we have to have an end to violence. Then I will voluntarily seek another profession." Arriving at the outskirts of Jerusalem, we had to pass a security barricade, where cars bearing blue plates, identifying them as belonging to Palestinians, are stopped for special inspection to insure that they are not carrying dangerous cargo or passengers -- once again reenforced the impression that the messianic era of peace is not quite yet at hand.
In the following two weeks, while I visited around Jerusalem and the Galilee, there were a number of incidents in which Jews were killed by Moslem fanatics from Lebanon in the north to the Gaza strip in the south. You probably heard about it and saw the gory pictures on the evening news. Being in Israel you get a different perspective. What you notice is not the blood nor the loud noise and acrid smell of the explosive -- no! What sends shivers down your back and makes your hair stand on end is the heart-rending shrieks and sobbing of those left behind. How does one comfort a young woman who was looking forward to a November wedding and now has an October Yahrzeit instead? What do you say to a parent who has already made the supreme sacrifice, and is mourning one childs death in war but now asks why a second child was lost "after peace broke out?"
Anyhow, what is peace? People are saying that they dont really understand. Negotiations break down, and diplomacy seems to move its locale from the round table to the battle-field. When "enough" blood is shed, the opposing parties stop the slaughter and return to the negotiating table, where they settle their differences and live side by side in tranquility -- till the next misunderstanding and flare-up. I do not recall too many accords where one side is banished from homes established in the others territory. Yet, both the settlers in Judea, Samariah and Gaza, and the Palestinians fully expect that the Palestinian entity will be "Judenrein!" Item: I spoke to one person in Eli, whose bathroom tile needed repair. The Arab worker who did the work did a very poor job, and when reprimanded by the home owner replied, "its only temporary, anyhow. When I buy your home and move in, Ill do a better job!"
In Ayelet Hashahar, a kibbutz in the Hulah valley totally exposed to the hostile eyes of Syrians on the Golan for the first 19 years of the states existence, they are worried about a settlement with Syrias Assad. "You cant trust the Syrians!" I was told by a Kibbutz member who came there twenty five years ago from Philadelphia to raise a family and fulfill a Zionist dream. "I am too old to run back to the shelter at night. Why cant we keep the Golan?" Why, indeed? If Russia can keep land that used to be Poland, and Poland can keep land that was once Germany, and we can keep a base in Cuba and islands that belonged to Japan in the Pacific -- why cant Israel learn to trust the Arab nations around it before it hands over the strategic keys to its very survival to men who just dont inspire confidence right now?
The Israeli economy is suffering from the same problems that beset the world economy, plus some of its own special problems. With the hope for peace comes hope of a shorter period of military service for males, maybe none for women, fewer expenditures both abroad and at home for the military -- and that makes the economy sluggish. Also, government economic protection in the last forty years, which was suddenly and drastically reduced (though not stopped, either within or outside the "green line"), makes the housing industry feel a squeeze, and the "peace dividend" is not yet at hand, though many talk about possibilities. In a harmonious Middle East Israel could become the center of finance, technology, and industry. Lets hope that the pessimists are wrong, and that the future will indeed "come up roses" for Moslems, Christians, and Jews alike.
The portion of the week this week is vayera -- Genesis 18 to 22. This is the second week that we are reading about our progenitor, father Abraham. If you examine this weeks reading, you will find the second half of it very familiar -- it is because we have read it for Rosh Hashana. The first part deals with the birth of Isaac and with the upheaval of Sodom and Gomorrah. To summarize briefly, the two angels arrive in Sodom, and Lot invites them to his home -- to protect them against the wicked people of the city. People come and ask Lot to let them have the strangers -- and Lot refuses, saying to the Sodomites, "I pray you, my brethren, do not do so wickedly. Behold now, I have two daughters that have not known man; let me, I pray you, bring them out unto you, and do ye to them as is good in your eyes; only unto these men do nothing; for as much as they are come under the shadow of my roof..." [Gen 19:7,8] Now we may think, on first reading of the text, that Lot is a very good man who is trying to protect a couple of strangers -- but on closer examination we discover that neither his motivation nor his action are very laudable. Lot did take the people in to protect them -- but he was hoping that no one had noticed their arrival. Now that they were in his home, he did not want to ruin his own reputation by letting them go, telling his townsmen not to harm the men because they are under his roof. His own morals come into question when we consider the means he used to try and stop his townsmen: to deflect their lust for games -- he offered his two innocent daughters to his townsmen, "to do with as they pleased." Is there a parent among us who would make such a trade in Lots place? Of course not , and not because we are not (or would not have been) as anxious to protect our guests. It is just that avoiding one travesty of justice by perpetrating another is not an act of virtue. Thus we come to recognize that Lot was not a nice or a fine person. He was not as far gone (on the scales of evil) as the people of Sodom -- but he was well on his way. Maybe that is another reason he chose to live there
If there were any doubts in our minds about Lots worth, his action at the end of the story seals our evaluation of the man: here was a survivor of a holocaust, who had been spared by Divine intervention, who was allowed to save not only his own life but his immortality -- through the survival of his daughters -- the same daughters that he was so willing to give to the Sodomites to do with as they pleased. It is an irony of fate that Lot becomes an innocent participant in a further abomination as his daughters, fearing that "the whole world has come to an end," attempt to regenerate humanity by impregnating themselves from their wine-drugged father. His culpability in this incestuous relationship is by no means removed, and the seed of this lurid drama is forever damned: Moab and Amon -- the long gone people who were enemies of the seed of Abraham, born in consequence of Gods intervention to save their not-so-righteous progenitor, Lot.
What do we learn from all this? Abraham asked God in 18:23 "wilt Thou indeed sweep away the righteous with the wicked?" We learn that God does not! God does forgive all humanity for the sake of the righteous -- but in the final analysis the wicked bring about their own doom, their own fall, their own demise. We also learn that the righteous sometimes suffer because of their righteousness, because "nice guys finish last" -- but their final reward is sure to come. The seed of Abraham are here among us today, celebrating Gods Shabbat. Sodom and Gomorrah were destroyed because of their wickedness, and the seed of Lot has also long ago disappeared off the face of the earth -- except for those who chose to ally themselves with Abrahams seed, such as Ruth the Moabite, a righteous proselyte. "Ken yovdo kol oyvekha adonay veohavav ketzet hashemesh bithilato. Thus shall all your enemies perish, oh Lord -- and those who love you shall be like the rising sun in praising Him."
We welcome the Shabbat with song, with the warmth that comes from the kiddush wine, and with the soft vision that is at one and the same time romantic and myopic as a result of the shabbat candles. It is Shabbat, a time to celebrate family and love -- not a time to mourn and to punish either ourselves or others.
