Lessons from Lot’s Daughters

Lessons from Lot’s Daughters

Oct 22, 2021 By Abby Eisenberg | Commentary | Vayera

Parashat Vayera is the fourth Torah portion after Simhat Torah, the celebration of our annual Torah reading cycle and the culmination of the fall holidays. As we begin the new year, we also begin anew our exploration of ancestral family dynamics. Arguably one of the most famous parent-child scenes in all of literature can be found in Vayera: that of Abraham bringing Isaac to offer him as sacrifice. The parashah also contains another version of child sacrifice when Lot, Abraham’s nephew, subjects his unnamed daughters to assault and danger. From the tragedy of Jephthah’s daughter to the boldness of the daughters of Zelofehad, relationships between fathers and daughters in Tanakh are both deeply troubling and inspiring. The story of Lot and his daughters is certainly the former, and, perhaps surprisingly, potentially the latter.

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Running Far, Drawing Near

Running Far, Drawing Near

Nov 6, 2020 By Naomi Kalish | Commentary | Vayera

“Shalom, shalom to the one who is far away and to the one who is close.” Drawn from the Yom Kippur haftarah, the editors of Mahzor Lev Shalem used these words to open the high holiday prayer book. This year the words held a special poignancy, as each of us was simultaneously “the one who is far away” and “the one who is close.”

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The Gravity of Laughter

The Gravity of Laughter

Nov 16, 2019 By Ariella Rosen | Commentary | Vayera

Parashat Vayera opens with a flurry of action. Yet several of the narrative’s most significant moments are driven not by action, but by reaction.

After Abraham runs to welcome the three wandering strangers he sees from the entrance to his tent, inviting them to bathe, rest, and feast, the action slows, opening space for a story to play out in the realm of emotions. The strangers share the news that in one year’s time, Sarah will give birth to a son, ending the couple’s decades-long wait to fulfill their destiny as the parents of a nation.

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The Legacy of Sodom

The Legacy of Sodom

Oct 26, 2018 By Steven Philp | Commentary | Vayera

Following the destruction of Sodom and Gomorra, Lot and his two daughters flee to the mountains above Zoar. They are stricken with fear, having witnessed the devastation of the two cities. They grieve the dead, a vast number that includes Lot’s wife, the mother of the two women, who—having paused to look back toward Sodom—was turned into a pillar of salt (Gen. 19:23–26). It is necessary to understand the emotional frame within which they are operating, as it underlies the following narrative.

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Women of Faith

Women of Faith

Nov 3, 2017 By Amy Kalmanofsky | Commentary | Vayera

Abraham passed God’s litmus test of faith. God commands Abraham to take his beloved son Isaac to the land of Moriah and kill him. Faithful Abraham does not hesitate. Genesis 22 may be the most loved and hated story in the Torah by every reader, no matter what their faith. Certainly, generations of Jews have struggled to make sense of this story, and of the father and God it portrays. 

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Itzik’s Journey

Itzik’s Journey

Nov 18, 2016 By David G. Roskies | Commentary | Vayera

He was our Bob Dylan and Dylan Thomas: a Yiddish troubadour and hard-drinking lyric poet who wrote in regular rhymes and rhythms about the lives and unrequited loves of the downtrodden. His name was Itzik Manger, and the Bible was the book he loved most in the world, especially those parts that told an inside, personal story.

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Tears that Unveil

Tears that Unveil

Nov 18, 2016 By Matthew Goldstone | Commentary | Vayera

Deep down, deep down inside, the eye would be destined not to see but to weep. For at the very moment they veil sight, tears would unveil what is proper to the eye.

—Jacques Derrida, Memoirs of the Blind (126)

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What Did Abraham Actually Know?

What Did Abraham Actually Know?

Oct 30, 2015 By Tim Daniel Bernard | Commentary | Vayera

“But was he really as strongly convinced of such a revealed doctrine, and also of its meaning, as is required for daring to destroy a human being on its basis?”

—Immanuel Kant, Religion within the Boundaries of Mere Reason §4, transl. George di Giovanni

What would you do if a voice told you to sacrifice your child?

