Vayera: Making The Good Times and Bad Times Work For You
In the book Peaks and Valleys by Spencer Johnson a young man who is living an unhappy life filled with many challenges meets an old man who lives a happy life filled with blessings. It’s a short book yet is filled with great nuggets we can use today. We will all have challenges, what is important is our response to those challenges which will help us when we move through those challenges and get to the “peaks”, the good times. Each generation faces their own challenges. My parent’s generation dealt with the aftermath of World War II, The Cold War, The Civil Rights Movement, The Vietnam War, Disconnect of the dollar from the Gold Standard, Watergate, and a recession. My generation has had to deal with the Oklahoma City bombing, the great snowstorm of 1996 (for those of us in the Northeast), The Bill Clinton Impeachment, 9/11, The Great Recession of 2008, Continuous rise in the debt of governments around the world, rise in inflation, skepticism of the election system in the U.S., and now Covid. These challenges will either break us or help us to grow. Our ability to grow in the 8 F’s: Faith, Family, Finances, Freedom, Fitness, Friendships, Fun, and Following will help us weather any storm that comes our way!
Avraham and Sarah endure many challenges. Their challenges continue in Parashat Vayera. It begins with Avraham sitting outside his tent. Our sages tell us that G-d visited him because Avraham was recovering from his Brit Milah. Avraham looked up and saw three men, who were actually angels, were standing near him. He ran to greet them, brought them water to wash their feet and prepared food to serve them. Rabbi Yitzchak Breitowitz says that G-d chooses people to be conduits of blessings. Therefore, it is crucial for us to treat everyone with respect. Avraham ran quickly into Sarah’s tent, and they made cakes for the men and served them meat (Bereishit 18:1-7).
וַיֵּרָ֤א אֵלָיו֙ יְהֹוָ֔ה בְּאֵלֹנֵ֖י מַמְרֵ֑א וְה֛וּא יֹשֵׁ֥ב פֶּֽתַח־הָאֹ֖הֶל כְּחֹ֥ם הַיּֽוֹם
וַיִּשָּׂ֤א עֵינָיו֙ וַיַּ֔רְא וְהִנֵּה֙ שְׁלֹשָׁ֣ה אֲנָשִׁ֔ים נִצָּבִ֖ים עָלָ֑יו וַיַּ֗רְא וַיָּ֤רׇץ לִקְרָאתָם֙ מִפֶּ֣תַח הָאֹ֔הֶל וַיִּשְׁתַּ֖חוּ אָֽרְצָה
וַיֹּאמַ֑ר אֲדֹנָ֗י אִם־נָ֨א מָצָ֤אתִי חֵן֙ בְּעֵינֶ֔יךָ אַל־נָ֥א תַעֲבֹ֖ר מֵעַ֥ל עַבְדֶּֽךָ
יֻקַּֽח־נָ֣א מְעַט־מַ֔יִם וְרַחֲצ֖וּ רַגְלֵיכֶ֑ם וְהִֽשָּׁעֲנ֖וּ תַּ֥חַת הָעֵֽץ
וְאֶקְחָ֨ה פַת־לֶ֜חֶם וְסַעֲד֤וּ לִבְּכֶם֙ אַחַ֣ר תַּעֲבֹ֔רוּ כִּֽי־עַל־כֵּ֥ן עֲבַרְתֶּ֖ם עַֽל־עַבְדְּכֶ֑ם וַיֹּ֣אמְר֔וּ כֵּ֥ן תַּעֲשֶׂ֖ה כַּאֲשֶׁ֥ר דִּבַּֽרְתָּ
וַיְמַהֵ֧ר אַבְרָהָ֛ם הָאֹ֖הֱלָה אֶל־שָׂרָ֑ה וַיֹּ֗אמֶר מַהֲרִ֞י שְׁלֹ֤שׁ סְאִים֙ קֶ֣מַח סֹ֔לֶת ל֖וּשִׁי וַעֲשִׂ֥י עֻגֽוֹת
וְאֶל־הַבָּקָ֖ר רָ֣ץ אַבְרָהָ֑ם וַיִּקַּ֨ח בֶּן־בָּקָ֜ר רַ֤ךְ וָטוֹב֙ וַיִּתֵּ֣ן אֶל־הַנַּ֔עַר וַיְמַהֵ֖ר לַעֲשׂ֥וֹת אֹתֽוֹ
Chief Rabbi Ephraim Mirvis says, “true kindness has empathy at its heart.” The key is that Avraham and Sarah didn’t wait when it came to charity. They jumped at the opportunity for Hachnasat Orchim (welcoming guests). We can see this by the use of the word מַהֵר which means quick, though the Torah uses וַיְמַהֵ֧ר. Avraham modeled kindness for others. We can see this later when the men (angels) go down to Sodom and Gemorrah and Lot also welcomes them. We also see that Avraham underpromised and overdelivered with his behavior towards the angels. He said that he would bring a morsel of bread, but instead brought a great feast.
