Our Ancestors in Egypt

Our Ancestors in Egypt

Jan 27, 2001 By Ismar Schorsch | Commentary | Vayera

We are accustomed to thinking of our ancestors in Egypt as people of virtue and character. Neither in times of prosperity nor persecution did they abandon the unconventional faith of their progenitors. It is a view that we owe to the Passover Haggadah, which each year affirms for us at the Seder that despite the long sojourn in a foreign land, the identity of our ancestors remained undiluted. The midrash that constitutes the form in which we narrate the story of the Exodus to our children, expounds the phrase, “and there [in Egypt] he became a nation (Deuteronomy 26:5),” as referring to Jewish distinctiveness. The underlying force of the Hebrew word for nation, “goy,” denotes a national group bearing its own identity. In other words, as the descendants of Jacob grew in number, their undiminished sense of apartness welded them into a cohesive and visible minority. The world-class civilization of Egypt did not swallow them through assimilation.

Read More
The Test of Abraham

The Test of Abraham

Oct 22, 2002 By Joshua Heller | Commentary | Vayera

Ever since I was a child, I’ve struggled with a fundamental question about Abraham’s personality, a question which is posed by this week’s parashah, Va-Yera. When God comes to Abraham to inform him that the city of Sodom is to be destroyed for its wickedness, Abraham responds aggressively by shaming God into agreeing to spare the city if fifty righteous can be found within it, saying, “Far be it from You! Shall not the Judge of all the earth deal justly?” (Genesis 18:25). Then, with a bargaining style that would be the envy of any used-car buyer, teenager or trial lawyer, he lowers the number to forty-five, to thirty, to twenty, to ten.

Read More
The Past Leading to the Present

The Past Leading to the Present

Oct 30, 2004 By Ismar Schorsch | Commentary | Vayera

The unusual Hebrew phrase “lekh lekha” occurs only twice in the entire Tanakh: at the beginning of last week’s parasha when God instructs Abraham to leave Haran, and this week, when God asks him to offer up his son, Isaac, as a sacrifice (Genesis 12:1; 22:2).

Read More
Visiting the Sick

Visiting the Sick

Nov 15, 2003 By Ismar Schorsch | Commentary | Vayera

During World War II and the Korean War, my father served as the civilian Jewish chaplain at the sprawling army hospital at Valley Forge, not far from his pulpit in Pottstown. Every Wednesday he would walk its endless halls visiting wounded Jewish servicemen. On Thursday evenings he returned to conduct a prayer service for them accompanied by a few women from the synagogue sisterhood who had prepared a collation of kosher deli. No part of my father’s rabbinate gave him more satisfaction because no Jews ever needed him more than this pitiful refuse of military carnage. Their numbers were large and their condition often shattering. My father assuaged their pain with warmth, wisdom and faith. In 1918, as a teenager in the German army on the Western Front, he had witnessed the devastating brutality of mechanized warfare and the chaos of defeat. That experience brought him to choose the rabbinate while his empathy for victims of misfortune made him an ideal pastor. He turned the mitzvah of bikkur holim (visiting the sick) into a fine art.

Read More
Examining the Word Moriah

Examining the Word Moriah

Nov 11, 2006 By Robert Harris | Commentary | Vayera

Years ago, in a national television program called Laugh In (yes, I lived during the Stone Age — the Rolling Stone Age. Never mind.), a comedian lampooned the song “They Called the Wind Moriah” from the Broadway show Paint Your Wagon.

Read More
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?

Read More
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.

Read More
Subverting Abraham As a Knight of Faith

Subverting Abraham As a Knight of Faith

Oct 26, 2007 By David Hoffman | Commentary | Vayera

In a world in which so much violence and pain are caused in the name of religion, how can we read the story of “the Binding of Isaac” as anything but what Phyllis Trible would call a “text of terror”?

Read More