Parsha Vayeira 5772: Prayer and Stark Contrasts Between Actions of Avraham, Sodom, and Israel in 5772

       



   


by Moshe Burt

Our Parsha opens with Hashem, as we understand, visiting Avraham Aveinu on the 3rd day after Bris Milah, when Avraham was at the height of his pain following the circumcision, as Rashi indicates, “to inquire about his welfare.” (Metsuda Linear Chumash rendering of Rashi on Perek 18, posuk 1)

It’s not like Hashem needed to pay a visit to ascertain Avraham’s actual condition. Hashem is the Creator, The Master, The Ruler over the world who knows and is aware of everything. And so, as Hashem visited to inquire as to Avraham’s wellbeing, Avraham pardoned himself from Hashem when he spotted 3 travellers inviting them into his tent.

From these events, we learn and gain insight into the Mitzvot of Bikur Cholim; showing, caring, giving strength and encouragement to the ill by visiting and caring about them, Hachnasat Orchim; inviting guests into one’s home as well as tefillah: as a vehicle for approaching and connecting with Hashem.

We learn from the parsha the contrast between Avraham Aveinu’s chesed with the cruelty of the city of Sodom as well as about the two melachim who were assigned by Hashem to rescue Lot and his family and to destroy Sodom.

Rebbetzin Shira Smiles, in “Torah Tapestries” on Parsha Vayeira (pages 51-52) cites R’ Joseph B. Soloveichik’s sefer “The Lonely Man of Faith” which was quoted in the RCA Edition of Artscroll’s Siddur while explaining Avraham’s chesed in praying to find some redeeming kindness in the evil city of Sodom. Rebbetzin Smiles writes:

Prayer is called avodah shebalev — service of the heart…. One way of infusing our hearts with love for Hashem is through prayer. But simply saying the words in the siddur (prayer book) is not the essence of prayer, as explained in the introduction to the RCA Edition of the Artscroll Siddur. The words are but a vehicle to connecting to Hashem; it is the feeling that goes into those words that makes the prayer. Through heartfelt prayer we can develop a loving relationship with Hashem.

Of course, if this is so, where does this leave OUR collective relationship with Hashem after the break-neck race with the Shali’ach Tzibbor through Korbonot, P’sukei D’Zimra, Sh’ma, Shemona Esrei and Chazzarat HaShatz (repetition of Shemona Esrei), not to mention Aleinu?

Rebbetzin Smiles continues:

The essay [of R' Joseph B. Soloveichik, z"l]… brings examples of… three ways to approach Hashem in prayer.

… Avraham Aveinu in this parsha, Vayeira…. prays on behalf of Sodom, the wicked city…. pleads for the survival of the people of Sodom. He asks Hashem to save the entire city on the merit of fifty, forty and finally, ten righteous people, should they exist.

Avraham Aveinu prays to Hashem here as a ben bris, a member of the covenant. We also see that he makes his petition not on his own behalf, nor on behalf of his family. Here is the first formal petition by the first circumcized Jew and it is on the behalf of strangers. …His plea to Hashem is not only to save the righteous, but also the wicked. Avraham Aveinu was asserting that the lives of human beings, no matter how debased, are ultimately of value.

According to Avraham Aveinu, prayer is about being a ben bris, a partner in the covenant with Hashem…. It is to Hashem’s quality of justice that we appeal.

We also learn about the midos, the mores the characteristics of the people of Sodom which led to their destruction, and gain perspective of Sodom in modern day.

Rabbi Yehudah Nachshoni, in his “Studies in the Weekly Parsha” begins a section on Sodom by stating that the Torah makes no specific comment as to the sin of the Sodomites:

“The Torah merely tells us that they were very wicked and sinned greatly, and that a cry had come up from Sodom to the Heavens until Hashem, as it were, came down by Himself to see if indeed they had done ‘as its cry.’ But what that cry was, is not specified in the Torah. Chazal explain it as the cry of certain young woman who had been sentenced by the city to either be exposed to bees or to be burned, because she had helped a poor man.” (Studies in the Weekly Parsha, Parsha Vayeira, page 85; Perek Cheilik 109b, Gemora Sanhedrin)

The sefer, “The Midrash Says” (Parsha Vayeira, pages 165-177) offers additional antidotes on the cruelty and depravation of the people of Sodom; that hospitality, that kindness was outlawed and justice was absurd and non-existent in Sodom.