And yet... And yet we cannot live in a false paradise. We need to consider the events of yesterday -- of all our yesterdays, and use the Shabbat to plan all of our coming tomorrows. Last week began poorly and went downhill from there. It was motza'ey shabbat in Tel-aviv when Yitzkhak Rabin was felled by an assassins bullet. The event, and its consequences kept our attention all week -- to the point where we did not notice that the last night of the week, the Thursday-Friday time slot, was the "yahrzeit" of the infamous "Kristallnacht" -- the night of broken glass, when some 1,100 synagogues in the German Reich were desecrated and destroyed back in 1938. How far we have traveled in fifty seven years, from 38 to 95. And yet how much things are the same.
Herschel Grynszpan was an intense Jewish youth who became incensed by the injustice of the authority in "his" homeland. Feeling that he is too weak and insignificant, he chose to shout his protest in the only way that he thought would have some kind of result -- a change for good, to be sure. He had a legitimate complaint: he was born in Germany to parents who had made that land their home. He believed in the principals of human rights and democracy -- all of which were taken away from him. His parents were rejected by and ejected from his homeland. His future was in danger -- and what is more, he believed that the future of his family, and the larger family of world Jewry was in mortal danger. So he took a gun, and he went to the German embassy in Paris to create an international incident. And he got more than he bargained for.
Yig'al Amir is a product of a religious home and an orthodox education that has imbued him with a zeal for Torah and for his people Israel and God's promised land, Eretz Yisrael. He is not a typical Israeli youth, though he shares many of their concerns, their fears, and their aspirations. He, too, is a prisoner of his circumstances and his time in the history of his people. While Herschel Grynszpan took the life of a German to draw attention to "his" plight, Yig'al Amir took the life of Yitzkhak Rabin. Yig'al felt, beyond a shadow of doubt, that he is doing God's bidding, that he is striking a blow against the enemies of the Jewish people and Jewish continuity. The tragedy of both is that they failed to understand the teaching of their heritage -- which just happens to be in this week's Torah portion.
We read this week the story of the Akeda -- Yitzkhak's binding upon the altar at the call of God to Abraham, "Take your son, your only son, whom you love, Isaac, and go to the land of Moriah, and offer him there as a burnt offering on one of the mountains that I shall show you." As you recall, I am sure, since we read this every Rosh Hashanah, Abraham does as he is told, and binds his son on the altar, and at the very last minute hears God's direction again: "Do not lay your hand on the boy or do anything to him; for now I know that you fear God, since you have not withheld your son, your only son, from me." God did not change His mind -- He set Abraham up, never intending to let him carry out the slaughter -- to teach us the lesson of the sanctity of human life. Abraham would have sacrificed his son, but God refused the offer. Had Herschel and Yig'al learned this lesson, bloodshed would have been prevented, and the course of history may have been changed.
To a bereaved world, made the poorer by the death of any human, the message is one of caution in deed and word. Let violence cease from this earth that the Lord gave us to live on, to sanctify and to preserve, to populate and to make bloom. Let us grow in mutual understanding and in the pursuit of peace. Amen!
I had a phone call this morning, and in the course of our conversation the speaker said to me, "Rabbi, since when is June followed by November?" Yes, time does fly, June is long gone, even if we hardly notice it here in sunny Florida. We are, really, entering the month of November! If you have not noticed it before, by now you know for sure that summer is over and winter has firmly established itself. The days are getting short, and sunlight is a precious commodity. November is a month full of events both in the Jewish and the civil calendars -- some good and some God-awful. Tomorrow, November 2nd, we celebrate the 79th anniversary of the Balfour Declaration, which recognized for the first time the goals and aspirations of the Zionism the movement of Jewish national renaissance. A week later, on the 9th, we commemorate Kristallnacht, that horror-filled night in 1938 when synagogues all over the German Reich were looted and burned, Jews were attacked, beaten, imprisoned -- and some killed for the sole reason of their Judaic roots. Two days later we recall the end of the "war to end all wars" -- what an oxymoron! Even the original name of the event reeks of ambiguity: armistice day. With much pomp and contrived drama, on the eleventh day of the eleventh month at eleven oclock the guns fell silent -- only to awake in a deafening roar a generation later! Therein is a lesson for all compromises who wish to make a "honorable peace of the brave" with people who know no peace, respect no brave and recognize no honor! Finally, on the 29th of November we take note of the United Nations moment of incandescent grace, when a newborn world body recognized the right of the Jews to a homeland of their own.
All these events were eclipsed and dwarfed by the earth-shaking and cataclysmic event that took place last year, motsaey shabbat -- at the end of Shabbat, November 4. On that fateful night, the new born Jewish state, and the revitalized Jewish world lost its youthful innocence as we watched a perverted mad-man hold up his arm and shoot three bullets at the prime-minister of Israel, Yitzkhak Rabin, fatally wounding him.
It just so happens that the Torah portion we read that evening, the same portion we read this week, was Vayera. It begins in the 18th chapter of Genesis, with Abraham recovering from his circumcision -- and ends after the Akeda, the binding of Yitzkhak. In the days following the death of Rabin there were many allusions to the events of the Torah portion. It has actually been stated that "once again Yitzkhak was placed upon the altar -- and that this time God did not stay the hand of the one wielding the knife."
I dont think this view of the event is either correct or proper. Abraham did not have a political agenda whatsoever. The Akeda was played out, from beginning to end, as a lesson in the benevolence of God and the faith of his servant-confidant Abraham. We know very little about the man that was bound upon the altar -- Yitzkhak -- except that he was a miracle child born to his parents in old age, shielded by his mother, Sarah, from the possible danger manifest by his half-brother Yishmael. Jewish legends tell us that he was as devoted to God as his father, and that, in fact, it was his idea to have himself bound, lest he weaken at the last moment and cause his father to fail in his mission, in his purpose.
Yitzkhak Avinu, our patriarch, was no Yitzkhak Rabin. Believe me, I know. I met Yitzkhak Rabin a number of times during his long career. On the night after this years Yom Kippur I sat at home with Colonel Shalom Dror, a U.J.A. speaker, and my uncle Sammy, who, it turned out, was a close friend of Col. Dror from Hagannah days in the late thirties -- and we reminisced about the pre-state days of struggle and sacrifice. My uncle and Dror were in Officers Training Course together -- and they recalled that Yitzkhak started the course with them, but had to withdraw because of an attack of malaria. When he returned to complete the course -- they were running it. They remembered his dogged persistence. He was a hard worker who did not give up. I recalled seeing him enter Jerusalem riding a jeep at the head of his Palmakh unit, come to "save" besieged Jewish Jerusalem during the War of Independence. Looking back at those days, reviewing pictures taken at the time, one is aware above all of his youth. Were leaders ever this young? At the same time, looking at those pictures, you are also aware of the self assurance and confidence that permeated his whole being. One of his favorite sayings was smokh, trust! -- accompanied by a wave of the hand, as if to clear the air before him. It was short for trust me, and it was not a sign of arrogance. Rather, it was an expression born of a sense that "the difficult we do at once, and the impossible takes a little longer" -- which was the secrete weapon of Israels success in those early years.
