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TO READ BEFORE
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Parasha No. 4
Vayera: “And the Lord appeared”

Bereshit 18, 1-22, 24


Plan
I - The peshat, the literal meaning of the text
Mitzvot in the parasha
Themes
Method of study
Demonstration of the method of study.

II - Torah Or
The akeda as interpreted by the Shla
Overview
Price paid

III
Recommended reading
Personal development
Questions on moral conduct posed by the Shla.

 


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I. The peshat, the literal meaning of the text

Mitzvot in the Parasha

The parasha does not contain any of the 613 mitzvot.
The Shla, however, considers the obligation to give hospitality to strangers a mitzva and indeed it is a subdivision of the 611th mitzva (vehalakhta biderakhav, "you will walk in the ways of Hashem," Devarim 28, 9), as well as a subdivision of the injunction to walk according to Hashem our God (Devarim 13, 5), as is written in the Semag (Great book of Mitzvot).
In Tractate Sotah, page 14 a, Ribbi Hama ben Hanina demonstrates that we should
--- dress those who are naked like Hashem dressed Adam (Bereshit 3, 21),
--- visit the sick like Hashem did with Avraham (Bereshit 18, 1),
--- bury the dead like Hashem did with Moshe (Devarim 34, 6),
--- comfort those in mourning like Hashem did with Yitzhak after the death of Avraham (Bereshit 25, 11).
Ribbi Simlai notes that one can see from this that the Torah is composed, from beginning to end, entirely of acts of kindness.

Themes of the Parasha

The parasha contains scenes which have been the subject of many important commentaries. The main episodes are:
---Three visitors come to Avraham circumcised and announce a birth.
--- Sarah's laugh and her denial thereof.
--- God's promise to Avraham that he will beget a great nation and that all nations will be blessed by him.
--- Avraham's plea on behalf of Sodom. The punishment of Lot and the destruction of Sodom.
--- The act of incest between Lot and his daughters.
--- The abduction of Sarah by Avimelekh.
--- The birth of Yitzhak, Hagar's scorn and the banishment of Hagar with Yishmael.
--- The pact made on Avraham's land by Avimelekh whose servants once
destroyed Avraham's wells.
--- The "non-sacrifice" of Yitzhak (the akeda).
Many cultures have described these scenes symbolically in literature, religion or art: it everyone's right to use the symbols they please for creative purposes.

Method of study

But if we want to learn the meaning of these scenes according to Jewish tradition, to which they belong (the one unquestionable truth), we must first learn the rules of composition of these stories.

The purpose of this Internet site is not to transmit imaginative commentaries, even if they are based on science, experience or creativity.
The purpose of this site is to teach the Torah through the method of the Sages themselves: we will study the Torah with the Sages, and try to demonstrate to readers their method of interpretation and their tools of analysis.
My role is to present this as accurately as possible.
By slowly studying the approach of the Sages, readers will learn to study like them, and with them.

1. In Judaism, the theme of a story is only one of the elements that is transmitted.

2. The theme only acquires meaning through its linguistic form in Hebrew. If a story keeps its meaning in translated form, this can be seen as an error, particularly in regard to the Biblical stories, because the real meaning is found in the formulation of every single word and its link to other expressions in the Tanakh (the five books of Moses and the prophets) in which this word appears. It is only through this link to key words and to their context, that the true meaning is found. Unusual linguistic and grammatical forms are the signs that indicate to us particular meanings. This is Rashi's method of interpretation which uses special linguistic forms as clues to understanding the meaning of the text, the peshat.

3. The guidelines for the interpretation of these signs have been passed down by oral tradition.

4. The way I use this technique is to:
--- read the Torah in Hebrew,
--- ask yourself as many questions as possible in order not to get carried away by the story.
--- take note at the same time of all possible meanings that can serve as a moral lesson.