Afterwards, they asked “where is Sarah?” Avraham replied, “in the tent.” One of the men said, “I will return to you next year and your wife Sarah shall have a son.” What follows is a fascinating dialogue between Avraham and G-d. G-d tells Avraham that he will destroy Sodom and Gomorrah. Avraham requests that the cities be spared if there are 50 righteous people there, then 40, 30, 20, and 10. Alas, G-d could not find even 10 righteous people there. Two of the angels went to Sodom: one to save Lot and his family, and the other to destroy the cities.
According to Rashi, Lot was appointed judge on the day that the angels came down to Sodom which is why he was sitting at the gate (Bereishit Rabbah 50:3). He saw the men, rose to greet them and invited them to his house. He invited them to spend the night, washed their feet, and prepared a feast for them.
וַ֠יָּבֹ֠אוּ שְׁנֵ֨י הַמַּלְאָכִ֤ים סְדֹ֙מָה֙ בָּעֶ֔רֶב וְל֖וֹט יֹשֵׁ֣ב בְּשַֽׁעַר־סְדֹ֑ם וַיַּרְא־לוֹט֙ וַיָּ֣קׇם לִקְרָאתָ֔ם וַיִּשְׁתַּ֥חוּ אַפַּ֖יִם אָֽרְצָה
וַיֹּ֜אמֶר הִנֶּ֣ה נָּא־אֲדֹנַ֗י ס֣וּרוּ נָ֠א אֶל־בֵּ֨ית עַבְדְּכֶ֤ם וְלִ֙ינוּ֙ וְרַחֲצ֣וּ רַגְלֵיכֶ֔ם וְהִשְׁכַּמְתֶּ֖ם וַהֲלַכְתֶּ֣ם לְדַרְכְּכֶ֑ם וַיֹּאמְר֣וּ לֹּ֔א כִּ֥י בָרְח֖וֹב נָלִֽין
וַיִּפְצַר־בָּ֣ם מְאֹ֔ד וַיָּסֻ֣רוּ אֵלָ֔יו וַיָּבֹ֖אוּ אֶל־בֵּית֑וֹ וַיַּ֤עַשׂ לָהֶם֙ מִשְׁתֶּ֔ה וּמַצּ֥וֹת אָפָ֖ה וַיֹּאכֵֽלוּ
Not too long after, the townsmen came to Lot’s door. The people of Sodom and Gomorrah were evil people. The angels told Lot that they came to destroy the city. As dawn broke, the angels, Lot, his wife, and their two daughters fled the city. They were told not to look back at the destruction, but Lot’s wife did not listen, and she turned into a pillar of salt.
Finally, Sarah gave birth to a son and named him Yitzchak. Just when we thought Avraham and Sarah would be able to relax and enjoy parenthood, Avraham is tested once again! G-d asks Avraham to sacrifice Yitzchak. Avraham sacrifices a ram instead. G-d says to Avraham “I will bestow My blessing upon you and make your descendants as numerous as the stars of heaven and the sands on the seashore; and your descendants shall seize the gates of their foes. All the nations of the earth shall bless themselves by your descendants, because you have obeyed My command (Bereishit 22:17-18).”
כִּֽי־בָרֵ֣ךְ אֲבָרֶכְךָ֗ וְהַרְבָּ֨ה אַרְבֶּ֤ה אֶֽת־זַרְעֲךָ֙ כְּכוֹכְבֵ֣י הַשָּׁמַ֔יִם וְכַח֕וֹל אֲשֶׁ֖ר עַל־שְׂפַ֣ת הַיָּ֑ם וְיִרַ֣שׁ זַרְעֲךָ֔ אֵ֖ת שַׁ֥עַר אֹיְבָֽיו
וְהִתְבָּרְכ֣וּ בְזַרְעֲךָ֔ כֹּ֖ל גּוֹיֵ֣י הָאָ֑רֶץ עֵ֕קֶב אֲשֶׁ֥ר שָׁמַ֖עְתָּ בְּקֹלִֽי
Avraham and Sarah used their challenges for good and never faltered in their mission to help others. They modeled the behavior that leaders have which to challenge the status quo. They took responsibility and acted quickly, instead of waiting for others to act. They moved through their valleys with tenacity and into the peaks with strength. In the valleys, write down difficult times. In the peaks, write about happy moments and/or great accomplishments. May we all merit to move through our own peaks and valleys with tenacity and strength!