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Parshat Vayera

NIFTAR ON 20 ADAR 5758 - MARCH 18, 1998.



Menachim Z. Shimanowitz

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Although none of the Taryag (613) mitzvot are counted from Vayera, there are many mitzvah-lessons to be found in the Parsha.
Many of the details of the Mitzvah of Hachnasat Orchim (hospitality), considered part of the mitzvah of G'milut Chasadim, are derived from the behavior of Avrohom Avinu. Similarly, Bikur Cholim, (visiting the sick), also a part of G'milut Chasadim as well as being part of the mitzvah to emulate Hashem.




HAFTORA: (Additional portion, from Prophets, which is read after the Parsha)
Melachim ll / Kings II 4:1-37 (Ashkenazim);
Melachim ll / Kings II 4:1-23 (Sepharadim)

פרשת וירא

For a fact filled sheet

In our last episode, Hashem commanded Avrom to leave his home in Charan. So Avrom packed his bags and headed out on a blind date with destiny. Hashem led him to the land of Canaan. But along with Avrom came a drought. He was forced to abandon the promised land and head out to Egypt, where a family fiasco ended with a plagued Pharoh 400 years before Yetziat Mitzrayim (Exodus from Egypt). Avrom was kicked out of Egypt for saying Sarai was his sister, but left a rich man. Back again in Canaan, Lot, Avrom's nephew, moved to Sodom and was captured in a war. Avrom fought 5 kings and won Lot's release. Hashem changed Avrom's name to Avrohom, Sarai's name to Sarah, and promised that in the near future they would have a son.

Avraham Avinu As our Parsha opens, Avrohom wastes no time after circumcising himself and his entire household. He painfully returns to the lookout post at the entrance of his tent, waiting for strangers to cross the road. It has been three days and Avrohom is at the peak of pain, but Hachnasat Orchim (hospitality) is Avrohom's forte, and he insists on performing this great Mitzvah.

Hashem wants to spare Avrohom the strain of caring for guests, so He makes it so hot out that no one will dare venture out in the grilling heat. Sadly, Avrohom realizes that no one will be showing up today.


Three Malachim Hashem decides to pay a visit to Avrohom. This teaches us the importance of the Mitzvah of Bikur Cholim, (visiting the sick). He sees how Avrohom yearns for guests, so He sends three Malachim (angels) in shepherd clothing walking down the road. Avrohom is so excited to see guests that he interrupts his conversation with Hashem and runs out to greet them. Avrohom invites the three strangers to his tent for a meal. He quickly sends one of his men to fetch water to wash their feet. While they are resting under a tree, Avrohom makes dinner arrangements. That's Sarah's department and you can be certain that she is as enthusiastic as her husband. The guests are fed a hearty meal. Of course, since they're Malachim, they make it all disappear!


Now, these three Malachim each have a mission. Malach Raphael the healer has been sent to take away Avrohom's pain. As soon as Avrohom approaches him on the road, the pain from circumcision was a mere memory. Malach Michoel gives Avrohom the news he has waited to hear most of his life; next year, at this time, Sarah will give birth to a son. Well, faith comes solemnly to Avrohom, but Sarah can't help but to give a little laugh when she overhears this announcement. But this chuckle of emotion doesn't go over too well with Hashem. Could it be that Sarah doubts the powers that created the heavens and earth? Hey, once you've created a world, what's another miracle under your belt - even if she is 90 years old!

When the visit is over, Malach Michoel's mission is complete. He heads back to Shamayim. But there are still two more matters to take care of. Hashem has had His eye on the wicked city of Sodom for a long time now. Malach Gavriel's mission is to destroy Sodom. Malach Raphael's task is to save Lot's family from certain death!


Hashem has great respect for Avrohom. Since Hashem has promised the land of Canaan to Avrohom, it's only fair to let him know that the cruel city of Sodom and its neighbors are about to be pulverized. Why? Listen to these facts:

First of all, in Sodom you're not allowed to give food to poor people. You're not allowed to invite strangers into your home. If a stranger comes to town, they rob and beat him. If a rich guy comes into the city, the people push a wall down on him, kill him and then steal his money. Get this one: if two people get into a fight and one ends up bleeding, the bleeder has to pay a doctor's fee for the bloodletting service.

Hashem tells Avrohom that the souls of those murdered in Sodom are crying out for revenge. But Avrohom, a person with great compassion, still can't deal with a whole city being destroyed. Where Noach failed, Avrohom succeeds. He begs Hashem for mercy. Who knows, maybe they'll do Tshuva! (repent). What about Hashem's reputation? It's bad enough having a flood on His resume; does He have to add the destruction of a city?