Demonstration of the method of study

A very useful example is found in the personal diary of Rabbenu Yosef Caro in Magid mesharim. Rabbenu Caro does not begin with the grand concepts which he more anyone is capable of analyzing, but chooses rather to begin with a long list of questions (the Shla does the same, as does the Talmud). I have quoted the list below in order to demonstrate how one SHOULD study:

--- Why is it written (Genesis 18, 1): "And Hashem appeared unto him" and not "Hashem appeared unto Avraham?"
--- Why is it written that He appeared unto him when nothing is written about what He said?
--- How is it that God visited Avraham when he was sick but did not speak to him, since words are an essential part of the mitzva of bikur holim (visiting the sick)?
--- What is the significance in being told that this took place " in the plains of Mamre" and of what concern is this to us?
--- What is the significance in that he sat "in the tent door?"
--- What are we meant to understand from "in the heat of the day?" And why?
--- Why three men, and what is the meaning of the fact that he ran to meet them?
--- What is the significance of the fact that he went to fetch "a little water?"
--- what is the meaning of "under the tree?"
--- What is the meaning of "three measures of fine meal?"
--- What is the meaning of "So do, as thou hast said?"
--- What is the meaning of: "Avraham ran unto the herd?"
--- What is the meaning of: "And Sarah heard it in the tent door?"
etc.

From this we can see that the traditional method of Torah study is based on:

identification of the smallest units of meaning,
identification of significant elements, which can then be linked to where they appear in other parts of the Tanakh and the oral Torah,
a clear understanding of the different levels of the text.

This method is a far cry from interpretation that is based on a particular external theory. Never forget this method and apply it systematically to every Torah text.
Then it will be easier to study the commentaries and understand the teachings of the Sages.

Now examine Rashi's commentary and answers to the first verses: you will see that they follow exactly this method of analysis.


II - Torah Or

We now move past this phase of study, which seeks to find the exact literal meaning - the peshat - and go onto the second phase which is to seek to understand the inner meaning, what the Shla calls "Torah or," Torah is light.

The akeda according to the Shla

Chapter 22 describes the consequences of Avraham's acquiescence to Hashem's commandments: he is faced with the injunction to sacrifice his beloved son. The binding of Yitzhak by his father Avraham is the most difficult trial that can confront any man.
The Shla stresses the following:
the pact between the two men, Avraham and Yitzhak, in climbing the mountain together and preparing for the sacrifice, astounds us.
Using the method we have described, the Shla goes on to present a more precise interpretation which demonstrates the nuances of this text.

When it is written: "And where is the lamb for the burnt offering?" this question must also be seen as a prayer to God, that He should bring another victim for the sacrifice (otherwise Avraham knows it would have to be his son).

The meaning of the question must be understood in the context of the fact that God grants an intercession prayer, as is constantly repeated in the supplication prayers (slihot) which are said at the beginning of the New Year. The Yalcut on verse 22, 9 describes the floods of tears and cries that accompany these prayers.

A prayer is also an intense struggle which involves all of one's being and the entire world. The commentaries write that Yitzhak cries out when he recites the beginning of Psalm 121: "I lift up mine eyes unto the hills from whence cometh my help." Father and son carry out the will of God but not with the joy that is asked of them.
This too raises a question and requires pause for thought.

An additional problem

Let us follow the method of linguistic examination: another problem is raised in verse 22, 5: "I and the lad will go yonder" (ad ko). The Shla notes that the word "ko" signifies reproof by Avraham against God who promised him an heir with this same word ko: "ko yiye zarakha, so will be thy seed" (15, 5).

The Shla answers these questions in a very long and complex analysis of the text and notes that the meal offered by Avraham to the three angels holds the key to understanding this passage.

The Shla finds the answer to these linguistic questions by analyzing Avraham's existential dilemmas, as when he asks himself whether the three people are human or angels. One of the criteria he uses for distinguishing angels is that they are immobile (as is written in Daniel 7, 16, and do not jump as Tractate Berakhot of the Jerusalem Talmud 1, 1) notes, whereas men are constantly in motion as is written in Zachariah 3, 7.
One can see that the Torah text follows the same line of questioning we have described, on condition it is read in Hebrew.

It is clear that this mobility is linked to what God said to Abraham ("lekh lekha, go towards yourself"). The angels add support to the presence of God, they form a merkava, a chariot. Man walks, like Avraham and Yitzhak did towards Mount Moriah (Jerusalem) and the righteous man walks in such a way that nothing can halt him: "many waters cannot quench love" (Song of Songs 8, 7). The living waters of holiness (kedusha) have the power to destroy the klipot that suffocate life.

