David Curwin
Author of "Kohelet - A Map to Eden"

Between Lech Lecha and Vayera

Parsahat Vayera starts with the visiting men (angels) informing Avraham of Yitzchak’s impending birth. Sarah hears about it and is surprised (Bereshit 18:1-15).

But why is Sarah surprised? At the end of Lech Lecha, God tells Avraham they will have a son, and his name will be Yitzchak (Bereshit 17:19-21)!

It seems clear to me that the break between Lech Lecha and Vayera was intended to obfuscate that difficulty. But if we read the text straight through, we can’t ignore it.

There are a number of ways to resolve this problem. The Sages and later commentaries offer suggestions, and later scholars, such as Rabbi Mordechai Breuer and Prof. Yoni Grossman talk about two different, intertwined stories, which is something I noted last week when discussing the break between Noach and Lech Lecha.

I’d like to offer a different approach. This is something I thought about many years ago, before I was aware of the more recent scholarship. And so perhaps it leans towards drash (a homiletic approach), but I still think there’s an important message there.

What is Parashat Lech Lecha about? It’s about Avraham, the first chozer betshuva (person to return to religious observance). God speaks to him in a way that nobody else can hear – not even his wife Sarah. When he goes to Eretz Canaan in Lech Lecha, it’s because of the divine command, not because he started going with his whole family as in Parashat Noach (Bereshit 11:31).

And when he hears about Yitzchak’s birth in Lech Lecha – Sarah doesn’t hear it. She’s not even an active player in the story. In Parashat Vayera, she’ll have her turn.

The lesson here is that when God speaks to someone on a personal level, in the end, only they can hear it.  This is true for the prophets, and it’s true for us. Sometimes in our lives, we’re sure something is a case of hashgacha pratit (divine providence). It has to be! When we tell someone else – it sounds like a coincidence, or maybe even ridiculous. That’s because it’s a private message between you and God.

Of course there are messages we all can see – miracles in the Tanach, and in our days. But hashgacha pratit is just that – pratit (private).

There is also a risk though – the message an individual hears from God isn’t heard the same way by others. Even members of their own family. We see this with Avraham and Sarah, and later with Yitzhak and Rivka. We need to be sensitive to the fact that we all hear from God in a different way, and yet we need to work together. That’s why we have the other half of the story – not just Lech Lecha but Noach and Vayera as well.

This idea still resonates with me. And while there might be more to the nature of the two stories, the thread of either Avraham alone, or Avraham with the rest of his family is prominent throughout the rest of his narrative.

About the Author
David Curwin is an independent scholar, who has researched and published widely on Bible, Jewish thought and philosophy, and Hebrew language. His first book, “Kohelet – A Map to Eden” was published by Koren/Maggid in 2023. Other writings, both academic and popular, have appeared in Lehrhaus, Tradition, Hakirah, and Jewish Bible Quarterly. He blogs about Hebrew language topics at A technical writer in the software industry, David resides in Efrat with his wife and family.
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