Now Avrohom starts dealing: What if there are fifty good people in Sodom? Let the city survive on that merit! Hashem agrees. But according to the last survey, there are no fifty Tzadikim to be found in Sodom. "How about forty-five Tzadikim?" Hashem agrees to this figure too. Eventually, Avrohom "hondles" Hashem down to one righteous man. Unfortunately, the city Tzadik census deals a big zero. Avrohom realizes that there is no one worth saving in Sodom. No one except Lot...


By evening the two Malachim arrive in Sodom. Lot happens to be sitting by the gate. Apparently he has picked up a few of Uncle Avrohom's good habits. He waits for the arrival of a couple of strangers so that he can fulfill the Mitzvah of Hachnasat Orchim. (He did pick up "some" good habits hanging around Avrohom's house!) When he sees the two Malachim disguised as strangers, he heads right for them and, against the rules, insists they come home with him. Lot leads them through the back alleys so that no one will see the guests enter his house. Meanwhile, Lot's wife, Irit, isn't crazy about having guests in her house. When Lot asks her to go to a neighbor and borrow salt for his guests, she flips out. She goes house to house declaring "I need salt to feed two strangers that are eating in my house."

"Strangers!" That's all the wicked people of Sodom need to hear! They come in droves demanding that Lot hand over his two guests. When Lot refuses, they attempt to bash down his door with a battering ram. Just when it seems hopeless, the two Malachim take over. They tell Lot's family to clear the area. Then the Malachim strike the evil people blind! But these Sodomites are bent on evil! Even in the sightless confusion, they band back together and attempt once again to ram down the door! But these blinded bums finally give up when they fail to find the door.

The Malachim call a huddle. They warn Lot and his family that the city of Sodom is about to be destroyed by Hashem. They must make a run for it now if the wish to survive. But no matter what they hear, they must never dare look back! Lot, his wife and two daughters flee the city immediately. SodomThe moment Lot gets past the city's gates, it begins to rain. The rain turns to tar and fire, destroying the trapped inhabitants of Sodom and four other wicked cities.

With all the tumult bellowing behind them, Lot's wife can't curb her curiosity. She turns her head. Instantly, she becomes a pillar of salt. The Torah tells us that this pillar stands in its place to this very day. Why salt, you ask... That's Midah Kneged Midah! ('Tit for Tat'). When Lot's wife went searching for salt she told everyone about the strangers in her home. Now she would become that very salt she searched for! Meanwhile, Lot and his two daughters head for the hills and hide out in a cave.


Since there ain't gonna be no more strangers on the road to Sodom, Avrohom decides it's time to move on. Next stop... Pelishtim in Gerar. Now these guys aren't as bad as the Egyptians but Avrohom decides to revive the sister and brother routine made famous in MItzrayim (Egypt). Sure enough, word gets back to King Avimelech that the beautiful Sarah has just entered his kingdom. Avimelech orders her to be brought to the palace. Once again Sarah turns to Hashem for protection. And once again Hashem hits a royal household with plagues. Hashem speaks to Avimelech in a dream. He warns Avimelech to let Sarah go because she is a married woman. But Avimelech has an excuse: "What did I do wrong," he petitions. "She said Avrohom was her brother. Blame them, not me."

The plagued Avimelech brings Sarah back to Avrohom. He gives Avrohom a speech about acting like a "mentsch" in his "well-behaved civil country." Since the time of the flood, the people of Gerar have been very careful to guard their city against immorality. Avrohom shoots right back at Avimelech that there is a kink in the system. Since the citizens would never take a married woman, they would have killed him if they had found out that he was married to Sarah. Avimelech sees Avrohom's point. Avimelech sends Avrohom a slew of expensive presents. He begs Avrohom to petition Hashem for the end of the plagues that are terrorizing the palace. Hashem accepts Avrohom's prayers and heals the royal family.


Avrohom knows where he's not welcome. After facing off with Avimelech, he heads out to a new town, Be'er Sheva, where he goes into the hotel business. Of course, Avrohom's got bigger plans than managing a Beer Sheva Best Western. He and his men plant an orchard of fruit trees and raise a back-lit sign for strangers and travellers to see: "Free fruit, food and furnishings".That's sure to draw in the crowds! Whenever a stranger comes around, Avrohom takes the opportunity to introduce Hashem into his life. It starts with a Bracha of thanks after the meal. Eventually chit-chat turns into a lesson that makes a believer out of a "Baal-liever"!! Avrohom's Hachnasat Orchim hotel is a hit and the name of Hashem spreads with the thousands of guests who leave his hotel rested and satisfied.


