Torah Portion

The Portion of Vayeira

Genesis 18:1-22:24
Bible Portion
The Portion of Vayeira

The Portion of Vayeira

Genesis 18:1-22:24

The Torah portion of Vayeira continues the story of Abraham as he establishes the foundation for the Jewish nation. Having circumcised himself at God’s command, he now encounters three visitors as he recuperates. They bring him news. Sodom and Gomorrah are destroyed in this portion, and Abraham and Sarah find themselves sojourning in Gerar. The birth of Isaac is recorded in this portion, and Ishmael is forced to leave. Abraham signs a peace treaty, and finally, the portion ends with the binding of Isaac.

The Angels’ Visit

Genesis 18:1-16

As Abraham is enjoying a visit from God following his own circumcision, he sees three men in the distance. Eager to share his hospitality, he begs the men to stop a while in his shelter, and prepares them a lavish meal. The three men have news for Abraham. They tell him that in a year’s time, his wife, Sarah, will give birth to a son. Sarah, who is listening to the conversation from inside, is so surprised by the news that she laughs. God confronts Abraham over Sarah’s reaction, and she denies her lapse in faith. Then the men turn away and head towards Sodom.

We are told in this passage that Abraham is dwelling in Elonei Mamre, which is located overlooking the Hebron Valley. The Israel Bible discusses the significance of this location throughout history. The archaeological remains of two towers, over 2,000 years old, have been found there. They are thought to date back to King Herod. In the 4th century, the site became home to a Christian church, and a major marketplace. According to the Talmud, that particular market was one of the three most important markets in the Land of Israel.

Points to Ponder

Why do you think God chose to reveal the coming birth of Isaac this way? Why not tell Abraham Himself? Alternatively, why tell him at all?

Sodom and Gomorrah

Genesis 18:17-19:38

God decides that Abraham is such a faithful servant, He will not hide His plan to destroy Sodom and Gomorrah from him. Abraham’s immediate reaction upon hearing the news is to beg God for mercy: would He spare the city if there are 50 righteous individuals therein? How about 45? 40? 30? 20? Even just 10? Each time, God accepts Abraham’s proposal, implying that even 10 righteous men are not to be found within the wicked place.

From there, the narrative shifts perspectives, and we bear witness to what unfolds in the city itself. Having spent his formative years and beyond in Abraham’s household, nephew Lot is moved by the sight of two angels entering the city and invites them to stay in his home. His neighbors, however, will have none of it, and insist Lot turn over the visitors. Lot refuses, offering even his virgin daughters to the angry mob in exchange for the lives and security of his guests. Ultimately, however, it is the two angels who must save Lot from the townspeople.

The angels explain that they have come to save Lot and any family members from the impending destruction of the city. Lot cannot convince his sons-in-law to follow, so he takes only his two unmarried daughters and his wife and leaves with the angels. They tell Lot and his family to refrain from turning around to witness the destruction, but Lot’s wife cannot resist and she turns into a pillar of salt. Overwhelmed by what he is experiencing, and getting on in age, Lot begs the angels to allow them to rest briefly in a small city on the edge of the district. This they allow, sparing that city from the destruction to come.

Lot and his surviving daughters later leave the city, seeking the relative safety of a nearby cave. Convinced they are the last humans on earth and therefore responsible to repopulate it, Lot’s daughters hatch a plan to intoxicate their father and get pregnant by him. Each daughter does so in turn, and the sons they bear go on to father the nations of Ammon and Moab.

The Israel Bible points out that the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah was complete; not only were the people wiped out, but the land on which they had lived was overturned. The Israel Bible cites Nachmanides, who says God set a precedent here, that the Land of Israel will not tolerate corruption. The Holy Place will spit the perpetrators out or wipe them out. This idea is revisited in Deuteronomy 29, where it says, “…all its soil devastated by sulfur and salt, beyond sowing and producing, no grass growing in it, just like the upheaval of Sodom and Gomorrah, Admah and Zeboiim, which Hashem overthrew in His fierce anger … ‘Because they forsook the covenant of Hashem …'” (verses 22, 24).

Points to Ponder

Why do you think Abraham began praying for the city if there were even 50 righteous individuals? Why do you think he gave up after ten?

Abraham in Gerar

Genesis 20:1-18

Abraham now moves on to settle briefly in Gerar. There, he continues the charade of Egypt, telling others the beautiful Sarah is his sister, not his wife. Like before, she is taken by the king of the land, a man named Abimelech. God sends Abimelech a dream in which He tells the king to return the married woman Sarah or his life is forfeit. Abimelech protests that he had no idea or he would not have done such a thing, which God acknowledges, saying that is why He is giving Abimelech the chance to do the right thing. He tells Abimelech that if he does, Abraham will pray for him, since he is a man of God, and Abimelech will be saved.

