Read the transcript below, or watch a video of the teaching by Joseph Shulam.
Shalom, my name is Joseph Shulam and we’re continuing the study of the Torah portions each week. The same Torah portions that are read in every synagogue around the world at this time.
Portions Already Done
We have done three Torah portions, Genesis, Noah, and from chapter 12 to the end of chapter 17 of the Book of Genesis, Parashot about Abraham and the covenant that he made with God, and chapter 17, the circumcision of Isaac and Ishmael, and now we are in chapter 18 verse one, that starts a portion that is called Vayera and it means and he showed himself.
God Appears to Abraham
And God showed himself to Abraham in Alonei Mamre and… It was in the middle of the day. It says in Hebrew in the hottest part of the day. There is Abraham, Sarah, and a large crowd that followed Abraham from Haran. The souls which he had made in Haran, and they’re probably resting in the hottest part of the day.
Abraham Has Visitors
And Abraham looks up and he sees three men, three people standing right in front of him. And he runs toward them. He leaves his tent and he runs toward them and he falls down on his face, bowing down to the ground in front of these men.
These are Strangers
Now, as far as we know at this point, they’re strangers. He doesn’t know them, they’re guests. And this hospitality of Abraham becomes a very famous element of Abraham’s character and his reputation all the way through the New Testament. We hear about Abraham’s hospitality, entertaining angels without being aware that they are angels.
Abraham Runs to Meet the Strangers
Men and HaShem in Hebrew, he runs toward them in the middle of the day out of his tent. I don’t know, he was resting, sleeping, napping in his tent, just sitting in the shade, but he sees these guests coming into his camp and he runs toward them and he bows down to them, honoring them as his guests.
He Addresses Them as Lords
And he called them lords. Adonai. Adonai is a word used for God, but it actually means lord. And he called them in the plural, lords. If I’m okay, if I find favor in your eyes, don’t leave your servant. Okay? Now, remember he’s the boss of a very large clan. He has 318 soldiers in his camp, and their families, which would make it close to a thousand people. If each one had one child and one wife, men between the age of 20 to 50, it would be close to a thousand people, a very large encampment.
Abraham Asks Them to Honor Him by Staying
That’s why he doesn’t live inside the cities. He lives close to the cities outside in his own encampment. So he said, “Oh, don’t leave me.” You know? Honor your servant. And he takes – he, not his servants. He had servants, he had men servants and women servants, not a servant. He himself takes water and washes their feet while they’re leaning under the tree. A terebinth tree. A type of an oak tree.
He Washes Their Feet – Not His Servant
They’re under the tree in the middle of the day. They came from outside. He himself, not his servants, that’s an important point to notice, goes, brings water and washes their feet. And he says, “I’ll go and get some bread and you will have lunch with me,” and you will fill your hearts with food, in other words, you’re not going to leave your servant. You will stay for me, with me for lunch. And they said, okay. We’ll do just as you said.
Abraham Hurries to Bring Them Food
So in a hurry, chapter 18, verse six, in a hurry, he runs to the tent of Sarah. The women lived in a different tent than the men.
Women Live Separate From the Men
That is true among the Bedouin until today. I haven’t visited the Bedouins in the last 20 years, but before that, with my father, I went many times to visit the top sheik of the Bedouins in the Negev, Sheikh Suleiman. And I’ve been in their tents many times. And the women live in one part and the men live in another part and the sheik has his own tent with his own servants and his own people who make his coffee for him.
Abraham Instructs Sarah on What Food to Prepare
So he runs to the tent of Sarah and says, hurry! Take three pounds, let’s see, of wheat flour. Make… The word here is “ugot”, but make breads. Make breads. And he runs to the cattle and brings a young cow, male. Say “ben bakar”, a male veal. Soft and good. The text says in verse seven.
He Instructs Servants to Prepare the Meat
Then he tells his servants quickly prepare this veal. And he takes butter and milk and the calf, the veal that he had them prepare, and he brings it to his guests. And it says and he stood over them, which means he served them.
Abraham Serves Them Himself
He, Abraham himself, served his guests under the tree and they ate. And they asked him, the three strangers. Remember, they’re strangers. They ask, “Oh, where is Sarah, your wife?” And he says, “She’s in the tent.” I like this drama. It’s a very dramatic text. She’s in a tent.
Angels Tells Abraham That Sarah Will Give birth to a Son
And then he says, “I will return to you now. And next time I come, Sarah will have a son. Your wife, Sarah will have a son.” And Sarah is in her tent and she hears this. What these three strangers are promising. And Abraham and Sarah, verse 11 of chapter 18, are old with plenty of days, and Sarah no longer has the way of the women, which means that she can no longer bear children. She had passed her menopause, she’s 90 years old. And Sarah in her own mind, denies the news that she receives, and laughs.
Sarah Refuses to Believe and Laughs
She laughs. She laughs because she fears that this promise that these three stranger made is not going to happen. She says, “I’m an old woman, how could I have a child?” Yeah? The Ashkenazi rabbis have a statement that says if God wills, even a broomstick can shoot like a gun. And that’s referring to Abraham, in his old age, having a son and to Sarah. Okay, this promise is made, Sarah laughs and… and what does God say in verse 17?
