Vayera: Passing the covenant to next generation

The end of parashat ‘Lekh Lekha’, the last week’s one, teaches us about the most prominent covenant of Jewish people with God – b’rit milah – the covenant of circumcision. It’s not the most prominent for Abraham, maybe; the covenant which came with the binding of Isaac was even more powerful for his personal perception. The covenant of milah is so strong and important because it’s kept till this very day by most of the Jewish people in the world.

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For us, the Jewish people, the circumcision became an important instrument of connection for the next generation to the common national covenant (of males, of course; but I would not underestimate the power of mother’s will to let her son be circumcised). No matter what a Jewish child is going to choose as his lifestyle when he grows up, on his very flesh there is a sign of belonging. In parashat Vayera, this idea works for the first time, when Abraham circumcises his son Isaac, according to the commandment of the Lord, when Isaac’s only 8 days old, which makes him the first Hebrew baby circumcised at the age of 8 days.

‘And when his son Isaac was eight days old, Abraham circumcised him, as God had commanded him’, Genesis 21:4

Of course circumcision has never prevented from those who wanted to leave the Jewish people to do so. Actually, the Halakhic matrilineal definition of a Jew makes it even easier for males to make sure, their children will not be Jewish. Something stronger is needed to keep the covenant alive and thriving mi-dor le-dor, from generation to generation. And of course, as for every Jewish question, there are more than one correct answer. But most of the answers sit at the field of education.

Every teacher and educator knows that the best and the most long-standing education can be built only on values. And our weekly portion has enough. Let me present few of them.

First, the episode where Sarah laughs in her heart, hearing she’ll have a baby at the age of 90. In Talmud it’s been used to demonstrate the importance of shalom – peace. According to the Midrash, God repeats Sarah’s thoughts to Abraham but changes the humiliating details about Abraham’s age. Which makes God’s perspective very clear – peace is more important than truth.

Second, is Abraham’s standing for the people of Sodom, arguing with God about the number of righteous people that can be found there. And the most important there is Abraham’s explanation – “Shall not the Judge of all the earth deal justly?” (Genesis 18:25).

Peace and justice – shalom u’mishpat – are the beacons that we should teach our children to arrange their lives in correspondence with.

Shabbat Shalom!

About the Author
Rabbi Binyamin Daniel Minich leads Kehilat Daniel in Jaffa and works at the Daniel Centers for Progressive Judaism in Tel Aviv. He is a PhD student at the department of Jewish philosophy of Bar Ilan University and a rabbinic fellow of Beit Midrash Har'el in Jerusalem. Rabbi Minich is a proud member of the Israeli Council of Progressive Rabbis (MARAM) and the Central Conference of American Rabbis. He also serves at the board of MARAM, at Limmud FSU Israel's organizational committee and at the board of the Israeli Association of Crimean Jews. Benny is married to Dr. Elena Minich and together they raise three children - Hadar Yosef, Levi Moshe and Haleli Yerushalaim.
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