Shabbat Vayera (Gen. 18:1 – 22:24)

The name of the portion this week is Vaera – “And God Saw”, but it seems (to me) to be all about blindness.

At the beginning of the portion this week, Abraham is sitting, perhaps blinded by pain of his circumcision, at the entrance to his tent when he lifts his eyes to see 3 strangers approaching. He welcomes them, perhaps realizing they are really divine visitors, but also some Rabbis say he was blind to that truth. They announce that Sarah will have a child and she overhears and laughs, thinking they cannot see her on the other side of the tent. Of course, God is not blind to this and asks her why she laughed. Sarah lies that she did not laugh, but finds out God is not blind to the truth.

God reveals to Abraham the inevitable destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah. Abraham, perhaps blind to the reality by his own optimism and belief in the goodness of people, argues that if just 10 good people can be found the cities should be spared. God agrees but of course sees that this is not the case.

Two angels arrive in Sodom, their goal to help Lot and his family (presumably the only good people left) escape. The men of the town cannot see the true nature of the strangers through the haze of lust and depravity, and demand Lot send them out so the townsmen can have their way with them. Lot himself is attacked and the angels blind the men of the town to save him. Lot tries to convince his married sons and daughters to leave with him, but they see him “as one who mocks”.

Lot, his wife and two unmarried daughters run from the town, the angels commanding them not to look back at the destruction. Lot’s wife, blind to the danger, turns back anyway and is turned to a statue of salt. (In Hebrew, I believe “blind” and “statue” are the same word – עברית – but you can check me on that).

Blinded by fear, Lot avoids any cities or settlements, living in a cave instead. His daughters believe they are the last people in the world, and blind their father with strong wine in order to lay with him and have children. Destiny, blind to the motives of human players, tells us that one of the children founds the Moabite nation, which eventually gives us Ruth, who ultimately gives us the line of David.

Meanwhile Abraham travels into the territory of Abimelech the king. Abraham seems ignorant of the good nature of people around him, because he once again tells a king that beautiful Sarah is his sister. The king, blind because of Abraham’s lie, marries Sarah. But God opens his eyes in a dream and Abimelech sends Abraham away with gifts.

Sarah gives birth to Isaac, but shortly afterward she is once again blinded by jealousy against Hagar and Ishmael. She demands Abraham do something about it. Abraham turns a blind eye to his own wife’s harsh treatment of the handmaid, and sends them away. Dying of thirst in the wilderness, Hagar puts Ishmael under a bush and moves away so she won’t have to see him die. And angel comes and shows her the pool of water that she didn’t see before and they are saved.

At the end of the portion, God commands Abraham to take Isaac up to the top of Mt. Moriah and sacrifice him. On the way up, Isaac seems unable to see the reality of his situation, saying “Here are the firestone and the wood; but where is the sheep for the burnt offering?”. Abraham binds Isaac and is about to lower the knife when God opens Abraham’s eyes to see a ram caught in a bush, an appropriate sacrifice instead of his own son.

Midrash tells us that the tears of an angel flowed down Abraham’s knife-blade and into Isaac’s eyes, leaving him blind. Midrash also tells us that when Sarah heard how Abraham almost slew her own son, she closed her eyes, and died, and saw now more.

SO… limited only by your creativity and the category of food you will be assigned, please plan to bring blind food.

Not sure what this Torah portion is about? You can find a brief summary in The Edible Torah’s “Condensed Guide to the Weekly Torah Readings”. For more information on what The Edible Torah is all about, along with insight on how to set up a pot-luck Shabbat experience, check out “The Edible Torah Guide”.