No, my friends, Yitzkhak Rabin would not have allowed his father (or anyone else) to bind him to an altar. He would have fought with every fiber of his body, tooth and nail, and every last ounce of energy against anyone who tried to make him a lamb for the slaughter. Those who speak of "his great sacrifice" should think twice. Yitzkhak Rabin heard the call to serve -- he joined Hagannah at a young age in the agricultural school Kadouri -- and he stayed in the army because he felt that he is doing something important for his country, for his family, and for himself. He retired from the military at a young age, having reached the top assignment in the Israel Defense Force, that of chief of staff. As a civilian, he accepted the call to serve as ambassador to the U.S. -- because, again, it was the thing he felt he was well suited to do. He served as Prime-minister after Goldas retirement because he heeded the call of his party and of his nation. He served as minister of defense in a number of governments, and again as prime-minister for the last four years of his life -- because he had real convictions that peace should and could be arrived at. He was a mature and experienced man by then. He was warned of an ugly mood of dissent and revolt in the populace. He refused to believe that he could be in danger in the heart of Tel-Aviv. Life was too precious to succumb to fear. When he was pushed into the car for that last ride to the hospital, he was in pain, but he was calm. He did not wish to die. He did not want to be a sacrificial lamb. He was the chief executive officer of the Government of Israel -- and he was wounded and felled in the line of duty.
When Yitzkhak Rabin was running for office in 1992, he spoke of the need for rational behavior. It is time to put our love for the Land of Israel in perspective, he said. I love this land, but the land is nothing without its inhabitants. For the sake of the people, we need peace. If we must give up some of the land for peace -- then so be it. We do not wish to make a cult of the love of the land.
Similarly, one should not fall into the trap of making a martyr of the fallen leader, building a cult around his political ideology and the circumstances of his death. Rabin was not killed by the opposition, nor the religious right, nor even Jewish settlers and other fanatics. He was killed by one man, who (in the final analysis) acted alone, who belonged to no secrete society that wished to overthrow the government of Israel and put an end to the peace process. Indeed, the peace process goes on, and that in spite of the fact that the electorate chose to remove Rabins party from power, in spite of all the guilt and stigma associated with such a turn of events. Democracy in Israel triumphed! Democracy in Israel was confirmed by the orderly transition of power at the time of the death of Rabin as well as after the elections that brought the Netanyahu government to power.
Still, we who have lived through those awful hours and days following the assassination -- we are not fully recovered yet. We have not come to term with what the assassination tells us about ourselves and our times. We have also not assessed the meaning of the shock that the event had on the youth of Israel. We must take the time, we must give a chance for the healing process to be completed. Remember how long it took us to accept and come to terms with president Kennedys assassination. We must never forget Yitzkhak Rabin -- but we have to let go. Even the story of Itzkhaks binding, in the Torah, comes to an end, and Abraham takes solace in the news that his bother has had a number of children. Life goes on. True, people die, but children are born -- and, as Rabin used to say, smokh -- you can trust that fact, you can be sure! Let tomorrow come. Keep in mind another favorite Israeli saying: Yihye tov, all will be well. Amen
This week we read a very interesting portion in the Torah. It is the fourth portion, or the one that comes after three readings in Beresheet, and it deals with a number of events where three events or three participants or three issues are part of the unfolding story of the Torah. Consider: The portion begins with the words, "The Lord appeared to Abraham by the oaks of Mamre, as he sat at the entrance of his tent in the heat of the day. And He looked up and saw three men standing near him. When he saw them, he ran from the tent entrance to meet them." [Gen. 11-2] This passage tells us that Abraham was visited by God and by three men -- who, we learn very quickly, are angels. These visitors tell Abraham of the coming happy event of the birth of Saras child.
As you recall, Abraham actually first heard of this coming event earlier in his career, at which time his reaction was, "Then Abraham fell upon his face, and laughed, and said in his heart, Shall a child be born to him who is a hundred years old? and shall Sarah, who is ninety years old, bear?" [Gen. 17:17] In this weeks portion we read, "Therefore Sarah laughed within herself, saying, After I am grown old shall I have pleasure, my lord being old also?" [Gen. 18:12] In further in the portion, when Sarah actually gives birth we read, "And Sarah said, God has made me laugh, so that all who hear will laugh with me." [Gen. 21:6] Three times we read about the "laughter of the parents" -- or the joy of welcoming Yitzkhak, the continuity of Abraham, the bridge to the future.
Very often in our tradition, things, both good and bad come in threes. In fact, I have often been told that when deaths occur in the congregation, it happens in threes -- Im sure youve heard that saying, maybe you are even one who perpetuates that saying yourself. Well, Ive looked at the recent history of this month of November, which is half over, and Ive found that the theory of "threes" fits it to a "T."
Did you know that in the twentieth century, we Jews have celebrated the birth of three great artists in the month of November. On the thirteenth we welcomed Reuven Rubin, a great artist whose beautiful renditions of Torah personages and events grace many Jewish homes as well as some of the worlds great museums. A day after the birth of Rubin, we celebrate the birth of Aaron Copeland, one of the most talented, loved and prolific composers of our time, our nation, and our Jewish tradition. Copeland adapted jazz to orchestral music and experimented with advanced forms of composition. His most famous compositions, at least to me, are El Salon Mexico, a composition based on musical themes from south of the border, the Billy the Kid and Rodeo suites, which draw of themes of Western music, and Appalachian Spring, a suite for symphony orchestra, in which he drew on traditional Shaker music. His most enduring and moving pieces, in my mind, are an homage to Abraham Lincoln, "Lincoln Portrait" for orchestra and narrator, and "fanfare for the Common Man." Copelands works include operas, choral works, ballet and orchestral music, and several film scores. On November 15 we celebrate the birth of Jan Peerce, whose beautiful tenor voice enchanted millions on the stage of the Metropolitan Opera Company in New York, in opera festivals and concerts in Europe and Israel, and in many a synagogue and temple where he officiated as cantor.
