This week’s parashat is taken from Genesis 18:1—22:24. Listen as David talks about true sonship in Abraham's life.
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In last week’s parashah, we learnt about the importance of the substance of faith in drawing closer to Hashem as is taught to us throughout the entire life of Abraham. We also learnt that faith without works, or in different words, faith without obedience, is dead. Abraham was the first man to uncover the substance of faith and unlock its true potential and power in his life. Here is a man who uncovered what it meant to walk in relationship with Hashem. All throughout his journeys to and through the Land of Promise, he was tested and tried time and time again by Hashem, to push him to the limits of his potential and his faith, to set the precedent and to be the role model for future generations to come. In this week’s parashah, Hashem’s testing and trials for Abraham are pushed to the limit.
We open up Parashat Vayeira to these words in Genesis 18:1: “Hashem appeared to him in the Plains of Mamre while he was sitting at the entrance of the tent in the heat of the day.”
וַיֵּרָ֤א אֵלָיו֙ יְהוָ֔ה בְּאֵלֹנֵ֖י מַמְרֵ֑א וְה֛וּא יֹשֵׁ֥ב פֶּֽתַח־הָאֹ֖הֶל כְּחֹ֥ם הַיּֽוֹם׃
The Opening Words
There are several observations to be made in these first three words of the parashah: 1) Who is the word “אֵלָיו” (“elav” meaning “to him”) referring to? And 2) The order of the words is wrong – the Hebrew should read in the order of [verb]>[subject]>[object] (“וַיֵּרָא”>“יְהוָה”>“אֵלָיו”), but rather it reads as [verb]>[object]>[subject] (“וַיֵּרָא”>“אֵלָיו”>“יְהוָה”). First, we know that “elav” (“to him”) refers to Abraham as a continuation of the verses at the end of the previous chapter (Genesis 18) that spoke of Abraham’s alacrity in circumcising everyone in his household. Hence, since it is a continuation of these verses, we can presume that Abraham was sitting at the entrance of the tent recovering from his circumcision. And second, the “incorrect” order of the three words is telling us something insightful – by placing the reference to Abraham before the Name of Hashem is a form of endearment. Taken together, the alacrity and obedience with which Abraham performed the circumcision brought Abraham into a place of endearment with Hashem. As we will soon see, it wasn’t just due to the circumcision, but because of the accrual of Abraham’s faith and obedience to Hashem through his life up to this point. As Hashem said in Genesis 18:19: “For I have cherished [or “known”] him, because he commands his children and his household after him that they keep the way of Hashem, doing charity and justice.”
Here, Hashem appeared (“וַיֵּרָא”) to Abraham at such a time. Yet, this is not the first time that Hashem appeared to Abraham – it is in fact the third time. And it should be pointed out as well that Abraham is the first person in Scriptures to whom Hashem appeared to. The first reference (in Genesis 12:7) is when Abraham first arrived in the Land (at Shechem): “Hashem appeared [“וַיֵּרָא”] to Abram and said, ’To your offspring I will give this Land.’ So he built an altar there to Hashem Who appeared to him.” And the second reference is found in Genesis 17:1: “When Abram was ninety-nine years old, Hashem appeared[“וַיֵּרָא”] to Abram and said to him, ‘I am El Shaddai; walk before Me and be perfect. I will set My covenant between Me and you, and I will increase you most exceedingly.” Hashem went on to instruct Abraham that circumcision was to be the sign of the covenant.
And again, here in Genesis 18:1, Hashem appeared once again to Abraham. Yet, interestingly, the verses that come directly after this verse do not explain why Hashem appeared to Abraham. Hereafter we read about the three angels disguised as men who had come to visit Abraham, each with a different mission – one of which was to confirm to Abraham that a year hence, Sarah would bring forth a son in her old age. And throughout this entire visit, we read of Hashem’s Presence with Abraham, but no particular reason why as in the first two instances. All of a sudden, in the midst of Abraham’s dialogue with the three “men”, Hashem asks Abraham (in Verse 13) why Sarah laughed. Finally, after Abraham escorts the “men” from his tent, Hashem speaks up again about what He plans to do to Sodom and Gomorrah. As well, keep in mind that during the visit by the three “men”, it was also confirmed by one of them that Abraham would have a son by Sarah, but that wasn’t directly spoken by Hashem. Now, if this is the reason why Hashem appeared to Abraham, why didn’t He just appear to Abraham at this point? Rather, Hashem appeared to Abraham as he sat at the entrance of the tent, and remained with him through the visit by the angels, and until Abraham escorted them on their way. What does this speak of? It shows us the level of endearment that Hashem had for Abraham – so much so that He desired to rest upon Abraham, and to spend time with him.