Exactly one year to the day that the three Malachim dropped in on Avrohom, a very welcome stranger enters the tent. At the age of ninety, Sarah gives birth to a son; the son that Avrohom and Sarah have waited for all their lives! They name him Yitzchok, meaning 'laughter'. Now Avrohom will have an heir to fulfill his destiny! Yitzchak's BrisWord of this great miracle spreads and on the eighth day of Yitzchok's life, Avraham circumcises his son and celebrates the Brit with a party.
Two years later, when Sarah stops nursing Yitzchok, Avrohom makes another party. Everyone shows up: King Avimelech, Og the giant, and 31 kings from Canaan. Everyone celebrates the miracle of Sarah's rejuvenation. Hashem has kept his promise to Avrohom and now the whole world knows it.

The celebration is turned into a great Kiddush Hashem and, of course, leave it to Avrohom to roll out a full dinner and Viennese table and, oy, what a smorgasbord!


Yitzchok and Yishmael grow up together, but while Yitzchok is a "nice Jewish boy," Yishmael is more like an Egyptian in shepherd's clothing. His idea of fun is using Yitzchok for target practice out in the fields. Well, Sarah won't have any of this. It gets even worse when Yishmael boasts that as the oldest son, he will receive a double portion of his father Avrohom's possessions! Yes, Yishmael is older than Yitzchok, but Yitzchok is the true heir to Avrohom's destiny.

Sarah insists that Avrohom sends Yishmael and Hagar packing! Avrohom doesn't know what to do. After all, if this is how Yishmael acts in Avrohom's house, imagine what he'll be like out in the wilderness with no one to set an example for him! He's got to think about this one. Hashem tells Avrohom not to worry so much about Yishmael. He must listen to Sarah and send them on their way.

Following Hashem's orders, Avrohom hands Hagar a divorce, a dozen bagels (okay, a loaf of bread!) and a jug of water, and sends her out of his house. Sadly, she carries Yishmael on her shoulders. They head for the desert. They would be okay for a while under normal circumstances, but Yishmael develops a fever and gulps down the entire water supply. He's still burning up, though, and Hagar is afraid that her son will die in the sweltering heat. So she places him under a shady bush and prays to Hashem for help. The sick Yishmael also prays.

Hashem responds to Yishmael's prayers. A Malach tells Hagar not to be afraid. Hashem has big plans for Yishmael. He will father a great nation! Suddenly, she sees a well of water in the middle of the desert. Hagar feeds Yishmael fresh water. When Yishmael has recovered, he and his mother settle in the desert of Paran. Yishmael becomes a mighty hunter. He marries an Egyptian woman and becomes a terrorist - oops, I mean a robber.


At this point, Avrohom is surely the most famous guy in Canaan. After he and Sarah leave Pelishtim, the stories of Avrohom's fame finally reach Avimelech's palace. There's the one about the war that Avrohom won against the four kings and, of course, the baby that Sarah gave birth to in her old age!

Avimelech starts to wonder whether he may have been a little hasty with Mr. "A." The Pelishtim could really use Avrohom on their side. He's heard whispers about Hashem's promises to give Avrohom's descendants the land of Canaan. That would mean defeat and destruction to cities like his own. No, this just will not do. Avimelech has got to make a treaty with the future conqueror of Canaan. So he and his general, Phichol, travel out to Avrohom's hotel. Avrohom probably greets them like any other guests. He probably serves them a hearty meal and escorts them up to a room so they can rest for a while. Then it comes time for treaty business.

Avrohom's not looking for a fight. "Fine," he says, "you want a treaty, you got it. But first there's a little matter involving a few of your boys that needs to be settled. You see, I dug a well, but your boys moved in and took it over. What do you say, you speak to your boys and tell them to lay off the well."

Sounds simple enough, but Avimelech isn't convinced one way or another. Avrohom can't prove that the well was ever his to begin with...or can he? Since there were no witnesses at the digging, Avrohom comes up with a contest to determine who owns the well once and for all. Whoever can make the well water rise wins the well!