In the month of November we also remember three women, "eshet khayil" -- women of valor: November 7 is the yahrzeit of Khannah Szenesh, daughter of an assimilated Jewish-Hungarian poet who became a Zionist and moved to the land of Israel before the beginning of the second world war. In 1941 she was recruited by the Jewish authorities in Jerusalem to parachute to Hungary and work for the British war effort behind enemy lines, while at the same time trying to help save the Jews of Hungary from extinction. She was caught and imprisoned almost as soon as she arrived in Budapest, and on the day before the Hungarian capital was liberated by Russian troops she was taken to the courtyard of the central prison and executed. Khannah was a gifted poet who left a number of poems she wrote in Hebrew. One of her poems reads, "Oh God, my God, may these things never come to an end: The sea and the sand, the rush of the water, the bright sky, the prayer of humanity..." November 10 is the birthday of Nelly Sachs, who was born in Berlin, Germany, was fortunate enough to be able to enter Sweden in 1940 to seek shelter from Nazi persecution, who returned to her homeland and wrote of the great tragedy of her fellow Jews in The Habitation of Death, O the Chimneys, collections of poems, and Eli, a poetic drama. In 1966 she was recognized for her talent and shared the Nobel prize for literature with the Israeli author, S.Y. Agnon.
The 21st of November saw the birth of Henrietta Szold, daughter of a Rabbi in Baltimore, Maryland. She founded Hadassah, the Womens Zionist Organization of America, the most significant Jewish womens organization and member of the world Zionist organization. I need not tell you about Hadassah, how much it has done and continues to do for health in Israel, and through research and development worldwide. I would like to remind you that Henrietta has a Lakeland connection -- she was a cousin of our dear congregant Caroline Singer whom we lost so recently. I would also like to remind you that Henrietta did not rest on her laurels, after Hadassah became a successful world organization. She moved to Jerusalem, and lived there for many years. She never married, but she had many, many children: She founded and was director of Aliyat Hanoar -- the Youth Immigration organization that was set up to save as many Jewish children as possible from the holocaust and from other perils. This organization brought tens of thousands of children to their homeland, educated them in excellent schools in youth villages, trained them in vocational schools and colleges, and gave them psychological counseling to help them overcome the loss of parents and homes in the lands from which they escaped.
November is also a time of great and momentous events in the history of our national rebirth in the twentieth century. In November 2nd we celebrated the first official recognition of the aims of Zionism -- the giving of the Balfour declaration by the foreign minister of Great Britain. This Balfour declaration was recognized by other nations, including the house and senate of the United States. November 11 saw the tragic end of many of the most beautiful and ornate synagogues in Europe, in the infamous Kristallnacht. And at the end of November, on the 29th, we shall celebrate the fiftieth anniversary of the U.N. vote for the Partition Plan that was originally meant to create two states in the British Mandate territory -- an Arab and a Jewish state. For the three events, for the three women, for the three artists, we thank God, and for the three plus three days of creation, at the end of which He rested we thank Him and praise Him. Amen
This week we read the second portion in the second book
of the Torah. Moshe Rabenu has reluctantly accepted God's charge to go back
to Egypt to release, at God's behest, the People Israel from Egyptian Bondage.
We read the beginning text, "And God spoke to Moses, and said to him, I
am the Lord; And I appeared to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob, by the name
of God Almighty, but by my name The Lord was I not known to them. And I have
also established my covenant with them, to give them the land of Canaan, the
land of their sojourning, in which they sojourned." [Ex. 6:2-4] Actually,
the text in Hebrew says, "And Elohim spoke to Moses, and said to him, I
am Yod Heh Vav Heh; And I appeared to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob, by the
name of El Shada'y..." Now, many scholars wish to interpret this "Yod
Heh Vav Heh" as an actual name, but I, and my heritage, insist that this
just is not so. The "Yod Heh Vav Heh" is a code for "God of Creation"
or "God of the past, the present and the future." Only last week we
read that God said to Moshe, "Ehyeh asher Ehyeh" I shall be
what shall be, and you may recall the Kabalistic interpretation that involved
numerology, or Gemmatria, where Ehyeh has a value of 21 and "Ehyeh asher
Ehyeh" is the function 21 times 21, giving is 441. Adding the digits we
get 9. So, the "value" of God's name, which is not pronounced at all,
is numerically 9. Now we are told that our God was known to Abraham Isaac and
Jacob as El Shada'y." This "El Shada'y," in the Hebrew, has a
numerical value of 345, and adding the digits we get 12, and adding the digits
again gives us 3! So, the God of our fathers is the numerical value of 3, which
is the root of 9 which is the value of its name. Of course, the Hebrew
word Emet, truth, also has the value of 441, which is reduced to 9, as mentioned
last week. I would like to point out to you further, that many people refuse
to recognize God by His name or title, bestowing His qualities on "nature."
Interestingly, the Hebrew word for nature is Teva Tev, Vet, A'yin. Tet
is 9; Vet is 2; A'yin is 70. The sum is 81! God revealed Himself at Sinai with
the word "I am [the Lord your God...]" in the Hebrew Anokhi.
Aleph is 1; Nun is 50; Khaf is 20; Yod is 10. The sum is 81! And, of course,
81 is the square of nine! So, when God revealed Himself at Sinai, or when He
is revealed in nature, we still have the indication of His power, His source,
His action upon the forces, the energy that makes all happen!
Now this God is all existence is squaring off with Pharaoh. In our reading, the middle of the tri-annual readings, we come upon this text, "The Lord spoke to Moses, saying, I am Yod Heh Vav Heh; speak to Pharaoh king of Egypt all that I say to you." [Ex. 6:29] So we ask, is there a special meaning to the term Pharaoh? And, of course, there is. The root is Peh Resh A'yin. From this root we get two words with opposite meanings para means to neglect, disarrange, or plunder; and the same para means to pay a debt completely, to set a debt right. The same root letters, rearranged, give us the word araf, which means to break the neck or decapitate. Change the vowels, making the word oref, and it means neck, and in a stiff-necked person, as in Pharaoh! When we go to Gemmatria, or numerology, we find that Peh Resh A'yin (and its anagram, or course,) has a value of 350 which can be reduced to 8. Yod Heh Vav Heh has a value of 26 which is also reduced to 8. Thus we see the battle of wits between God almighty and Pharaoh as a battle for definition of which is the valid and which is the invalid "eight." There is a dichotomy in all of us, between the plundering, disarranging and neglectful part of our nature, and between the redemption of our debt of gratitude to God for our true redemption setting us free of bondage to want, to make us in the image of Yod Heh Vav Heh, the symbol of all that was, all that is and the hope for all that is yet to come!