“The Midrash Says” cites the Sodomite constitution which included the following laws;

  • 1/ Any stranger found in the vicinity may be robbed of his money and mal-treated.
  • 2/ It is the duty of a Sodomite judge to ensure that every wayfarer leaves the country penniless.
  • 3/ Anyone found handing food to a pauper or stranger will be put to death.
  • 4/ Anyone who invites strangers to a wedding will be punished by having all of his clothing removed from his body.
  • 5/ The sefer informs that Avraham’s servant Eliezer would readily attest to the perversion of Sodom in a number of stories of his experiences when he once happened to pass through:

    Eliezer was once accosted in the street by Sodomites and beaten until bleeding. When Eliezer went before a Sodomite Judge demanding justice, the judge ruled that Eliezer owed the Sodomites for letting his blood. So Eliezer then beat the judge silly until the judge bled. Then he demanded remuneration for the beating which he told judge to pay those that he “owed.”

    Then, as evening came, Eliezer was invited to rest in one of Sodom’s guest beds. He ascertained that it was the Sodomite custom to fit the guest to the bed (by either cutting off limbs or stretching the limbs), rather than giving a guest an appropriate bed. Eliezer begged off of the offer claiming not to have slept in a bed since his mother died.

    Ascertaining Sodomite laws concerning strangers being invited to a Sodomite wedding [see above point 4], when asked who invited him, he [Eliezer] pointed to various men successively until he was seated by himself consuming his solitary meal.

There was also the episode at the entrance to Lot’s home on the night that “the men”, the melachim arrived which epitomizes and gives historical perspective to the ways of Sodom; Parsha Vayeira, Perek 19, posuk 5; “They called to Lot and said to him, ‘Where are the men who came to you tonight? Bring them out to us that we may know them.’”

Rashi comments on “that we may know them”; “For the purpose of homosexuality as in: ‘Who have never known a man,’ known refers to sexual relations.”

But we also learn about the Mitzvah of Pidyan Shevu’im (the redemption and freeing of Jewish capitives), both from Avraham and Eliezer’s participation in the battle of the Four Kings vs the Five Kings (as told in Parsha Lech Lecha) in order to free nephew Lot, as well as the later destruction of Sodom — again with the liberation of Lot and his family as a by-product.

As was outlined in the vort for Parsha Lech Lecha:

As with Avraham Avinu, Jonathan Pollard was not instructed or ordered by superiors or by a handler to provide Israel with the dire information she needed. Pollard could have been a free man today and over these past 26 years, successful in his employment within the American intelligence community, had he just looked the other way as America betrayed Israel via the abrogation of the intelligence-sharing treaty between the two nations. But what would be the fate of Israel, of the Am Yisrael in Eretz Yisrael and throughout the world had the knowledge about Iraqi weaponry and capacity for chemical, nerve warfare not been revealed to Israel?

Yehonaton ben Malka just couldn’t turn away and couldn’t ignore what he saw as the potential for Jewish blood-letting. He couldn’t ignore the fate of his people in order to maintain his own well-being.

Yet over the last 26 years, Israel’s secular political-governmental leaderships seem to have their own cheshbonot, their own selfish, self-protecting, dirty-little-secrets-to-hide reasons for not lifting a finger to save, to redeem a fellow Jew — Jonathan Pollard who languishes in prison to this day. Successive governments and prime ministers from Shamir and Peres to Arik Sharon and Ehud Olmert acted toward Pollard with callous benign neglect. It was only over the past year that current prime minister Netanyahu (who previously in his 1st term from 1996-1999 saw to recognizing Pollard with Israeli citizenship) saw fit, under much pressure, to address Knesset (and defacto — the US president) about Jonathan, and tender an official written request, which has not to this day been addressed by or answered, to Barrack Hussein Obama.

Isn’t Jonathan Pollard our kin, even though not a native-born Israeli? Why is it that an Israel which has rescued numerous soldiers, as well as airline passengers from terrorist capture in the past, now appears soo incompetent, devoid of military intelligence needed (to have rescued Shalit alive rather than trading him for over 1,000 terrorists) and too politically handcuffed to act with decisive diplomacy as required to have Pollard freed, his sentence commuted to the 26 years of time served?

