THE TORAH READING FOR 20 CHESHVAN 5781 November 6-7, 2020
NOVEMBER BIRTHDAYS, ANNIVERSARIES, AND SIGNIFICANT EVENTS
Mazal Tov – Mazal Bueno to all those celebrating a birthday, anniversary, or significant event during the Month of November. If we were together at Temple Kol Hamidbar, we would extend a Tallit over you, recite a special prayer for you, and recite the following blessing (cf Num. 6:24-26):
- May the Eternal One bless you and protect you!
- May the Eternal One deal kindly and graciously with you!
- May the Eternal One bestow favor upon you and grant you peace!
KËIN YEHI RATZON (Let it be so!)
From Mishkan T’filah – A Reform Siddur p. 516
FOR OUR COUNTRY
THUS SAYS ADONAI, This is what I desire: to unlock the fetters of wickedness, and untie the cords of lawlessness; to let the oppressed go free, to break off every yoke. Share your bread with the hungry, and take the wretched poor into your home. When you see the naked, give clothing, and do not ignore your own kin.
O GUARDIAN of life and liberty, may our nation always merit Your protection. Teach us to give thanks for what we have by sharing it with those who are in need. Keep our eyes open to the wonders of creation, and alert to the care of the earth. May we never be lazy in the work of peace; may we honor those who have [served, suffered or] died in defense of our ideals. Grant our leaders wisdom and forbearance. May they govern with justice and compassion. Help us all to appreciate one another, and to respect the many ways that we may serve You. May our homes be safe from affliction and strife, and our country be sound in body and spirit. Amen.
From ReformJudaism.org https://reformjudaism.org/torah/portion/vayeira
Vayeira (וַיֵּרָא – I (God) Appeared [to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob]) – Genesis 18:1-22:24
The Eternal appeared to him by the oaks of Mamre as he was sitting at the entrance of the tent at about the hottest time of the day. – Genesis 18:1
- Abraham welcomes three visitors, who announce that Sarah will soon have a son. (18:1-15)
- Abraham argues with God about the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah. (18:16-33)
- Lot’s home is attacked by the people of Sodom. Lot and his two daughters escape as the cities are being destroyed. Lot’s wife is turned into a pillar of salt. (19:1-29)
- Lot impregnates his daughters, and they bear children who become the founders of the nations Moab and Ammon. (19:30-38)
- Abimelech, king of Gerar, takes Sarah as his wife after Abraham claims that she is his sister. (20:1-18)
- Isaac is born, circumcised, and weaned. Hagar and her son, Ishmael, are sent away; an angel saves their lives. (21:1-21)
- God tests Abraham, instructing him to sacrifice Isaac on Mount Moriah. (22:1-19)
From Wikipedia.org https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Vayeira
2 Kings 4:1-37 (Ashkenazim)/2 Kings 4:1-23 (Sefardim)
The parashah and haftarah in 2 Kings both tell of God’s gift of sons to childless women. In both the parashah and the haftarah: God’s representative visits the childless woman, whose household extends the visitor generous hospitality; the husband’s age raises doubt about the couple’s ability to have children; God’s representative announces that a child will come at a specified season in the next year; the woman conceives and bears a child as God’s representative had announced; death threatens the promised child; and God’s representative intervenes to save the promised child.
STRUGGLING WITH TORAH
From Wikipedia.org https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Vayeira
Vayeira – Gen. 19:1-20:18 [triennial part]
(וַיֵּרָא — Hebrew for “and He appeared”)
The [complete] parashah tells the stories of Abraham‘s three visitors, Abraham’s bargaining with God over Sodom and Gomorrah, Lot’s two visitors, Lot’s bargaining with the Sodomites, the flight of Lot, the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah, how Lot’s daughters became pregnant by their father, how Abraham once again passed off his wife Sarah as his sister, the birth of Isaac, the expulsion of Hagar, disputes over wells, and the binding of Isaac (הָעֲקֵידָה, the Akedah).