First Avimelech's boys lead a herd of sheep to the well. The water remains low down below the ground. Next, Avrohom's servants surround the well with seven of Avrohom's sheep. Instantly, the water bubbles up to the top. Well, that's proof enough for Avimelech to declare Avrohom the true owner of the well.

Avrohom and Avimelech agree to a 'three generation' treaty. For the next three generations, Avrohom's descendants will be forbidden to attack Avimelech's kingdom. To make it all official and to celebrate the miracle of the well, Avrohom gives Avimelech the seven sheep that starred in the contest. They also rename the area Be'er Sheva, which means "the well of Seven (Sheep, that is)."

It seems to Avrohom that the peace treaty is a good idea. But Hashem has a beef with Avrohom's treaty. Who is Avrohom to second guess Hashem's plans? Did it ever occur to him that somebody has to conquer the Pelishtim if his descendants are ever to inherit the land? Little does Avrohom realize that this treaty will cause years of chaos for Bnei Yisroel in the future. For this blunder, Hashem will make Avrohom's next test a real tough one!


And what a doozie that next test is!!
Hashem waits 38 years to implement the plan! One night, Hashem appears to Avrohom in a dream. He commands Avrohom to "sacrifice your only son, the son you love, Yitzchok," on Har Hamoriah (Mt. Moriah).
Well, this is really ridiculous: First Hashem promises to make Avrohom into a great nation; Then Avrohom has to wait 99 years for a child; Finally a son is born to him; And just when Yitzchok is easing into the family business, Hashem tells Avrohom to sacrifice him! This sounds too kookie! But fear not...Avrohom trusts in Hashem and never questions the instructions.

As a matter of fact, Avrohom doesn't waste a moment. He wakes up early the next morning and heads right for the stables where he saddles his own donkey. Then Avrohom, along with Yitzchok, Yishmael and Eliezer trek out to Har HaMoriah. For three days they hike until they reach the chosen mountain. The upper peaks of Har HaMoriah are covered with the Cloud Of Glory. Hashem's Shechina is present to witness this act of true dedication.

Avraham instructs Yishmael and Eliezer to wait with the donkey at the base of the mountain until they return. Only Avrohom and Yitzchok will go on from here. Avrohom loads a pile of wood on Yitzchok's back and they're off.

It is obvious to Yitzchok that a sacrifice is the order of the day: Avrohom is carrying a knife and a torch, the bundle of wood on his own back... standard sacrifice equipment. But where is the lamb? Avrohom confesses to Yitzchok that he is the lamb about to be slaughtered on the Mizbayach (Altar) as a sacrifice to Hashem. Yitzchok manages to take the news in stride. If this is what Hashem wants, then he's game! He's willing to give up his own life in the name of Hashem!

At the top of the mountain, Avrohom builds a Mizbayach. He places the wood on top of a pile of stones, and then places Yitzchok on top of the wood. At Yitzchok's request, Avrohom binds his hands and feet together so that he will not squirm and ruin the sacrifice. Then Avrohom lifts his knife with an outstretched arm, ready to sacrifice his only son. Just as Avrohom is about to drop the knife, a Malach cries out, "Avrohom, Avrohom, don't hurt him!" But Avrohom is so wound up that there is virtually no stopping him now. The Malach is forced to use all his physical strength to stop the knife in mid-air.

Okay...CUT!! That's a wrap! Avrohom has passed the final test of his career with flying colors! It takes a lot of guts to put your faith in Hashem in a case like this, but Avrohom has proven that he is a man worthy of fathering a great nation. And let's not forget Yitzchok; he's a brave fellow too, putting his neck on the line for Hashem!

But what about the sacrifice? Avrohom has the Mizbayach all revved up and ready to go with no korban (sacrifice). RamSuddenly, in the near distance, Avrohom sees the "pay-off". A ram whose horns are caught in a patch of thorny bushes looks just perfect to take Yitzchok's place. As Avrohom slaughters the ram, he prays that Hashem will accept the ram in the place of his son.

In the merit of Avrohom's willingness to sacrifice his son, Hashem accepts the tefilot (prayers) and sacrifices of Bnei Yisroel. Each day we remember the "sacrifice"during Shacharit (Morning) prayers, when we recite the Parshat Ha-Akeida. And on Rosh Hashana when we blow the Shofar, it symbolizes the horn of the ram sacrificed by Avrohom on that fateful day 3000 years ago.

Tune in next week when Avrohom and Yitzchok return home to find they've suffered a terrible loss in the next exciting episode of:

Parsha on Parade

Midrash Maven
See the Midrash Maven on Vayera

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