Should God Hide His Plans From Abraham
God here is the holy name of God, the four letter Tetragrammaton of God. The Lord in capital letters, says, “What ? Am I going to hide my plan from Abraham?” It is like an afterthought in the text. I promised Abraham, he will be a great nation, a great and mighty nation, and that all the nations of the world, all the Gentiles of the world will be blessed through him and through his seed. Am I gonna hide my plan from Abraham?
No. Not Right.
Nah. Not right. I’ve known him. I know that he has commanded his sons and his servants to keep the ways of the Lord, and to be righteous. So I’m not gonna hide it. So now, here comes God, discussing with Abraham, verse 20 and he says, God says, “Sodom and Gomorrah, have done so much evil and so much sin, and their sin is so heavy. And the screaming out of Sodom,” verse 20, “the screaming out of Sodom and Gomorrah is so big and their sin is so heavy. I’m going to go down there and see, if it’s really so bad as it’s reported to me to be. And if it is so bad, I’m gonna finish them off.”
Angels Leave and Go to Sodom
And the men, at least two of them, go down to Sodom. They go down to Sodom and… Abraham is continuing his conversation. Verse 23. And Abraham says to God, “Listen, how could you do this? How could you kill and destroy the righteous with the evil? Not everybody in Sodom is evil, even though the majority are, but how could you destroy the righteous with the evil? You can’t do that.”
Abraham Bargains With God
To make the long story short, Abraham and God argue. And Abraham argues like a good, old Arab merchant in the old city. And he says to God, “Listen, if there are 50 righteous men, will you destroy?” And it goes down to five, in the haggling of the marketplace of the divine rights. And God is soft. He is willing to argue with Abraham. He’s willing to negotiate with Abraham, and he’s willing to honor Abraham’s desire to see righteousness done, even in Sodom!
Abraham Wants Righteousness Done
Even in Sodom, Abraham wants righteousness to be done. And God’s reputation as a righteous God, not to be lost, even in the evil of a city like Sodom. In verse 26 of Genesis 18, we find out, God says, even if I find 50 righteous people in the city, I will save the place for them. Then keeps going down, down, down ’til five and God says if I find five, I will… Oh, sorry, if I find 10, I will not destroy the city. Verse 32.
Angels Visit Lot
And God “Yod He Vav He”. That is pronounced by Christian, Jehovah, Yahweh, however Christians want to pronounce it. Jews don’t pronounce that word. In verse 33, finishes talking with Abraham, and Abraham returns to his place, to his tent, and the Lord leaves Abraham. And the scene changes, the angels go down to Sodom and they visit Lot, Abraham’s nephew, and his family, and the men of Sodom come and they want to abuse the guests, the two guests, the two angels of the Lord, and Lot stands up for them, doesn’t let them abuse them, and he does something that shows he was influenced by Abraham. He says you can take my daughters. You can abuse my daughters, but don’t abuse my guests.
God Destroys Sodom
Shows something very interesting – the importance of hospitality and what your guests mean to you. And in the end, of course, the story of Sodom. God rains fire, maybe a description of a nuclear reaction in Sodom. I don’t know, I’m fantasizing. But a huge upheaval of Sodom. It used to be the best part of the country with water, with springs of water, with greenery.
Lot Wouldn’t Have Chosen Sodom if He Had Known
That’s why Lot chose Sodom and Gomorrah to go down there with his flocks. If he had known that it was going to be a desert like it is today, that there is nothing there other than a big factory for chemicals, potassium and bromide and other things that bring good revenue to Israel. But other than that, there is nothing, it’s all dry, salty land with a salty sea next to it.
Lot and His Family Flee Sodom
So God makes the upheaval. Lot and his family run out of Sodom as the angels told them to do, and the angels told them not to look back. His wife looks back and she becomes a pillar of salt. If you’re a tourist in Israel, each tour guide has his own pillar of salt that they show tourists, saying that this is Lot’s wife. None of them are true, but it’s a symbolic situation.
Lot’s Daughters Sleep With Him
So this brings us to chapter 19 of Genesis. And that chapter is very sad because essentially, Lot and his two daughters that have survived the upheaval in Sodom think that they’re the last human beings left on the earth and his daughters want to ensure that humanity will continue, so they have sex with their father, and two of the greatest enemies of Israel are born out of that union, Ammon and Moab and… That’s another story that we’re going to tackle later on when we approach the situation with the enemies of Israel.
Result is Some of Israel’s Worst Enemies
Yes, the Book of Genesis has got very, very important things, and very sad things like this story of the daughters of Lot, thinking that they’re saving humanity after the upheave in Sodom, and they make their father drunk, and they abuse their father, and the result of it is some of the worst enemies of Israel are born out of that sin, out of that union. Yeah, that’s the core issue in Parashat Vayera that God revealed himself, showed himself to Abraham in this portion. And after the story of Lot and Sodom, Abraham and his wife, again sin with Abimelech, the king of Gerar, and he says she’s my sister. And we arrive to chapter 21 of Genesis or the end of the Torah portion that is called Vayera.
Read Your Bible Daily
And God revealed himself, showed himself to Abraham. Next week, we’re dealing, we’re gonna have another very important portion dealing with Abraham and Isaac and may God have a mercy on all of us and protect us from the coronavirus and from any harm. And I again urge you all to read the Bible regularly every day, a little bit. You will be enriched in your spirit and in your knowledge and understanding of God and how He works by doing that. God bless you. Until next week, we’ll see you again.
This article originally appeared on Netivyah and is reposted with permission.