The triennial part of Parasha Vayëra – Gen. 19:1-20:18, tells of Abraham’s nephew, Lot, sitting at Sodom’s gate when two “angels” arrive. Lot gets them to stay with him and prepares a meal for them, including “matzah” (וּמַצּוֹת – umatzot Gen. 19:3). Before going to bed, “all the men of Sodom” demand that Lot give them the visitors. Lot refuses and offers his two virgin daughters to do with as they wish. The men menace Lot, the visitors rescue him and blind them. The visitors tell Lot to leave the city with his family because they are going to destroy the place. Lot tells his sons-in-law, but they think he is joking. Lot delays until the visitors seize him, his wife, and daughters by the hand and remove them from the city, telling them to “flee for their lives and not to stop or look back anywhere in the plain.” Lot asks to flee to a little village nearby, later named Zoar.
The visitors agree, and at Lot’s request, they promise to spare Zoar. At sunrise as Lot enters Zoar, God rains sulfurous fire from heaven on Sodom and Gomorrah destroying the entire plain. Lot’s wife looks back and becomes a pillar of salt. The next morning, Abraham hurries to the place where he had stood before God and looks down toward Sodom and Gomorrah. He sees the smoke rising like at a kiln. Lot fears staying in Zoar, so he settles in a cave in the hill country with his two daughters. The daughters get Lot drunk and have sex with him to beget offspring. They get pregnant and have children by their father. The older one bears a son named Moab, the father of the Moabites, and the younger a son named Ben-ammi, the father of the Ammonites.
Abraham settles between Kadesh and Shur. While in Gerar, as he did in Egypt, he tells King Abimelech that Sarah is his sister for fear of losing his life. Abraham justifies this second incident saying that she is the daughter of his father by a different mother. King Abimelech restores Sarah to Abraham giving him sheep, oxen and slaves, and invites Abraham to settle anywhere he likes in Abimelech’s land. As vindication, the king tells Sarah that he is giving Abraham a thousand pieces of silver. So, Abraham prays to God to heal Abimelech and the women in his household so that they can bear children.
Genesis chapter 19
To the early 20th century German scholar Hermann Gunkel, the expression “even to this day” in Genesis 19:38 revealed that a great interval of time lay between the period of the Patriarchs and that of the narrators of Genesis.
Genesis chapter 20
Reading the three instances of the wife-sister motif in (a) Genesis 12:10–20; (b) Genesis 20:1–18; and (c) Genesis 26:6–11, Professor Ephraim Speiser of the University of Pennsylvania in the mid 20th century argued that in a work by a single author, these three cases would present serious contradictions: Abraham would have learned nothing from his narrow escape in Egypt, and so tried the same ruse in Gerar; and Abimelech would have been so little sobered by his perilous experience with Abraham and Sarah that he fell into the identical trap with Isaac and Rebekah. Speiser concluded (on independent grounds) that the Jahwist was responsible for incidents (a) and (c), while the Elohist was responsible for incident (b). If the Elohist had been merely an annotator of the Jahwist, however, the Elohist would still have seen the contradictions for Abimelech, a man of whom the Elohist clearly approved. Speiser concluded that the Jahwist and the Elohist therefore must have worked independently. Speiser read the account of Abraham and Abimelech in Genesis 20 as an example of the Elohist’s tendency to justify and explain rather than let actions speak for themselves.
How is it that Sarah remained so desirable at her purported age? My mother of blessed memory, remained physically attractive up to her death in her 99th year. Many who knew or have seen photos of my mom just before her death have remarked on her beauty. As far as I am concerned, her beauty was from the inside out.
What is beauty and why does it matter? In Abraham and Sarah’s case, it was important enough to lie about, twice. Of course, this raises serious and appropriate issues related to misogyny, sexism, ageism, power and control among other things.
