The portion of Vayera continues the journey initiated with the directive and the actual words uttered last week of Lech Lecha, Go forth! – to discover if not to actually generate one’s core identity, purpose and ethical way of life. Within the drama, laughter and agonizing tension there is a brief portrait of what might be considered the Moment of Sinai before Sinai. Abraham receives the Torah! – The Charter that succinctly captures what it means to be in the family of Abraham. The instruction occurs in a rather enigmatic passage where God is ostensibly speaking to Himself. God has politely been put on hold so to speak, as Abraham begs leave to attend to his three guests that suddenly appear from a distance. At the conclusion of the angels sharing their announcements, our attention returns to God, (in waiting) who exclaims to Himself; 18:17-19:
וַֽיהֹוָ֖ה אָמָ֑ר הַֽמְכַסֶּ֤ה אֲנִי֙ מֵֽאַבְרָהָ֔ם אֲשֶׁ֖ר אֲנִ֥י עֹשֶֽׂה׃
“…Shall I hide from Abraham what I am about to do,
וְאַ֨בְרָהָ֔ם הָי֧וֹ יִֽהְיֶ֛ה לְג֥וֹי גָּד֖וֹל וְעָצ֑וּם וְנִ֨בְרְכוּ־ב֔וֹ כֹּ֖ל גּוֹיֵ֥י הָאָֽרֶץ׃
since Abraham is to become a great and populous nation and all the nations of the earth are to bless themselves by him?
כִּ֣י יְדַעְתִּ֗יו לְמַ֩עַן֩ אֲשֶׁ֨ר יְצַוֶּ֜ה אֶת־בָּנָ֤יו וְאֶת־בֵּיתוֹ֙ אַחֲרָ֔יו וְשָֽׁמְרוּ֙ דֶּ֣רֶךְ יְהֹוָ֔ה לַעֲשׂ֥וֹת צְדָקָ֖ה וּמִשְׁפָּ֑ט לְמַ֗עַן הָבִ֤יא יְהֹוָה֙ עַל־אַבְרָהָ֔ם אֵ֥ת אֲשֶׁר־דִּבֶּ֖ר עָלָֽיו׃
For I have singled him out, that he may instruct his children and his posterity to keep the way of God by doing what is just and right, in order that God may bring about for Abraham what has been promised him.”
The familiar and harrowing continuation, details God’s desire to destroy Sodom. But I wish to focus on this remarkable preamble.What are the instructions Abraham will convey to his children? Keep to the path of God and (diligently) perform righteousness and justice. As Hillel and Rabbi Akiba may have expressed; This is the whole Torah!
The theme is predictably taken up by our prophets;
וְאוֹתִ֗י י֥וֹם יוֹם֙ יִדְרֹשׁ֔וּן וְדַ֥עַת דְּרָכַ֖י יֶחְפָּצ֑וּן כְּג֞וֹי אֲשֶׁר־צְדָקָ֣ה עָשָׂ֗ה וּמִשְׁפַּ֤ט אֱלֹהָיו֙ לֹ֣א עָזָ֔ב יִשְׁאָל֙וּנִי֙ מִשְׁפְּטֵי־צֶ֔דֶק קִרְבַ֥ת אֱלֹהִ֖ים יֶחְפָּצֽוּן׃
To be sure, they seek Me daily, Eager to learn My ways. Like a nation that does what is right, That has not abandoned the laws of its God, They ask Me for the right way, They are eager for the nearness of God.
כֹּֽה־אָמַ֞ר אֲדֹנָ֣י יְהוִ֗ה רַב־לָכֶם֙ נְשִׂיאֵ֣י יִשְׂרָאֵ֔ל חָמָ֤ס וָשֹׁד֙ הָסִ֔ירוּ וּמִשְׁפָּ֥ט וּצְדָקָ֖ה עֲשׂ֑וּ הָרִ֤ימוּ גְרֻשֹֽׁתֵיכֶם֙ מֵעַ֣ל עַמִּ֔י נְאֻ֖ם אֲדֹנָ֥י יְהוִֽה׃
Thus said the Sovereign GOD: Enough, princes of Israel! Make an end of lawlessness and rapine, and do what is right and just! Put a stop to your evictions of My people—declares the Sovereign GOD.
Proverbs (Mishlei) 21:3
עֲ֭שֹׂה צְדָקָ֣ה וּמִשְׁפָּ֑ט נִבְחָ֖ר לַיהוָ֣ה מִזָּֽבַח׃
To do what is right and just
Is more desired by the LORD than sacrifice.
The irony is of course not lost. This ‘Torah’ preludes the proclamation regarding God’s intent to destroy Sodom. It is as if God having had a discussion with Himself sought company and schemed to engage Abraham in yet another trial, Abraham’s lech lecha moment of enacting this ideal. These core values must be practiced and become palpable, and they do! Abraham implores God to act according to these very principles when he declares, 18:25;
חָלִ֨לָה לְּךָ֜ מֵעֲשֹׂ֣ת ׀ כַּדָּבָ֣ר הַזֶּ֗ה לְהָמִ֤ית צַדִּיק֙ עִם־רָשָׁ֔ע וְהָיָ֥ה כַצַּדִּ֖יק כָּרָשָׁ֑ע חָלִ֣לָה לָּ֔ךְ הֲשֹׁפֵט֙ כָּל־הָאָ֔רֶץ לֹ֥א יַעֲשֶׂ֖ה מִשְׁפָּֽט׃
Far be it from You to do such a thing, to bring death upon the innocent as well as the guilty, so that innocent and guilty fare alike. Far be it from You! Shall not the Judge of all the earth deal justly?”
This metamorphosis of statement to action is also the crucial part of receiving and accepting the “Torah”. The iconic Na’aseh V’nishma – We will do and listen, saliently encapsulates this prerogative. The demanding conversation that ensued between Abraham and God, critically demonstrates this. Our moment of Vayera of appearing, of becoming an upstander has come too, ensuring that “Never Again” unequivocally moves from a polite albeit a clearly ineffective statement, to a course of action. This too must be taught to our children well.