Another powerful revelation of the word “vayeira” (“וַיֵּרָא”) later in Scriptures is that of the glory of Hashem appearing to the Israelites at the inauguration of the Tabernacle in the Wilderness using the exact same word (Leviticus 9:23): “Moses and Aaron came to the Tent of Meeting, and they went out and they blessed the people – and the glory of Hashem “appeared” [“vayeira” “וַיֵּרָא”] to the entire people!”. What we are seeing here is a unique experience that Abraham was having with Hashem as Hashem’s Presence rested upon Abraham, as if Abraham himself was a tabernacle… a “מִּשְׁכָּן” (“mishkan”)… a “dwelling place” for Hashem’s Presence. Moreover, each time that Abraham witnessed the appearance of Hashem to him upon entering the Land, Hashem’s Presence remained with him for progressively longer periods of time. Furthermore, with each visit, Hashem revealed greater insight and revelation to Abraham about what He would accomplish. First, the Land of Promise for Abraham’s descendants; second, the sign of the covenant in the form of circumcision on Abraham and his descendants; and third, the reminder that Hashem would bring forth a son by Sarah (yes, by the words of the visiting angel, but Hashem’s Presence was there with Abraham). Each appearance by Hashem narrowed down until it was primarily focused on the promised son: Isaac.
All throughout, we are seeing the beautiful intimacy by Hashem for Abraham, as a father for a son. Hashem responded to Abraham’s stalwart faith and obedience with the same loving affection a father shows for his only son that looks up to him with trust and obedience. And just as Hashem showed His endearment to Abraham through revealing His Presence to Abraham, Hashem empowered Abraham and Sarah to miraculously overcome the bounds of nature and bring forth Isaac in their old age. Sure, Abraham already had a son – Ishmael – but Ishmael wasn’t the son of promise, the son of two righteous parents – Isaac was. Isaac was the promised seed that Hashem promised to Abraham in Genesis 17:19, where He said: “Indeed your wife Sarah will bear you a son and you shall call his name Isaac; and I will fulfill My covenant with him as an everlasting covenant for his offspring after him.”
The Final Test
Then came the final test. Hashem tested Abraham with the ultimate of tests – to offer up his one and only son of promise to Hashem, known in Hebrew as “the Akeidah” or “the binding”. What father in his right mind would do this? Yet, Abraham did. How is this possible? Hebrews 11:17-19 gives us an answer: “By faith Abraham, when he was tested, offered up Isaac, and he who had received the promises was in the act of offering up his only son, of whom it was said, ‘Through Isaac shall your offspring be named.’ He considered that God was able even to raise him from the dead, from which, figuratively speaking, he did receive him back.” Abraham believed that Hashem could raise Isaac from the dead. Abraham knew that Hashem gave Isaac to him and Sarah, that Hashem had provided everything for them throughout their journeys in the Land, and that He was capable of taking it all away, if Hashem willed it. As Job said in Job 1:21: “Naked did I emerge from my mother’s womb, and naked shall I return there. Hashem has given, and Hashem has taken away, blessed be the Name of Hashem.” Abraham knew that all that he had and all that he did was all because of Hashem. Abraham knew where his faith was anchored, and he was obedient to Hashem to the very end.
In Genesis 22:1, we read: “And it happened after these words that God tested Abraham and He said to him, ‘Abraham,’ and he said, ‘Here I am.’ And He said, ‘Please take your son, your only one [“יְחִידְךָ” “yechid’cha”], whom you love – Isaac – go to the land of Moriah, and bring him up there as an offering upon one of the mountains which I shall tell you.” These three seemingly redundant statements: “Please take your son”, “your only one” and “whom you love” find their way into the Shema – the most important daily prayer in Jewish life – in the statement: “You shall love Hashem, your God, with all of your heart, with all of your soul, and with all of your resources.” Hashem was asking Abraham to overcome his entire being – his heart, soul and resources – to obey this final test. Hashem even added in the word “please” as a form of pleading for Abraham to have the strength to overcome the test.
