Parshah Summary – P’shat
The parshah opens with Abraham sitting by his tent on a hot day, when suddenly Hashem appears to him, along with three mysterious guests (angels), so he rushes off to prepare a meal for them. One of the guests announces that Sarah will give birth to a son. Sarah laughs, hinting at the name of their future son, Yitzhak, which means “will laugh.” It is revealed to Abraham that the wicked city of Sodom is to be destroyed, but he pleads with Hashem to relent and not punish the innocent along with the guilty.
Two of the three angels arrive in the doomed city, and Abraham’s nephew Lot attempts to protect them from a violent mob. The angels reveal their destructive mission, instructing Lot and his family to flee and not look back. But, as they flee, Lot’s wife does look back and turns into a pillar of salt. While taking shelter in a cave, Lot’s two daughters get their father and become impregnated by him. The two sons born from this incident father the nations of Moab and Ammon.
The Philistine king Abimelech takes Sarah—who is once again presented as Abraham’s sister—to his palace. In a dream, God warns Abimelech that he will die unless he returns the woman to her husband. Abimelech confronts Abraham, who once again explains that he feared he would be killed over the beautiful Sarah.
Sarah miraculously becomes pregnant and gives birth to Isaac. Ishmael torments Sarah, so Sarah banishes Hagar and Ishmael from their home to wander in the desert, and Ishmael nearly dies of dehydration. Hashem hears the cry of the dying lad, shows his mother a well and they are saved. Meanwhile, Hashem tests Abraham’s devotion by commanding him to sacrifice Isaac on Mount Moriah. When Abraham raises the knife to slaughter his son, a voice from heaven calls to stop him; a ram, caught in the undergrowth by its horns, is offered in Isaac’s place.
Torah of Awakening
וַיֵּרָ֤א אֵלָיו֙ יי בְּאֵלֹנֵ֖י מַמְרֵ֑א וְה֛וּא יֹשֵׁ֥ב פֶּֽתַח־הָאֹ֖הֶל כְּחֹ֥ם הַיּֽוֹם׃
The Divine appeared to him in the plains of Mamre; he was sitting at the entrance of the tent in the heat of the day.
- Bereisheet (Genesis) 18:1
Once, when Rabbi Levi Yitzhak of Berditchev was traveling, he stopped to spend the night in the town of Lwow. He knocked on the door of a very wealthy man and asked for lodging. “I have no use for vagrants like you! Why don’t you stay at the inn?” said the man. “I am not able to afford the inn,” replied Levi Yitzhak. “Please, I won’t be any trouble, let me stay in one of your rooms just for the night.” “Well then, if you can’t afford the inn,” said the miserly rich man, “go around the corner to the schoolteacher. He likes to take in vagrants like you – he’ll give you a room and food.” So, Levi Yitzhak went around the corner to the schoolteacher. But, on his way there, someone in the town recognized him, and began to spread the word that the great Rabbi Levi Yitzhak was at the schoolteacher’s house. Before long, there were throngs of people crowding the house, trying to get a blessing from the master. Among the crowd was the miserly rich man, who pushed his way to the front. “Master! Master! Please forgive me! I didn’t know who you were! Please come and stay with me. All the great rabbis who come through town stay with me!”
“Do you know,” replied Levi Yitzhak, “why such a fuss is made over Avraham and Sarah for their hospitality of opening their home to the visiting angels and giving them food and drink? Didn’t Lot also invite them in and offer to feed them? But in the Torah’s description about Lot, it says: וַ֠יָּבֹ֠אוּ שְׁנֵ֨י הַמַּלְאָכִ֤ים סְדֹ֙מָה֙ – two angels came to Sodom. “But with Avraham it says: שְׁלֹשָׁ֣ה אֲנָשִׁ֔ים נִצָּבִ֖ים עָלָ֑יו – three men were standing over him. Lot saw majestic angels, whereas Avraham saw only dusty wayfarers…”
There is an aphorism often heard in spiritual circles: “Be in the world, but not of the world.” What does this mean exactly? There are at least two questions: First, what does it mean to be in the world? Aren’t we always already in the world? Second, what does it mean to not of the world? Aren’t we all of this world? What other world would be of? To understand, consider how we spend our time: Usually we are acting upon things or being acted upon; we try to bring about certain results, and things happen to us; this is true for everyone.
However, there can be enormous differences between people in the quality of their actions and responses. Are we demanding, aggressive and entitled, or are we sensitive, empathetic and wise? If we want to be the latter, our impulse to act upon the world needs to be balanced by the element of Presence With the world; there needs to be awareness and receptivity. This is being in the world; it doesn’t mean merely existing, it means doing the activity of Presence With – being receptive, aware, and open. But, this is not always easy, because sometimes the world is not as we would like it to be. How can we be receptive, aware, and open when we encounter a world that causes us suffering? The key is to remember: we need not be trapped by any experience. Remember: you are not the experience; you are the consciousness within which the experiences arises. You can remain fully open to whatever comes, but also remain free from it. Let things come and let things go. This is being not of the world in the sense that you don’t let any experience define who you are.
וַיַּ֗רְא וַיָּ֤רׇץ לִקְרָאתָם֙ מִפֶּ֣תַח הָאֹ֔הֶל וַיִּשְׁתַּ֖חוּ אָֽרְצָה …he saw and ran from the entrance of the tent to greet them and he bowed toward the ground. Avraham is recovering from his circumcision described at the end of the last parshah. But rather than shut himself up in the shade of his tent, he goes and sits at the entrance. When the strangers appear, he runs and bows, inviting them to rest, wash, and eat…but also אַחַ֣ר תַּעֲבֹ֔רוּ – afterward, go! Not only does he invite them in; he also invites them to leave.
The “tent” is our sense of self, which can either be closed or open to what is now emerging in this moment. The tent sits in the “plains” – that is, our sense of self sits in the vastness of the field of awareness that we are at the deepest level. So, even in the “heat,” meaning even in times of difficulty and suffering, we can know ourselves as that openness. Like Sarah and Avraham, we can welcome whatever comes, and afterward, let it pass on and return our attention back to the openness; we need not cling to the majestic angel, nor push away the dusty wayfarer. Why? וַיֵּרָ֤א אֵלָיו֙ יי – The Divine appeared to him… It says that God appeared, but then Avraham looks up and sees the three strangers. What happened to God? But that’s the point: when we are open to the fullness of this moment, there can be the recognition that every appearance is literally an appearance of God. Everything emerges from the vastness and eventually returns. So, welcome what is, right now. There is only one “God,” and This is It!
Read past teachings on Vayeira HERE.
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