Vayera - Weekly Torah Portion
It does not require much imagination to understand the connection between the reading of this week’s portion of the Torah, Vayera, and what we read in this week’s Haftarah from the second book of Kings. Both tell the story of an unexpected birth of a child. Abraham and Sarah are promised, “At the appointed time I will return to you, at this time next year, and Sarah will have a son.” The women from Shunem receives a similar promise by the prophet Elisha, “At this season next year, you are going to embrace a son.” Now going forward rabbis and speakers can venture off on interpretations of similarities, dissimilarities and learnings from these two events. But not this time.
There is another wonder story told about the prophet Elisha a little earlier in the chapter. “Now a woman of the wives of the sons of the prophets cried out to Elisha, saying, ‘Your servant my husband is dead, and you know that your servant feared the Lord; and the creditor has come to take my two children to be his slaves.’ So Elisha said to her, ‘What shall I do for you? Tell me, what do you have in the house?’ And she said, ‘Your servant has nothing in the house except a jar of oil.’ Then he said, ‘Go, borrow containers elsewhere for yourself, empty containers from all your neighbors—do not get too few. Then you shall come in and shut the door behind you and your sons, and pour into all these containers; and you shall set aside what is full.’ So she left him and shut the door behind her and her sons; they began bringing the containers to her, and she poured the oil. When the containers were full, she said to her son, ‘Bring me another container.’ But he said to her, ‘There are no more containers.’ Then the oil stopped. So she came and told the man of God. And he said, ‘Go, sell the oil and pay your debt, and you and your sons can live on the rest.’” Think of it, a story about an endless bounty of oil and it is not the Hanukkah story.
While what we read about in the Haftarah has to do with adding more and more to something that was scarce, this week’s reading from the Torah is different, it speaks about less and less. “And the Lord said, ‘The outcry of Sodom and Gomorrah is indeed great, and their sin is exceedingly grave. I will go down now and see whether they have done entirely as the outcry, which has come to Me indicates; and if not, I will know.’ Then the men turned away from there and went toward Sodom, while Abraham was still standing before the Lord. Abraham approached and said, ‘Will You indeed sweep away the righteous with the wicked? Suppose there are fifty righteous people within the city; will You indeed sweep it away and not spare the place for the sake of the fifty righteous who are in it? Far be it from You to do such a thing, to kill the righteous with the wicked, so that the righteous and the wicked are treated alike. Far be it from You! Shall not the Judge of all the earth deal justly?” So the Lord said, ‘If I find in Sodom fifty righteous within the city, then I will spare the entire place on their account.’ Abraham does not give up so quickly and tries to bargain for a little less, “And Abraham replied, ‘Now behold, I have ventured to speak to the Lord, although I am only dust and ashes. Suppose the fifty righteous are lacking five, will You destroy the entire city because of five?’ And He said, ‘I will not destroy it if I find forty-five there.’” Abraham, riding on his success is on the roll and continues to bargain, going down step-by-step. “And he said, ‘Now behold, I have ventured to speak to the Lord; suppose twenty are found there?’ And He said, ‘I will not destroy it on account of the twenty.’ Then he said, ‘Oh may the Lord not be angry, and I shall speak only this once: suppose ten are found there?’ And He said, ‘I will not destroy it on account of the ten.’” Unfortunately this does not help, there are simply not that many righteous persons in that place.
It seems that in Shunem there were also not many righteous people. If they where there than they would have quickly come forward and help the woman at a time of distress. A woman who has just lost her husband and now was about to have her sons taken from her by the creditor. There had to be an ample amount of oil to fill all the containers so that she could repay the debt, and that something will be left so that she and her children can live on. We can therefore learn from both stories that it is possible to fight off evil, sometimes requiring a lot of effort and resource, as evil is greedy and demanding. However, on the other side, not much good, righteousness, can completely change the picture.
We too can learn from both stories. Stories that show how little is really needed to overcome that which is wrong, but also how worthwhile it is to invest in eradicating it. Especially on these days where national leaderships thrive on tearing us apart of each other, and encouraging us to be at the throats of the other, we have an obligation to connect and to heal. Even only a few of us will invest the time and effort needed, we can change the landscape, even if we are not successful every time. It requires a significant investment from us, not only financially but also by exemplary conduct, behavior that is embracing and accepting one towards the other, even at times of disagreement, and keeping our eyes on the goal even when it is so dark that it may seem there is no light at the end of the tunnel.
Shabbat Shalom and Good Health.
Reuven Marko, 6 November 2020, 20 Cheshvan, 5781