This week we read in the Torah the portion of Veyera, Genesis 18 to 24, which encompasses the rearing for the first two days of the New Year, the story of Yishmaels expulsion from the camp of Avraham, our father, and the binding of Yitzkhak, our second Patriarch. There are so may lessons to be learned from the text, and so many interpretations, that one is left with the unenviable task of choosing one over all the others, and then being asked, why did you not speak of one of the other themes that the text presents. To grab the dilemma by the horns, as it were, I chose to speak about none of the above. Rather, I shall talk about the vehicle that drives our text week after week. I do this to remind you of the class that will begin next Tuesday, in which even the uninitiated can learn to read our ancient tongue, the Hebrew.
The Hebrew language is totally different and unique amongst the many tongues of mankind. It is truly a magical instrument of speech, both secular and Holy. That is the singular and distinctive principle of the Jewish tradition. Language scholars define tongue as an arbitrarily agreed upon set of symbols bunched together to make sounds that are understood to stand for objects, words of action and/or states of being -- but Jewish tradition asserts that Hebrew is the language "with which the world was created." Indeed, it is often theorized that the incantation of magicians, "abra cadabra," is derived from the Hebrew "evra kedabri" meaning I shall create as I shall state it to be. The reason for the postulate that the formula comes from the Hebrew is the text of Genesis 1, where the story of creation is rendered, "And God said, "Let there be light," and there was light." [1:3] This is then repeated again and again, "And God said, "Let there be an expanse between the waters to separate water from water." [1:6] "And God said, "Let the water under the sky be gathered to one place, and let dry ground appear." And it was so." [1:9] This goes on to the last saying, "Then God said, "Let us make man in our image, in our likeness, and let them rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air, over the livestock, over all the earth, and over all the creatures that move along the ground."" [1:26] Truly this is "abra cadabra" on a grand scale.
This may be the reason why, to Judaism, Hebrew does not merely describe reality - it is the very source of reality. Rather then being a vehicle to express meaning, the Hebrew language is the source of meaning. To the Jews, then, Hebrew is not an etymological system but a spiritual path. Implicit in the Hebrew language itself are all of the basic principles of Jewish spirituality waiting to be unpacked by the sensitive ear of the spiritual seeker for a communion with the True God of creation.
Let me provide you with an example from the Hebrew that will serve to make my point quite well, I believe. As your teacher, I shall supply you with the tools necessary to learn Hebrew speech. The word for to supply is lesapek. The first consonant, l -- which is called lamed -- is a prefix of direction, to, and vowels are not part of the body of words, leaving us with the root letters s, p and k. (It is interesting to note, by the way, that the name of the prefix consonant, lamed, means learn in the Hebrew -- suggesting that the learning experience is a journey towards knowledge!)
You will be ready to read and learn vocabulary and text when you have enough skill in what I will teach, or supply (remember, lesapek) to you. Enough is maspik, where m is a prefix meaning of or from and the other consonants, s, p and k, are the same three consonants as in the root of supply. When you reach that point in your quest for knowledge of the Hebrew, you shall have a sense of great satisfaction at your achievement, and the Hebrew for satisfaction is sippuk! I am sure that, by now, you are not surprised to see that the same three root letters s, p and k appear to form the word!
So, as students, you need to make a paradigm shift in the fundamental way in which you think about and study the Hebrew language. You must no longer think of it as a technical linguistic tool, but rather you should accept or re-claim Hebrew as a spiritual path to the secret of creation and the mystery of God. Without the satisfaction or sippuk of understanding the mystery and complexity of the Hebrew, you will forever have doubts, in Hebrew safek. The f in the middle of this Hebrew doubt is a soft sound of the explosive p which means that doubts root in the Hebrew is, once again, the letters s, p and k! Judaism's unique understanding is manifest in the example of the relationship between the words safek and sippuk. Living the sacred life requires a dialectical relationship between skepticism and satisfaction, paradox and paradise - between core certainties and the correlate uncertainty.
Both assurance and ambivalence are vital - each has its place, its moment. Healthy religion, as well as healthy living, flow from simultaneously maintaining credence and questioning. In order to live in the world in a way that is both grounded and passionate, we must first become certain about ourselves. If we are grounded in conviction, and do not doubt ourselves, then we have the inner strength to be able to encounter the many areas of our lives where uncertainty is inherent and inescapable. Yet if we are doctrinaire, and do not,ever, doubt ourselves -- we will never ask the definitive questions that will give us a true conviction. A healthy acceptance of uncertainty will enable us to have perspective, so as to avoid either the paralysis of indecision, or the recklessness of extremism which craves the certainty of over-simplification. Anchored and motivated by some sense of inner certainty, one is able to act courageously and decisively in times of uncertainty. If, on the other hand, one holds no inner tenets and certainties, then acting from uncertainty is almost invariably a far too dangerous a proposition leading to greater confusion.
All of the above is implicit in the magical dance, cadence and balance of the Hebrew language and the way it teaches connections between concepts that are seemingly unrelated. Safek is the term for doubt and uncertainty. Sippuk is the word for satisfaction. Lesapek is to supply the answers needed to dispel doubt, sippuk, and enough answers supplied are maspik to bring about true and well grounded acceptance.
At a glance, these four words seem unrelated, expressing very different and diametrically opposite concepts: supply is a flow, an infinite constant; enough is a finite quantity; doubt is an agitated state of being, and satisfaction is a serene and soothing state of certainty. To resolve the seeming ambiguity and inconsistency of the four words we have examined, I propose that we shall first add to the confusion by looking at two more words: lehaspik meaning to have the opportunity to do, and hespek, meaning ability or potential. Surely you recognize these two words as having our familiar three root letters -- s, p and k.
Our two new words are related to time as well as to space. Ability exists as a condition for a fulfillment of potential, the removal of doubts by means of a supply of whatever is necessary to satisfy our quest for knowledge that will bring about the satisfaction of forming a convictions based solidly on irrefutable facts.
You can see how opposites exist together in our mind, even as they do in our speech. The Hebrew language is hinting to us that the two concepts or uncertainty and satisfaction interlock more deeply than we would at first imagine. True sippuk - satisfaction - depends on resolving the inner safek of our identity. If we have the ability, hespek, to find the core certainty of our very being, we will lehaspik, have the opportunity to enable ourselves to resolve the uncertainties of our world outlook in a healthy and ultimately satisfying way.
One must understand and accept that there is more than one meaning, more than one answer to questions, to text. We must be open to new ideas, to new learning. If we do not resolve our inner safek, if we are not sure of who we are and what we truly need, we will spend our lives blindly searching for sippuk in the places least likely to offer it; we shall ignore the true hespek (supply) of variable answers, and we shall never have maspik (enough).