On the morning of the start of the three-day journey to Mount Moriah, Abraham awoke with the same alacrity that he showed when Hashem commanded him to circumcise his household, and the same alacrity when he served the three visiting angels at his tent in the midst of recovering from circumcision. It was this same alacrity that led him – a man of wealth – to saddle his own donkey and split the wood for the offering. And then for three days, Abraham and Isaac (and his two young men) travelled to Mount Moriah. Three days! This wasn’t an immediate act – Abraham had three days to contemplate the mission, to reconsider and turn back or change plans. Yet, he didn’t. Three days later, they arrived at the place (“הַמָּקוֹם” “ha’makom”) – at Mount Moriah. Here, we see embedded in his words to the two young men, the stalwart faith that both him and Isaac would return (Genesis 22:5): “Stay here by yourselves with the donkey, while I and the lad will go up to here; we will worship and we will return to you.”
We’ve spoken about Abraham, but what about Isaac? Truth be told, he was no young child subject to the will of his father, but rather a grown man. There are two ways to calculate his age – one that determines he was 26 and the other 37. Either way, he was a grown man capable of resisting his father’s will. Yet, when Isaac realized that they had fire and wood but no lamb for the offering, he certainly clued in and asked his father. Abraham responded yet again with words of faith that Hashem would provide (Genesis 22:8): “God will see the lamb for Himself for the offering, my son.” Moreover, before Isaac’s question, it says twice (in Genesis 22:6 and 22:8): “and the two of them went together (“יַחְדָּו” “yachdav”).” Before and after that question, Abraham and his son Isaac were in a state of togetherness, in a state of unity. We then read in Verse 9: “They arrived at the place of which God had spoken to him; Abraham built the altar there, and arranged the wood; he bound Isaac, his son, and he placed him on the altar atop the wood.” Abraham bound his son, and Isaac allowed himself to be bound. Like a lonesome lamb to the slaughter.
With regards to the Akeidah, Isaac just as much as Abraham, revealed that he was his father’s son. He had stalwart faith and obedience, not just in his father, but in Hashem, for he saw his father as a dwelling place of Hashem’s Presence. Isaac was willing to give up his life at Hashem’s command for he, like his father, knew that his life was not his own. Moreover, Isaac and his father Abraham were unified in their thoughts and actions (hence the word “יַחְדָּו” “yachdav”). Similarly, as “Abraham stretched out his hand and took the knife to slaughter his son”, and an angel called from heaven for him to cease, the angel said (in Genesis 22:12): “you have not withheld your son, your only one [“יְחִידְךָ” “yechidcha”], from Me.” Again, referring to the same unity, the same togetherness that Abraham and Isaac shared as father and son.
It then says in Genesis 22:14: “And Abraham called the name of that site ‘Hashem Yireh,’ as it is said this day, on the mountain Hashem will be seen.” This ties us back to the first words of the parashah: “וַיֵּרָ֤אאֵלָיו֙יְהוָ֔ה” (“Hashem appeared to him”). Just as Hashem appeared to Abraham, Abraham foresaw that Hashem would be seen at this place, at Mount Moriah, in the future. It was on this place that the Temple stood – the holy dwelling place of Hashem. Today, the Temple is not standing, but the place still holds the same great significance that it did at the Akeidah, and we know that the Temple will be rebuilt one final time never to be torn down again. This place is eternally a place of remembrance of the last test that Hashem gave to Abraham – the impossible test that Abraham and Isaac passed and merited blessing and offspring like the stars of the heavens and like the sand on the seashore for their stalwart faith and obedience. That is why Abraham named the place “Hashem Yireh” – “Hashem will be seen”. Hashem was seen there in the days that the Temple stood, and will once again be seen – at the same precise place where the Akeidah occurred. The place where Abraham bound his only son as an offering to Hashem. The readiness and willingness of the act by Abraham was as if the ashes of Isaac are piled up at the place, as if he had actually been sacrificed. The place where love for father superseded love for son, where sonship first became a title borne out of sheer faith and obedience ultimately to Hashem.
Just as we see the beauty of sonship embedded in the relationship of father and son between Abraham and Isaac, and concurrently by Hashem and Abraham (and Isaac), we see it borne out in the relationship of Hashem and Yeshua. As Yeshua said to Nicodemus in John 3:16: “For God loved the world with an abundant love, to the extent that he gave his only [“yechido” “unified”] son so that all who believe in him will not perish, but will rather live eternal life.” Just as Isaac was the unified son of Abraham, so was Yeshua the unified son of Hashem. Just as Isaac went willingly to Mount Moriah as the offering, so Yeshua offered himself up as a sacrifice to Hashem. As Yeshua told his disciples in the Garden of Gethsemane on the night before his death (John 15:12-14): “This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends. You are my friends if you do what I command you.” And as Paul wrote in Ephesians 5:1-2: “So imitate God, as his dear children, and live a life of love, just as also the Messiah loved us, indeed, on our behalf gave himself up as an offering, as a slaughtered sacrifice to God with a pleasing fragrance.”