It also raises the question of when is it okay to lie? In the political realm it seems many have come to expect and accept blatant and destructive lies as part of the nature of politics. In religious terms, Jews have suffered loss of livelihood, limb and life due to vicious and unfounded lies starting most clearly from the 300s and 400s CE to now.
In the early 1970s, while taking a class in Religious Studies at the University of Arizona, I learned of a historic figure from the Fourth Century CE named John Chrysostom (John the Golden Mouthed). He justified lying to promote Christianity. To this end Chrysostom preached in the most vile and violent terms against Jews and Judaizers blaming them for Jesus’ death and “prompted the introduction of anti-Jewish legislation and social regulations, increasing the separation between the two communities.” In terms of this week’s Parsha, “He was particularly influential in … altering the traditional interpretation of Sodom as a place of inhospitality, to one where the sexual transgressions of the Sodomites became paramount.” https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/John_Chrysostom
The blame for inciting Western anti-Semitism and homophobia can be laid squarely at his feet. Sadly, because of misunderstood rituals like Kol Nidrë, for example, when we annul beforehand all vows made to God under duress, Jews are labelled by anti-Semites as deceptive and untrustworthy. A false stereotype is promoted that Jews lie all the time.
Lying appears to be an aspect of a world of duality, a world of opposites, a world of good and bad. Lies represent an attempt to have and/or maintain power over another. Lies arise out of fear rather than love – even if they are meant to save lives.
And so, we get back to Sarah and Abraham, and Lot and his daughters. A female friend claims being a beautiful woman presents greater risks and problems. According to her, most straight men care less about the looks than the anatomy. They often treat women, married or single, as objects of desire to be had. They act as if they have a right to “hit” on any woman. Being physically attractive draws even more such attention.
Abraham faced with men perceived to be more powerful than he, trades his wife for his life. Although purportedly trying to save his two visitors, Lot offers his daughters. Even though Sarah seems to agree, the daughters’ thoughts or desires are not recorded. In both cases, the men’s fear seems to be the motivating factor – rather than love.
From a limited perspective, it seems that certain lies save lives or benefit the common good while others lead to death and destruction. How to tell the difference? Do the ends justify the means? How does this week’s Parsha encapsulate what is currently taking place in our world?
We recite MI SHEBËRACH for the victims of brutality, abuse, fear, natural disasters, pandemics, violence, and war; for all those at home alone; for all those in need of physical, emotional, and mental healing. “R’fuah sh’lëmah” – a complete recovery!
We say KADDISH YATOM for those of our friends and families who have died and been buried this last week; those in the period of Sh’loshim (30 days since burial); those who have died in the last year; and those whose Yahrzeits/Anyos occur at this time; as well as the victims of brutality, disease, natural disasters, war and violence. We remember, too, those victims of the Shoah (Holocaust) who died at this time of year and have us to say “Kaddish” for them. “Zichronam liv’rachah” – May their memories be for blessing.
TORAH STUDY AND SHAZOOM
We will meet as usual at the regular times for Torah Study and Shazoom this evening, Friday, November 6, 2020. There are almost eight weeks left in 2020.
Zoom continues updating its security and performance features. Making sure you have the latest version of Zoom, please join us online this evening:
Topic: Torah Study – Vayëra (triennial part) Gen. 19:1-20:18
Time: Nov 6, 2020 06:00 PM Arizona
Shazoom – Erev Shabbat Service
Time: Nov 6, 2020 07:30 PM Arizona
To join the Torah Study and/or Shazoom click on the following link [you may need to copy it into your browser]:
Meeting ID: 725 1050 0854
Hint: The last character of the password is the number zero.
Being a part of, contributing to and connecting with Temple Kol Hamidbar helps us fulfill our three-fold purpose as a Beit Tefillah (House of Prayer), a Beit Midrash (House of Study) and a Beit Knesset (House of Community) – even virtually.
Shabbat Shalom – Buen Shabbat!