Community Development

JTS Torah Commentary

Parashat Va'yera
Genesis 18:1 – 22:24
November 19, 2005     17 Heshvan 5766

This week's commentary is written by Rabbi Jacob Luski, Congregation B'nai Israel, St. Petersburg, Florida

Bad news often arrives with the unexpected phone call late at night, the unanticipated email, or with the official-looking envelope in the mailbox. Then the panic slowly begins.

In an instant, we are in unfamiliar territory, disconnected from our familiar environment. We feel like our life is falling apart.

For Abraham, that moment arrives in the form of a test from God. God said to him, "Abraham," and he answered, "Here I am." And God said, "Take your son, your favored one, Isaac, whom you love, and go to the land of Moriah, and offer him there as a burnt offering on one of the heights that I will point out to you" (Genesis 22:1–2).

Can you imagine Abraham's stark fear and terror when God's promise to give him descendants through Isaac is in jeopardy? Without Isaac, there is no longer the promise of a great nation, no promised land, no protection in a covenant with God.

Midrash Tanhuma explores what is going on in Abraham's mind during those three days before he reaches the mountain. Abraham withdraws from his comfortable surroundings, his family, and even his God, into his own world.

The Rabbis describe the nightmares and fantasies that Abraham envisions on each of those days — he confronts his own past and future, he encounters Satan, he approaches a river that cannot be crossed — difficult challenges to be conquered. Abraham's very existence is in total turmoil.

After three days of despair, Abraham begins to see the light at the end of the tunnel. Abraham knows he must depart the realm of confusion and darkness. He cannot remain infinitely in this state of fear. If he is to understand the brit (the covenant), he must move on to a place he has never experienced before. It is important that Abraham move forward. Perhaps God does not really want him to sacrifice Isaac, after all. Perhaps the importance of the journey is the passing from a state of fear to a new awareness.

Abraham finds new meaning out of the depths of hopelessness and doom. So Abraham takes the fire and the knife, and two of them — he and his beloved son — walked on together.

Shabbat shalom,

Rabbi Jacob Luski

The publication and distribution of the JTS commentary on Parashat Vayera are made possible by a generous gift from Rita Dee and Harold (z"l) Hassenfeld.