It was in the footsteps of Abraham and Isaac that Messiah Yeshua transcended in faith and obedience beyond any righteous man before him, through love. Love not only for his fellow man, but for those that loved him and those that hated him alike, for the righteous and sinner alike, for both Jews and non-Jews alike. And he was no doubt tested and tried. On the night that he was betrayed and arrested, he prayed in the Garden (Luke 22:42-44): “‘My Father, if only you were willing to make this cup pass from me! Yet let it not be according to my will but according to your will.’ An angel from heaven appeared to him and strengthened him. Then the bonds of death came upon him and he continued to pray fervently. His sweat was like drops of blood falling to the earth.”
Yeshua knew his mission was to die, but not without a greater cause. As the moment drew near, he cried out in agony to his Heavenly Father to remove the cup of suffering from him. Yet, like Abraham and Isaac before him, he was completely surrendered to Hashem and said: “Let it not be according to my will but according to your will.” Yeshua had a choice. He could have bowed out of this unfathomable mission to die, yet he was completely unified with his Father in heaven. So much so that he was willing to die. It was the power of this self-sacrifice that carried and carries with it to this day so much merit for those in this world that are lost in sin, trapped in the miry clay of the ways of this world, distanced from Hashem. It is Yeshua’s act of self-sacrifice that carries with it so much atoning power for the world – past, present and future. Where Hashem determined that the level of sins had risen to such a level that judgment must prevail, Yeshua’s act of self-sacrifice out of love for his generation and for the world at large took on himself the wrath of Hashem, thereby providing the perfect atonement for those who look to him as the point of connection to Hashem. It is only through replicating Yeshua’s perfect, righteous life, by attaching ourselves to him in a unified manner as he was unified with his Father in heaven, that we attain righteousness and are able to draw closer to our Heavenly Father, thereby also becoming sons and daughters of the Most High. As John wrote in John 1:11-13: “He came to his own, but those who were his did not receive him. To those who received him, who believed in his name, he gave strength to be sons of God, who were born not from blood nor from the desire of the flesh – not even from the desire of a man – but from God.”
And as Paul wrote in Galatians 3:26-29: “For in union with the Messiah, you are all children of God through this trusting faithfulness; because as many of you as were immersed into the Messiah have clothed yourselves with the Messiah, in whom there is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor freemen, neither male nor female; for in union with the Messiah Yeshua, you are all one. Also, if you belong to the Messiah, you are seed of Abraham and heirs according to the promise.”
What a beautiful proliferation from Abraham to Yeshua. Hashem first appeared to Abraham because Abraham merited it through his pursuit of Hashem, and ultimately through the testing of his faith and obedience. Because of his faith and obedience, Hashem blessed Abraham’s seed and gave him a son of promise. Abraham was given the ultimate test, to offer up his one and only, his unified son, and Abraham did not blink, he did not falter, and he obeyed Hashem’s every command. He loved his son, but he loved Hashem even more. Simultaneously, Isaac went willing to the slaughter, offering himself up to Hashem of his own free will. The merit of this action by Abraham and Isaac was immense in providing atonement for future generations. Yet, sin prevailed as tends to always be the nature of sin until Hashem had enough. But instead of pouring out His wrath on His people, Hashem poured it out on one man – on Messiah Yeshua, one who was unified with Him, and hence was a perfect substitute for pouring out His wrath on the people. It was not just faith and obedience that Yeshua showed, it was also love. Love for his Father in heaven, and love for the world. As a result, the merit of Yeshua’s actions carry with it such immense atoning power for the entire world.
All we needs do is connect ourselves to Yeshua, replicate him, live like he lived. When asked what the most important commandment is, Yeshua responded (Mark 12:28-31): “The most important is, ‘Hear, O Israel: Hashem is our God, Hashem is one. And you shall love Hashem your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ The second is this: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’” Remember, Hashem gave the instruction to Abraham to: “Please take your son, your only one, whom you love” that parallels the verse in the Shema prayer. May we enter into sonship with Hashem in much the same way that Abraham and Isaac did, and more importantly, as Yeshua did, recognizing that our lives are not our own. May we strive more and more to remain in oneness… in unity through Yeshua with our Heavenly Father, strengthening our faith and obedience through the trials that we face each and every day. May we merit to become permanent dwelling places for Hashem’s Presence in our lives. Amen.