The above introduction to the Hebrew language is but one of an endless number of examples of the way in which exploring the Hebrew language can bring us to deep and meaningful contact with our spiritual heritage. I want to urge you to study Hebrew, not just the alpha-bet, the vowels, the vocabulary, the grammar and the syntax, but the magic of Hebrew, the uniquely spiritual aspect of the tongue of the prophets, which is the path of the Jews. Hebrew is the key to mutual respect and communication with all Jews, regardless of their affiliation, observance or place of birth. More than that, Hebrew is the direct connection to the Master of the Universe, whose inspired word was first given in the Hebrew. Today, Hebrew is primary source of communication, guidance and transmission of information for the growing number of secular Israeli Jews committed to reclaiming the sources of Jewish culture, values and thought. My grandfather, Eliezer Ben-Yehuda engaged in an heroic struggle to revive the dead language of the Jews -- as an integral part of his struggle for Zion, inspired by the word of God and the vision that God in his heart and in his mind. In fact, Zionism, the seemingly secular and even anti-religious Jewish renewal movement, could not and would not have taken hold without Hebrew. Israeli Jews, raised on Zionism as their spiritual fare, are uniquely open and receptive to the total message of the Hebrew language, and therefore, in my opinion, cannot be defined as being non-religious or secular. The Hebrew language, then, creates an unparalleled common ground for a genuine pluralism, for an understanding between Jews and Jews, between Gentiles and Jews, and between God fearing and Bible believing Gentiles of different persuasions.
This week's Torah reading is so connected to current events it is amazing and frightening at the same time. The top two issues in the news are the election results and the violence in the middle east. The two major stories in our portion of the Torah are (1) Abraham's need to elect a successor by sending away his first born son Yishma'el to insure the safety of Yitzkhak; and (2) the issue of the binding of Yitzkhak how God asked Abraham to take his son to Mount Moriah to offer him as a sacrifice, and how He stops the sacrifice from taking place.
Abraham spent many years in the land of Canaan without children. He prayed to God for a son, and Sarah remained barren. It was she who suggested that they use Hagar as a surrogate to have a son, a succesor. Now Abraham had a son, whom he raise - albeit not with his dear wife Sarah upon whom he showered his love and affection, whom he taught to be master of the house. This child was fourteen when Sarah's son was born, and we can almost understand Yishma'el's resentment of this new scion of his father and the chance that he may prove to be the one to follow in his father's steps better than the first born. Yishma'el feels that he deserves the presidency, no matter what the popular vote may indicate. Sarah demands decisive action to insure the outcome she knows to be the only correct resolution to the issue. I do not know just how to relate this to the current impasse in Florida and the United States, as both presidential candidates claim the title of Yitzkhak - but the issue is clear. There is a need to have a quick and forthright resolution.
As for the Akeda, the binding of Yitzkhak here, too, we have a corollary lesson for events taking place in Israel today. The issue is the Palestinian practice of placing their young children on the front line, exposed to risk of life and limb. Abraham was asked to sacrifice his Son, and he went up to the awesome place, filled with faith in God, faith that he will not have to endanger his son. And, indeed, the angel called to him and stopped him from slaughtering his son "to satisfy God's command." This has been interpreted in our tradition as a lesson from generation to generation to preserve our children. God does not wish the death of our progeny but that we rear them to love God and follow His teachings. We want to shield our children and educate them in the ways of peace and love, in the manner of Abraham, who rushed to greet guests even when he was still healing from his operation, and when God was visiting with him.
As for the children of Yishma'el, listen to this report from the daily Palestinian newspaper Alhayat Al Jadida (Oct. 30): "I wish to be photographed in a photo studio, because I have no pictures which will be published after I become a shahid." These were the opening words of the ten-year-old child Muhamad, from the Alma'azi Palestinian refugee camp, as he awaits his turn to have his picture taken with his friends, so that it will be published after he is killed and becomes a shahid. This boy, as all Palestinian children, no longer fear death, and are not scared of the bullets of the oppression, and so at the end of their school day they make their way to the Dir Akbakah junction, near the settlement of Kfar Darom, where from their mouths are heard the cries of the nationalist slogans, and in their hands they carry Palestinian flags.
When the child Mahmud, who participates daily in the clashes against Israel, is asked why he carries his school bag, which may be burdensome to his stone throwing, he puts down his bag and opens it, and the big surprise was that the bag was full of stones. Mahmad smiled and said, "Now you understand?" One boy, Mahmad's partner, pointed to his arm on which his name is written, and said, "I wrote my name on my arm so that I will be identified after I become a martyr (shahid)." These "Stone Children" continue daily the parade of blood, and continue to become shahids, in order to protect the homeland and the holy places. The bullets of the oppression hit hundreds of children and killed many children, most notably the shahid child Muhamad Aldura. Do not pity them, as they are not taken into consideration. Because these children stand with their chests exposed to the Israeli oppression machine, which kills them with premeditation, not because they pose a threat to Israeli lives, as Israel claims, but because they are Palestinians. Death is better than life. That is the belief of 15-year-old Azam who waited patiently at the northern entrance to Elbira in order to throw stones towards the soldiers of the occupation despite the wound he sustained on his left hand during confrontations last week... Azam misses the school he left as a six-grader, especially when seeing schoolchildren making their way towards roadblocks, as though searching for life amongst the death that floats in the air. Azam says, "Ever since I left school I think about what will become of me in the future, but I cannot create a clear picture about my future. I tried learning to be a locksmith, but I did not succeed." He says, "Nothing matters to me anymore. For me life and death are the same thing."
Even though Azam left school early on, he learned how to confront the forces of the occupation, as well as the art of political speeches. He says, "Al Quds (Jerusalem) should return to the Palestinians and the occupation should end. Then the future will be better." Azam loves watching war movies and he follows the events of the Intifada via television broadcasts at night. After he eats breakfast he joins the field of confrontation. Azam notes that sometimes he comes to Ramallah by foot in order to participate in the marches, demonstrations and confrontations with the forces of the occupation... One of the chief political activists on the field of confrontation says, "The people who wonder why the children are on the field of confrontation forget why the children are murdered in cold blood."