Thus a text which appears simple, because it seems to tell a simple story, is in fact very complex. The method of studying the text, however, is very clear. Once students learn it, they can apply it to the entire Torah.

Using this method, the Shla rejects any one interpretation and offers instead two simultaneous, extreme levels of interpretation:
---- on the one hand, at the experiential level, the akeda is a long, cruel, brutal and poignant trial that pits together two people who love each other;
--- on the other hand there is the more intimate, dual level of a dialogue involving the presence of God. This level is symbolized by the perfumes in the Temple.

This is the level that moves the heart, as when Yitzhak is offered as a sacrifice "of pleasant smell" (reah nihoah, Shmot 29, 18); and when the angel of God tells Avraham not to lay his hand on his son (22,12). The midrashim write that when they reached the place of the two seraphim of the Holy of Holies, it is at this moment that the divine voice was heard.

The linguistic meaning of the site of the sacrifice (which did not take place) being Mount "Moriah" is now clearerm, for moriah is the name of a perfume in Hebrew. One should note too that the last word of the Song of Songs (besamim), which refers to the mountain where the lover impatiently seeks and exhorts The one she loves, also means "perfumes."


Overview

The story of Abraham and Isaac takes place in an atmosphere of extreme tension and at many levels simultaneously; Judaism is not a sinecure and we are warned of this from the very beginning of its history, which is presented as a model for the future. We learn from this story that man must go towards God with all his soul, but he will also find that God will put a limit on his extreme feelings of faith and devotion.

Judaism, therefore, is not a religion that promises immediate "happiness now" and claims "we know, we have got there." Even the man who is most willing to say "yes" to God, finds himself confronted by mysteries that restrict his omnipotent desire to do good.
Indeed, even Moshe, the greatest of men, only acquires 49 degrees of Wisdom, not 50. And even though, as we have seen, the mila (circumcision) is the only condition which enables man to acquire knowledge of God, it does not do so completely. The word mila is made up of the letters that form the word Elokim, God, but notes the Shla, it does not include the letter aleph which is the domain of God.

The akeda analyses in detail what is demanded in our relationship with God and what is restricted, and we learn that this is the same in the love between men, when it is intense and real.
We learn here that religion and love both involve two pathologies:
indifference (not giving of oneself),
human excess.

Love of God is characterized by the same measured sensitivity as that shown by Abraham towards his wife, towards his guests, towards his son, towards the kings of other nations, and towards God himself. The same qualities are found in "justice" (din) and goodness (hessed).

Love has been discovered and love will be the ultimate target, but the road to love is full of hardships and trials.
These trials signify that love is authentic.

This, of course, does not concord with our infantile need for a love that is simple, fused, and immediate. We should remember that Yitzhak is not a baby or a child when he undergoes this trial in his relationship with his father Avraham: he is 37 years old. This is not a childhood or adolescent crisis; for it is only when people are mature that they undergo such profound, unexpected and incomprehensible - in the eyes of those involved and in the eyes of those around them- trials in their relationships. If they are overcome successfully, then the relationship will attain a deeper and more meaningful level than it could have reached previously.

What can we learn from the way these two participants overcome their tragic trial?

1. Even if one is overcome by an imminent tragedy, we learn from Avraham to see, through the darkness, the positive from afar (read 22, 4). (What Avraham sees - yere - is the future whole Jerusalem: yeru…shalem.)

2. Leave one's servants (read 22, 5), the aides who simplify things, pass judgment according to their own superficial criteria, their evil designs, and their limited visions cannot see "beyond."

3. Follow the path directed by Hashem and believe that "gam zu latov:" since Hashem is good, this trial will also be for the good, even if for the moment we do not understand its logic. Hashem's plan takes place over many years (as we see in the long sterile years of the matriarchs) or over many generations (it is important to say the God of Avraham, the God of Yitzhak, the God of Jacob in order to adhere to and fulfill his plan), as in the amida prayer.