We parallel Avraham Avinu’s unequivocal actions to free his blood kin with modern-day Israel’s former actions to free Jewish air-hijacking hostages, particularly the 100 plus hostages held in Entebbe, Uganda. But we contrast all of the above with Israel’s latter and current abysmal failures to regarding Jewish hostages, both relating to handing 1,027 formerly imprisoned terrorists (the majority with Jewish blood on their hands) for Gilad Shalit, and their political and diplomatically impotent efforts regarding securing freedom from American prison for Jonathan Pollard. Further, one could ask; How does Avraham’s wartime rescue of his nephew Lot, and the rescue by the molochim of Lot and his daughters from Sodom — acts of Divine Mandate contrast with the utter failure of successive Israeli governments to make sufficient appropriate efforts — Histadlut for Jonathan Pollard’s redemption from American incarceration — thus perhaps enabling Hashem’s Divine Redemption?

Rebbetzin Smiles described three types of prayer in her “Torah Tapestries” essay on Parsha Vayeira. Avraham Aveinu’s type described above regarded Hashem’s quality of justice to mankind in general, such as what we pray for on Hoshana Rabbah and 3 times a day — everyday in Aleinu. Another type of prayer described (“Torah Tapestries” on Parsha Vayeira, page 53) was Eliyahu HaNavi’s for Divine Fire vs the 400 prophets of Ba’al to prove to B’nei Yisrael “that Hashem is THE One and Only G’d.”

But, just as Avraham Aveinu prayed for strangers in the hope that there was justification for saving Sodom, Rebbetzin Smiles discusses Yehudah’s actions on behalf of his brother Binyamin as constituting prayer. She writes (“Torah Tapestries” on Parsha Vayeira, page 52):

Yehudah knows that there is a great disparity between Yosef’s status as Viceroy of Egypt and his own. He does not come to Yosef as an equal, or even as a ben bris. Instead, he comes as a servant begging his master for mercy. Yet despite his lowly position, Yehudah pursues his quest with passion.

Yehudah’s model of prayer is based on particularism — prayer as a way to fulfill an individual’s needs — in this case, Yehudah’s need to carry out his responsibility to his father and brother…. He appealed to Yosef’s mercy: do it for an elderly father, for this young man; but do it out of mercy, not out of justice.

It is Yehudah’s model of prayer that would seem to be the model for our pleas to Hashem on behalf of Yehonaton ben Malka, now in his 26th year of incarceration in an American prison because of his selfless acts on behalf of Israel and his Jewish brethren.

Just as Avraham prayed for a reason to save Sodom, and Yehudah prayed for Binyamin’s freedom, so too, we must beseech Ha Kodosh Borchu on behalf of Yehonaton ben Malka, for his liberation from prison and return to his brethren, to his nation: do it for his life, for his refuah shlaima — his recovery from sickness, do it for HaKarat HaTov for his acts, even if for wont of any action on the part of Israel’s governance, even if not for any merit on our part. Do it to Magnify Your Name before the nations.

May we, the B’nai Yisrael be zocha that our brethren — the refugee families from Gush Katif be permanently settled and be made totally whole — be totally restituted for all that was stolen from them at leftist-agendized, supreme court legalized gunpoint, that our dear brother Jonathan Pollard, and the MIAs be liberated alive and returned to us in ways befitting Al Kiddush Hashem. May we have the courage and strength to stand up and physically prevent the possibility of Chas V’Challila any future eviction of Jews from their homes and the handing of Jewish land over to anyone, let alone to enemies sworn to Israel’s and Judaism’s destruction and eradication. May we fulfill Hashem’s blueprint of B’nai Yisrael as a Unique people — an Am Segula, not to be reckoned with as with “the nations” and may we be zocha to see the Moshiach, the Ge’ula Shlaima, as Dov Shurin sings; “Ki Karov Yom Hashem V’Kol HaGoyim”, the Ultimate Redemption, bim hay v’yameinu — speedily, in our time”, — Achshav, Chik Chuk, Miyad, Etmol!!!

Good Shabbos!

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Moshe Burt, an Oleh, is a commentator on news and events in Israel and Founder and Director of The Sefer Torah Recycling Network. He lives in Ramat Beit Shemesh.
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