We must never forget the lessons of Torah. We must be aware that we are in an age old battle between in ideals of Yitzkhak and the violence of Yishma'el. We pray and wait for the day when Yishma'el learns the lesson of his banishment, that he who lives by the sword shall not inherit and will not succeed, but will be removed from civilized society. Let the brigand reform, let the butcher put down his sword, and let there be peace on earth, real and lasting peace with no conditions and no recrimination. Only when every parent puts the life of his children ahead of all polemics and politics shall we learn to walk together in harmony and equity. May such a time dawn soon.
we read the fourth portion in the book of Beresheet - Genesis. It is the second
week that we read about Father Abraham - chapters 18 to 24, and it deals with
a number of events and issues that are part of the unfolding story of the patriarchs
of the Jews recounted in the Torah. The portion begins with the words, "The
Lord appeared to Abraham by the oaks of Mamre, as he sat at the entrance of
his tent in the heat of the day. And He looked up and saw three men standing
near him. When he saw them, he ran from the tent entrance to meet them."
[Gen. 18:1-2] This passage tells us that Abraham was visited by God and by three
men -- who, we learn very quickly, are angels. These visitors tell Abraham of
the coming happy event of the birth of Sara's child. This reading of the text
is wrong! Our sages tell us that there is a huge gulf or separation between
verse one and verse two in the text. The first verse must be read by itself!
"The Lord appeared to Abraham by the oaks of Mamre, as he sat at the entrance
of his tent in the heat of the day" - God, Himself, appeared to Abraham.
Why? Because of what we read in the last verses of the last portion: "In
the same day was Abraham circumcised, and Ishmael his son. And all the men of
his house, born in the house, and bought with money from the stranger, were
circumcised with him." [Gen. 17:26,27] So Abraham was sitting at the enterance
of the tent, recovering from his self inflicted surgery, and God appeared. God
came to visit the patient in his time of "need."
Thus the sages taught us a primary lesson in Judaism based on this single verse: the importance of Bikur Kholim - visiting the sick and the infirmed.
The Mishnah, the Oral Tradition that was transcribed by the sages after the Torah, teaches us, "SIMEON THE RIGHTEOUS8 WAS ONE OF THE LAST OF THE MEN OF THE GREAT SYNAGOGUE. HE USED TO SAY: THE WORLD IS BASED UPON THREE THINGS: THE TORAH, DIVINE SERVICE, AND THE PRACTICE OF KINDLINESS." [Avot 1:2] What is this "kindliness?" It is honoring parents, helping the poor, visiting the sick and burying the dead. Further, we read "THE FOLLOWING ARE THE THINGS FOR WHICH NO DEFINITE QUANTITY IS PRESCRIBED: THE CORNERS [OF THE FIELD]. FIRST-FRUITS, [THE OFFERINGS BROUGHT] ON APPEARING [BEFORE THE LORD AT THE THREE PILGRIM FESTIVALS]. THE PRACTICE OF LOVINGKINDNESS, AND THE STUDY OF THE TORAH. " [Pe'ah 1:1]
This emphasis on visiting the sick was an innovative idea when first broached by our ancestors - and even today it is not one that all people perform, or perform willingly. Many feel that it is the responsibility of a clergyman - a Rabbi, a priest or a minister - and of "chaplains" and social workers - to visit in hospitals and nursing homes. As for shut-ins - they are what the name implies - shut in, alone in their fate, shut out of sight and mind of the rest of society.
Why is that? It is not easy to answer this question. There are a number of theories. Most believe that the prime reason is fear! Humanity is ego-centric, and when we look at the outside world we are always comparing ourselves to everything "out there." We want to make sure that we "fit in," that we are like the rest of the group. We become challenged by differences. That is why we tend to associate with people who are "like us." We seek the companionship of those who live like us, who enjoy the same distractions, who like the same foods, drinks, music, entertainment and the such. We want affirmation of our own worth by seeing others who are similar.
Those who are not similar are, of course, different. "Different" - the very word has a connotation, as have the words strange, foreign, alien - and from there we go to the more extreme manifestations of different: odd, unusual, and abnormal.
I have not gone off on a tangent! I am still dealing with visiting the sick - but I had to explain why we don't do it, and it has to do with the whole issue of "different." There is nothing "wrong" or even "unusual" about being sick. However, the idea of getting sick, and of having, God forbid, a life threatening illness, is enough to put terror and dread in any normal person's heart. Not because we don't know of the existence of illness - but because of that sense of being part of the crowd. When we are in the company of the sick - we are in the circled of the endangered. Suddenly, and by our own doing, by our own choice, we make illness a part of our reality. The one we visit is ill - so can we be!
Judaism realized that this attitude is very negative to have. We need to recognize that we are not the center of the universe, and that not everything in the world revolves around our existence. We need to escape our own little existence and enter the larger existence of God's creation. Doing this has a dual effect - it broadens our horizons, and it offers the one we visit a new perspective on his/her world. They, who before felt doomed to illness and loneliness, find themselves in the company of health and life - and they gain strength and hope from the experience.
Caring for the sick, the infirmed and the elderly - whose life force begins to ebb, is getting to be a very important occupation in our society. The professional care givers cannot do it by themselves. Doctors and nurses are aware that they need the help and support of the patients' significant others, of the faith community in the person of the clergy, and of the community at large. We must all share the responsibility of caring for those who cannot care for themselves alone. For truly, it is an act of selfless kindness that brings us closer to our Maker, an ennobling manifestation of pure love. God Himself came to visit Abraham when he was recovering from surgery - can we deny the need or avoid the call?
This Shabbat, the
last in the month of October, we read the fourth portion in the book of Beresheet
- Genesis. This is the second week that we read about Father Abraham - from
chapter 18 to 24. The text deals with a number of events and issues that are
part of the unfolding story of the patriarchs of the Jews as it is told in the
Torah. The portion begins with the words, "The Lord appeared to Abraham
by the oaks of Mamre, as he sat at the entrance of his tent in the heat of the
day. And He looked up and saw three men standing near him. When he saw them,
he ran from the tent entrance to meet them." [Gen. 18:1-2] This passage
tells us that Abraham was visited by God and by three men -- who, we learn very
quickly, are angels. These visitors tell Abraham of the coming happy event of
the birth of Sara's child.
This happy event is followed in quick succession by (1) the angels going to Sodom and rescuing Lot and his family while the twin cities are overturned and destroyed by God; (2) the argument of Abraham with God over Sodom; (3) the terrible transgression of the daughters of Lot; (4) the abduction of Sarah by Abimelekh, king of G'rar and God's dealings with Abimelekh to protect Abraham and Sarah; (5) the birth of Yitzkhak and the expulsion of Yishma'el and his mother, Hagar; and, finally, (6) God's call to Abraham to "Take now your son, your only son Isaac, whom you love, and go to the land of Moriah; and offer him there for a burnt offering upon one of the mountains" [Gen. 22:2] and the following story of the Akeida the binding of Yitzkhak upon the altar.