Abimelech returns Sarah and confronts Abraham for his deception. Abraham defends his choice, saying there is no fear of God in Abimelech’s land. He also explains that she is a blood relative, and thus it is only a lie of omission to call her his sister. Abimelech gives Abraham money, flocks and servants to appease him for taking his wife, telling Abraham he may settle anywhere in Gerar that he likes. Abraham prays to God, and He lifts the plague that had affected Abimelech’s people.

The Torah never explains why Abraham and Sarah travel to Gerar. The Israel Bible cites Rabbi David Kimchi, who explains that Abraham wanted to travel as much of the land as possible, to put in a personal effort in acquiring the land God promised him and his descendants.

Points to Ponder

Why do you think Abimelech invited Abraham and Sarah to stay in Gerar after being deceived?

A Tale of Two Sons

Genesis 21:1-33

The Torah now relates the birth of Isaac, long-awaited son to Abraham and Sarah. Named for the laughter of joy his birth elicited in his father, Isaac is circumcised at eight days old, just as God commanded Abraham. As he grows, however, his mother becomes concerned about the influence his half-brother, Ishmael, might have on him. She asks Abraham to send Ishmael and Hagar away.

God assures a distressed Abraham that listening to Sarah is the right move, and that He will make Ishmael great, as well. Abraham reluctantly banishes Ishmael and Hagar, sending them on their way with bread and water.

Hagar wanders into the desert around Beer-sheba, and soon runs out of water. Not wanting to see her son die of thirst, she casts the youth off under a shrub and sits at a distance, crying. God sends an angel to reassure her that everything will be alright, and shows her where to find water. The Torah tells us Ishmael grows up in the desert, and flourishes. His mother ultimately finds him a wife from among her own people.

Meanwhile, back at home, Abraham makes a treaty with Abimelech, at the latter’s request. Abimelech asks Abraham to swear that peace will reign between him and Abimelech’s children and grandchildren. Abraham agrees, and uses the opportunity to air a grievance regarding his well, which Abimelech’s servants have seized. Abimelech denies any prior knowledge of the seizure.

Abraham presents Abimelech with cattle to commemorate the oath, and separates seven ewes to mark that he dug the well. As the Israel Bible points out, the place, Beer-sheba, which means “Well of Seven” or “Well of the Oath”, is named for this play on words.

Abraham plants a tree, and calls out to God, Master of the Universe. The Hebrew name by which he refers to God is El Olam. Olam means world, but also comes from the same root as ne’elam, meaning ‘hidden’. Thus, the Israel Bible points out, the name King of the Universe (world) also hints that He is King over that which remains hidden.

Abraham remains in Gerar for a long time.

Points to Ponder

Isaac is named for Abraham’s laughter. Why do you think it was commendable that Abraham laughed at Isaac’s birth, but Sarah was chastised for laughing at the news (see Genesis 18:12-15)??

The Binding of Isaac

Genesis 22:1-24

After all that has happened, God chooses to test Abraham. He tells him to take his only, beloved son, Isaac, and raise him up as an offering on a mountain which He will show him. Abraham takes Isaac, some servants, supplies and the donkey, and heads out early to fulfill God’s wishes.

After three days of traveling, Abraham identifies the place from a distance. He tells the servants to stay with the donkey and he and Isaac will complete the offering. Along the way, in the only recorded conversation between the two in the Bible, Isaac asks his father where the lamb for the offering is. Abraham assures his son that God will show them the lamb. The two continue along their way.

When they arrive, Abraham prepares the wood and binds his son, placing him atop the wood. He stretches out his hand to slaughter Isaac, when an angel calls out from heaven to stop him, saying God now knows Abraham would withhold nothing from Him. Abraham then spies a ram caught in a thicket and offers it in place of his son. The angel then calls out again from heaven, telling Abraham that on account of his actions, his blessings will grow and his descendants will inherit the land. The nations of the world will be blessed because of Abraham’s descendants, as well. The Israel Bible points out that we can see the fulfillment of this today, as Israel has become a leader and great contributor in many fields, such as technology, medicine and humanitarian aid, bringing great improvements to the world at large.

Abraham then returns to Beer-sheba with his servants.

After a time, news comes to Abraham that his brother, Nahor, has had children, including Bethuel, father of Rebecca.

Points to Ponder

The Torah says Abraham returns with his servants, but there is no mention of Isaac. We know he comes back, though, because the following portion deals with his marriage. What do you think happens to him? Where does he end up?

The Israel Bible Team

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By: The Israel Bible Team


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