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Ultimate Values and the Akedah Story

Ultimate Values and the Akedah Story

Oct 30, 2015 By Leonard A. Sharzer | Commentary | Vayera

Can there be anything left to say about the Akedah, perhaps the most discussed and analyzed story in the Torah? Clearly if this were simply the story of an old man who hears voices and travels to a nearby mountain with his son in order to kill him there, and who, at the last moment, sees a ram and kills it instead, we would not still be fascinated talking about the story more than two millennia later. No, this is an allegory. . . and therein lies it survival and its power, and our task is to find meaning in the story for ourselves and for our lives.

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Looking Upward and Outward

Looking Upward and Outward

Nov 7, 2014 By Matthew Berkowitz | Commentary | Vayera

Sight and vision play an important role in the two opening narratives of Parashat Vayera. 

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An Illustration of the Binding of Isaac From the JTS Library

An Illustration of the Binding of Isaac From the JTS Library

Nov 7, 2014 By The Library of the Jewish Theological Seminary | Commentary | Vayera

The Hebrew Bible in which this engraved frontispiece is found was printed in Venice in 1739 at the request of a physician named Isaac Foa. In addition to the Hebrew text, it contains Italian explanations of difficult passages. The engraver, Francesco Griselini (1717–1787), illustrated many non-Jewish works as well as notable borders for megillot, and later became known for his scholarly writing on natural history.

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In Every Moment, the Choice Is Ours

In Every Moment, the Choice Is Ours

Oct 16, 2013 By Matthew Berkowitz | Commentary | Vayera

Sight and vision play an important role in the two opening narratives of Parashat Vayera.

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A Hand to Hold

A Hand to Hold

Oct 16, 2013 By Joel Alter | Commentary | Vayera

Her beautiful 16-year-old Ishmael lying whimpering nearby from mortal thirst and her own death close at hand, Hagar—in Genesis 21:15–18—is about as pitiable as one might imagine.

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Prolepsis: How the Bible Tells Us the Future

Prolepsis: How the Bible Tells Us the Future

Oct 31, 2012 By David Marcus | Commentary | Vayera

Regular screen watchers know that if in an opening scene the camera pans in on a detail like a dagger or a bicycle, then that detail—the dagger or the bicycle—will somehow have an important role to play later on in the movie. Known as foreshadowing, this cinematic technique has its parallel in literature in the rhetorical device known as prolepsis, which indicates a future event that is presumed to have occurred.

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Planting Trees, Planting Hesed

Planting Trees, Planting Hesed

Oct 31, 2012 By Matthew Berkowitz | Commentary | Vayera

Just after the expulsion of Hagar and immediately before the binding of Isaac, a curious and somewhat cryptic episode appears in Genesis 21.

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Sustaining Our Hearts

Sustaining Our Hearts

Nov 12, 2011 By Andrew Shugerman | Commentary | Text Study | Vayera

On its face, this midrash may seem to state the obvious: that eating bread gives one energy. After all, a look at our food packaging today reveals the ingredients and nutrients contained in any given product. This text, however, teaches that not all nourishment comes in physical form. The deceptively simple statement that “bread strengthens the heart” and the prooftexts that follow it actually provide a subtle commentary to the notion that “man does not live on bread alone” (Deut. 8:3); indeed, we derive sustenance at least as much from our gratitude for the company we keep and for the blessing of hospitality.

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Going Toward the Present

Going Toward the Present

Nov 11, 2011 By David Hoffman | Commentary | Vayera

Martin Buber, the great 20th-century Jewish theologian, observed a powerful literary connection between the beginning of Abraham’s life and the end. God first speaks to Abraham suddenly, seemingly without introduction, and commands: “Go forth (lekh lekha) from your native land and from your father’s house to the land that I will show you” (Gen. 12:1). With these few words, God introduces God’s Self to Abraham and it is with these words that their relationship is founded.

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The Person You Are Now

The Person You Are Now

Oct 23, 2010 By Andrew Shugerman | Commentary | Text Study | Vayera

“Innocent until proven guilty” approximates God’s judgment of Ishmael in the midrash above.

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Is Seeing Believing?

Is Seeing Believing?

Oct 23, 2010 By Deborah Miller | Commentary | Vayera

Is seeing believing? Or, to put it another way, is seeing necessary for believing? I am not asking a theological question, but a psychological/social/emotional one.

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Sitting in God’s Presence

Sitting in God’s Presence

Nov 6, 2009 By Abigail Treu | Commentary | Text Study | Vayera

What do we find ourselves doing when God’s Presence suddenly appears to us?

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