Parashat Vayera

November 18-19, 2016 – 18 Heshvan 5777
Annual (Genesis 18:1-22:24): Etz Hayim p. 99-122; Hertz p. 63-76
Triennial (Genesis 18:1-18:33): Etz Hayim p. 99-104; Hertz p. 63-66
Haftarah (2 Kings 4:1-37): Etz Hayim p. 123-126; Hertz p. 76-79


Pesach in Sodom
Rabbi Daniel Goldfarb, CY Faculty and Coordinator, Torah Sparks

When the angels came to Sodom to rescue Abraham’s nephew, Lot, before destroying the city, Lot invited them in and “prepared a feast and baked unleavened bread [u’matsot ufah]” (19:3). Rashi’s comment here has long intrigued me – “Pesach haya, it was Pesach. “ On the one hand it seems so obvious – why else would Lot bake matsot? Yet on the other, so whimsical – the story of the bondage under Pharaoh and the exodus from Egypt which Pesach commemorates would not happen for a few hundred years. In fact Rashi already noted that it was Pesach earlier in the day, when the angels visited Abraham to tell him that Sarah would bear a son in a year – “it was Pesach and the following Pesach Isaac was born” (on 18:10), though in the text about Abraham there are no Pesach “code” words, like “matsot.”

Were Abraham, Lot and Rashi several millennia ahead of Steven Spielberg – Back to the Future? There is a view that Abraham fulfilled the mitsvot even before Matan Torah (e.g., Ramban on Gen 26:5), but we should note that Rashi says “it was Pesach,” indicating the date, not necessarily that Lot observed the holiday or fulfilled the mitsva the way we know it.

A careful reading of Chapter 19 reveals several other parallels between the stories of Lot in Sodom and the departure from Egypt in Shmot. Petach habayit, the entry to the house, is central in both. Lot’s struggle with the mob in Sodom, angry about his inviting strangers in for the night, takes place at the entry, the door, mentioned six times in verses 19:6-11. In Egypt, the Jews were commanded to put blood on the doorposts the night of the last plague, as a sign (Ex 12:7, 22) and “not to leave the house door till morning” for “the Lord will pass over the entry [v’pasach…al ha’petach]” (12:22-23).

In both cases, when those locked inside are finally commanded to leave, it is “in a hurry.” The angels urge Lot to get his family out before “we destroy this place,” and Lot tries to rush his sons-in-law: “kumu tsu – Quick, get out…” (19:12, 14), to no avail.  The children of Israel ate the matsah and left Egypt b’chipazon, in a hurry (Ex 12:11, Deut 16:3).

Of course Lot lived long before the story of Pesach, but this parashah shows that certain fundamental values we associate with Pesach predated the holiday. Both Abraham and Lot made efforts to take in strangers, leading the Talmud to comment – hospitality to guests takes priority over welcoming God’s presence (Shabbat 127a on 18:3). Neither in Sodom nor in Pharaoh’s Egypt were guests welcome, and in particular, those who were different or less fortunate. The Mishnah (Sanhedrin 10:3) says that the people of Sodom have no place in the World to Come; the Talmud (Sanh 109a) attributes this harsh fate to their refusal to accept outsiders and to share the bounty with which Sodom was blessed with others, particularly the poor. Lot ran a real risk when he invited strangers in.

We begin the Seder service on Passover by opening the door and proclaiming:
Let all who are hungry come and eat. Let all who are needy come celebrate the Passover.

In doing so not only do we commemorate the departure from Egypt, but also the hospitality shown by our ancestors,  Abraham and Lot.

A Vort for Parashat Vayera
Rabbi Daniel Goldfarb, CY Faculty

Fear of immigrants is not new. Like his uncle Abraham before him, Lot welcomes the “angels” to Sodom, but this angers the locals. “This foreigner came,” they said, “and he is already playing judge [vayishpot sha’phot]” (Gen 19:9). The residents of Sodom are familiar with, and afraid of, a phenomenon of Jewish history – an immigrant minority which studies and works hard and gets ahead as a result. Imre Shefer (R’ Avhrahm Abulafia, Spain 13th C) said the Sodomites feared if they let more strangers in, the newcomers would take over the positions of power and leadership. The Kli Yakar notes the repeated word, sh’fot – judge. He, Lot, is already “judging” our laws, they said. Judicial activism was not to their liking, either.


Table Talk
Vered Hollander-Goldfarb, CY Faculty

In this Parasha we have 2 main story lines: The first relates to Yitzhak (Isaac), the son of Avraham and Sarah, from the announcement about his upcoming birth to the binding of Isaac. The second centers on the story of the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah, and Lot (Avraham’s nephew) exits the story.

1) Sodom and Gomorra were notorious for their sinful behavior, to the point that God decides that He has to punish them. None the less, before punishing them, God decides to do one more thing. What does He do (18:21)? What seems odd in this situation, considering it is God acting?

2) Rashi brings a rabbinic answer to the above question. He says:  “I will descend: This teaches the judges that they should not decide capital punishment cases unless they have seen [the evidence].” What might we learn from his comment for human conduct?

3) Sometime after the birth of Yithak, Sarah demands of Avraham to send away the maidservant and her son (21:9-14). Read the section carefully, pay attention to the terms and description used to refer to the people involved (whose points of view are heard in these terms?) Why do you think that Sarah demanded this? How does Avraham feel about the demand? Why? How does he express his feelings?

4) After the birth of Yitzhak and the departure of Ishmael, Abraham makes a covenant with Abimelekh (21:22-24) who asked Avraham to remain loyal to his future generations as well. What interest might Abraham have in making this covenant?

5) The Parasha closes with the binding of Isaac (22:1-19). Avraham is told to take his beloved son Isaac and go to the Land of Moriah and bind him on a mountain that God will tell him. The term for going is “Lech Lecha”, the same term used at the beginning of Avraham’s story (12:1). These are the only 2 places in Tanakh where this term is used. Why do you think that the Torah connected these 2 events?