Torah Portion for week 4: Genesis 18 – 22
Vayeira (And He appeared)
The title of this parashah, “And He appeared,” is taken from the first Hebrew word of Genesis 18:1, “And the LORD appeared to him by the oaks of Mamre, as he sat at the door of his tent in the heat of the day.”
The life of Abraham, as recorded in Scripture, began with Lech-Lecha! – God’s call to “Go forth!” from Ur of the Chaldees as recorded in Genesis 12:1-3. God promised to give Abraham the land of Canaan, to make him a great nation, to bless him and to make him the channel of divine blessing “to all the families of the earth.”
Our Torah portion records the climactic events in the life of Abraham in which the divine promises begin to be fulfilled. Genesis 18 begins with the renewed promise of Isaac’s birth, when God appeared to Abraham, accompanied by two angels. But then God shifts the conversation to the main intent of his visit: to warn Abraham of the coming judgment of Sodom, where Abraham’s nephew, Lot, had settled. God’s reason for revealing his purposes to Abraham is given in Genesis 18:17-19:
The LORD said, “Shall I hide from Abraham what I am about to do, seeing that Abraham shall surely become a great and mighty nation, and all the nations of the earth shall be blessed in him? For I have chosen him, that he may command his children and his household after him to keep the way of the LORD by doing righteousness and justice, so that the LORD may bring to Abraham what he has promised him.”
God’s deliberations reaffirm the certainty that the covenant promises to Abraham will ultimately be fulfilled. He says, “Abraham shall surely become a great . . . nation, and all the nations . . . shall be blessed in him” (emphasis added). In token fulfillment of God’s calling, Abraham intercedes on behalf of the entire city of Sodom, negotiating a “stay of execution” if only ten righteous people can be found there. Abraham was concerned to bless not only his own relatives but also “all the nations of the earth” (Gen 18:18).
Secondly, God reveals the conditions under which this certain, ultimate fulfillment of the promises will be realized in history – when Abraham’s descendants “keep the way of the LORD by doing righteousness and justice, so that the LORD may bring to Abraham what he has promised him” (emphasis added). While God’s promised blessing is certain and irrevocable (Rom 11:29), it will only be experienced in full when Israel is truly and totally devoted to God.
Abraham himself underwent years of tests – and many failures – on his way to becoming a man of total devotion and unshakeable faith.
God’s refining work in Abraham’s life was tested and proved in the final chapter of our portion, which opens with a second divine call to “Go forth!” – this time to sacrifice his beloved son, Isaac, on Mount Moriah. Abraham rose early to fulfill the divine command; and as he raised the knife to slaughter the child of promise, the Angel of the Lord stopped his hand. He told Abraham:
“By myself I have sworn,” declares the LORD, “because you have done this and have not withheld your son, your only son, I will surely bless you, and I will surely multiply your offspring as the stars of heaven and as the sand that is on the seashore. And your offspring shall possess the gate of his enemies, and in your offspring shall all the nations of the earth be blessed, because you have obeyed my voice.” (Gen 22:16-18, emphasis added)
May the God of Abraham, who faithfully works in the lives of all those whom He has called, bring each of us to that point of true and total devotion which inherits the blessing!