Such a wealth of material creates a challenge and a dilemma to someone like me: what shall we speak about. Like the story of the son whose mother makes him a gift of two shirts, we have a real paradox before us. Whichever issue we will choose, someone is bound to ask, "how come you did not deal with this other issue which is so-o-o important, crucial, urgent, contemporary, etc..."
Well, grabbing the dilemma by the horns, I shall find reference in a number of this week's stories to an issue of concern for us as Americans and as Jews. Sodom and Amorah were cities of sin and corruption, filled with vile men bent of perversion as entertainment. Abimelekh, king of G'rar, kidnaped a woman simply because she was pretty and desirable. Hagar raised her son filled with hate for her mistress whom she hoped to supercede, fashioning his character to be unsuited to the ways of his father, Abraham. Three examples of the traits of the people of Canaan whom God would one day punish with extinction because of their evil ways.
In the seventh century a new faith came out of the tip of the Arabian desert, taught by a man who learned from Jews about Adona'y, the Lord God Almighty. He taught brotherhood and family, love and respect for the poor as well as the rich. Just as Christianity grafted itself on the stock of Judaism, Mohamed claimed common ancestry with the Children of Israel through Yishma'el and Esau, reclaiming the rights of the sons of Abraham and Yitzkhak.
Unfortunately, the basic teachings of the prophet of Islam were peppered with old pagan practices, prejudices and peccadilloes. Women were put down, and a culture of war and pillage was made a way of life and a mark of manhood a virtue. And here we are, fourteen hundred years later, having to deal with extreme Islam, which high-jacked a religion practiced by over a billion people, spreading violence and terror around the entire world. For a couple of weeks, the capital district of the United States was under threat of an unknown sniper who turned out to be a perverted Islamist; in Moscow, capital of Russia, Islamist terrorists are holding a theater-full of hostages to influence policy toward Islamic fundamentalists in Russia's soft underbelly. In central Israel a bus was blown up this week by a suicide-murderers who packed more than two hundred pounds of explosives into a car that they drove from a town under control of the Palestinian Authority. And in the news last week we discovered that the terrorist Islamist regime in Bagdad now has "only two or three" atomic devices. Heaven help us!
Is there hope? Is there a future? What should we do? Where do we go from here?
Maybe we need to look to our Torah, the "handbook" prepared by the "manufacturer" of Spaceship Earth. As the stories unfold, the wicked seem to grow strong, Abraham hears the call, "Take now your son, your only son Isaac, whom you love, and go to the land of Moriah; and offer him there for a burnt offering upon one of the mountains" you must be prepared to make a sacrifice, and have faith that God will not allow your seed to perish. Many commentators have found fault with God for this passage. "What kind of a God asks a man to offer his son?" They asked. "If God is good, would He not spare the father the grief of the binding knowing that in the end He would relent?" They argue.
Yet, these questions beg the issue which is at hand. It is not God who puts us to the test it is the Godless. We are called to make sacrifices to stay free, to keep our faith, to avoid death and destruction. So as not to be enslaved we must enroll in the military which is a kind of slavery. We surrender our freedom, our civil and human rights, even our most basic "right" to life! We must do this to save our way of life, our land, our civilization! So, there you are! We practice an "Akeida" we send our beloved young children, our "Yitzkhaks," as it were, to protect us from the wicked. Is God evil? Did He invent terror? Did He wish to see the demise of the righteous?
When the last false prophet is proved wrong, when the "sons of darkness" are vanquished once and for all by the sons of light and justice flows like a river then, and only then, will humanity find rest from the threat of the most pernicious and dangerous beast on earth perverted humanity. Let us hope that the day comes soon, and let us remember that only through our vigil, and our willingness to make the supreme sacrifice, will that day arrive, and God's sovereignty be established.
This week’s portion in the Torah is called “vayera” -- Genesis 18 to 22. This is the second week in which we are reading about our progenitor, the “first Jew in History,” father Abraham. If you examine this week’s reading, you will find the second half of it very familiar – it is because we have read it just recently, on the first and second days of Rosh Hashana. The first part of the portion, the less well known text, deals with the circustances leading to, and the birth of Isaac and with the upheaval of Sodom and Gomorrah. The text begins with, “And the Lord appeared to him in the plains of Mamre; and he sat in the tent door in the heat of the day; And he lifted up his eyes and looked, and, lo, three men stood by him; and when he saw them, he ran to meet them from the tent door, and bowed himself to the ground, And said, My Lord, if now I have found favor in your sight, pass not away, I beseech you, from your servant; Let a little water, I beseech you, be fetched, and wash your feet, and rest yourselves under the tree;” [Genesis 18:1-4]
Many people read these verses and conclude that what they are reading is the story of the angels that came to inform Abraham and Sarah of the coming birth of Itzkhak. But that is not quite right. In fact, the first verse is much more related to the last verses in chapter 17, which we read last week. “ In the same day was Abraham circumcised, and Ishmael his son. And all the men of his house, born in the house, and bought with money from the stranger, were circumcised with him.” [Ibid. 17:26,27] In other words, Abraham and all the males in his household went through the “operation” of circumcision, and “Lord appeared to him in the plains of Mamre.”
God, in His great and awesome majesty, appeared to Abraham in his residence, as he was sitting by the opening of the tent in the heat of the day. Why would God do such a thing? Did He want to have a confrontation with his covenant “partner?” Not if you read on in the text! God just appeared, it would seem from the text – and then Abraham becomes aware of the three “men,” who are in fact angels, who have come by, giving him a chance to play the host. So, why did God appeared to him?
The answer to this question is of paramout importance in the Jewish religion and culture. We are taught, “These are the deeds that yield immediate fruit and continue to Yield fruit in time to come: honoring parents; doing deeds of Lovingkindness; attending the house of study punctually, Morning and evening; providing hospitality; visiting the sick; Helping the needy bride; attending the dead; probing the Meaning of prayer; making peace between people, and between husband and wife. And the study of Torah is the most basic of them all.” [Talmud, Shabbat 127a] One of the greatest mitzvot, then, in the visiting of the sick. Why is this such an important m,itzvah? Obviously, because God Almighty, Himself, hurried to fulfill this mitzvah as He came to visit Abraham in his moment of weakness.
This Shabbat is dedicated, because of this single verse we read at the very beginning of our portion, to the concept of “bikur kholim,” visiting the sick – and to all the fine people who volunteer some of their precious time to fulfill this mitzvah even for people that they do not personally know before hand. It is a mitzvah to visit your friends when they are sick – and it is even a greater mitzvah to visit people we are not acquainted with. I wish to commend those give selflessly of their time and energy to perform this wornderful acts of lovingkindness, for they are truly generous and full of love. May we all learn from them and join in their efforts.
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