4. Understand that personal aspirations or difficulties are part of the collective journey of many generations and find meaning in this.

Thus the life and emotions of an individual Jew are lived out within a context that is much broader than that of one individual. This is seen most notably in the turbulent histories many Ashkenazi and Sephardi families: in a cross section of 4 generations, one often finds secular exile, dramas, displacements, assimilation and aliya to the land of Israel, which is the aspiration of all generations. And this is not the end of the road.

The price paid

Here too, Judaism does not provide any easy shortcuts, such as: trial, death, and resurrection in the space of a few decisive days, and immediate entry to paradise on earth. This is a seductive approach that is adopted by many fringe sects. But reality still must be faced, as the inalterable criteria of the truth.

Because Judaism was aware of this human tendency to find easy solutions, it developed the sophisticated Talmudic method of reasoning as a defense against the propositions of false messiahs, false theories, and false saviors who seduce the gullible.

This does not mean that we err in having aspirations, or that the holiness of certain Sages who led people astray is in question, but simply that it is very difficult to discern what is right and the consequences incurred by false messiahs have been so painful that the Sages have always chosen to be prudent rather than kindle the faith.

Thus it is, that even though the ram replaced Yitzhak in the sacrifice, and the akeda concluded with joyful blessings, a terrible price was still exacted: the death of Sarah. Despite the glorious victory, Satan intervened, spreading the lie that Yitzhak had died, and Sarah could not endure the anguish. Avraham was left to bury his wife and his son his mother.
Yitzhak will find a wife to replace his mother, but Avraham will never find Sarah again and his sorrow and tears will endure.
We will see what happens to him in the following parasha.

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1. Recommended Reading

--- Read the parasha in detail.
--- Study the references quoted in this commentary.
--- Read the beginning of Rashi's commentary, referring to Rabbenu Yosef Caro's questions.
It is better to read a little, reflect and ask questions, rather than read a lot in a purely intellectual manner.

2. Personal Development

Examine the crises you yourself have undergone in your personal and affective relationships and relate them to four concepts:
One. See, through the darkness, the positive from afar.
Two. Leave behind the servants (22, 5).
Three. "Gam zu latov."
Four. Examine personal aspirations or difficulties as part of the collective journey of many generations and find meaning in this.

Exchange these ideas with someone who is capable of listening and avoid theoretical-political discussions.

3. Study the complex issues of moral conduct that stem from this parasha and which are raised by the Shla (in the 3rd part of his commentary):
--- the importance of hospitality and kind treatment of others, especially those who are in a lower position than oneself;
--- the importance of making demands on children;
--- the importance of praying for sinners to return to the fold;
--- the importance of requesting for others what one needs, a condition for the request to be granted (Baba Kama 92);
--- the importance of giving all of oneself in order to draw closer to Hashem and his plan.
Identify precisely to which part of the parasha each question is related.

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- Psychology and Repentance
   (in french)

Part 15
STUDY HEBREW

Part 16
JERUSALEM

- Jerusalem excavations
- Terror and counseling
- Peace and peoples
- Israel and Iran
- Visual study & song on snow
for, through our union with the song of nature, the plan of Creation will be fulfilled

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Poem: to be moon

In french

Avec Modia, vivez
vos vacances en Israël,
Texte et photos

- Par Modia, arrivez au Kotel
- La vie du Kotel
- Prières au Kotel
- Fête au Kotel
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- Ici, tout sur Jérusalem
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- Belle carte d'Israël
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- et ici aussi, autre caméra

- Trahison historique:
L'antique synagogue de Jéricho

 

Part 17
ISRAEL AND
THE NATIONS

- Love towards all people
- Light in war
- Before the hanukiah
- Land of Israel
- Jerusalem excavations 2007
  Proof of the lies propagated
  by the media

In french - Hope in Israel



Part 20
PHOTOS
"Encounters with God
in the real"

- You are planning a tour in Israel - Photos
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- New year of beauty
- Flowers
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Gallery photos


Part 21
SONGS

- My english songs



Dedication

Rav Professor
Yehoshua Rahamim Dufour
(Dipur, in hebrew)

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