In our desire to provide you with the teaching of Messiah Yeshua in a Jewish context, we provide in-depth teachings of the weekly Torah portions throughout the year. Below are various perspectives from various teachers and staff members from Netivyah Bible Instruction ministry.
Joseph Shulam: If I am Not for Myself, Who is for Me? 
Reading the book of Genesis is always a wonderful and a challenging experience. Every time that I read any part of the Word of God I am challenged, and I always learn something new.
But, Genesis is the sum total of my enlightenment, because every one of the stories that are normally used in churches to entertain the children with “Bible stories” is so full of challenging facts. In fact, I am surprised that these stories are used to teach children in Sunday school, and oftentimes not used to teach the adult Bible studies.
This week is one of these Torah readings, the portion of Vayera, Genesis 18:1-22:24, and the Haftarah reading is from 2 Kings 4:1-37. And from the New Testament the reading that we read is from Luke 26:38, 24:36-53.
The opening statement after which the name of the parasha is taken starts with the word “Vayera”. Vayera is translated into English as “appeared”:
“Then the Lord appeared to him by the terebinth trees of Mamre, as he was sitting in the tent door in the heat of the day.” — Genesis 18:1 [NKJV]
This chapter is a good example of what I wrote earlier. There is Abraham by the oaks of Mamre with his camp, a very large camp with at least 318 men who are trained in war, and are between the age of 20 to 50 years old.
Three strangers appear in Abraham’s camp. These guests are total strangers. He doesn’t know them at all. He welcomes them and with typical Middle Eastern hospitality.
This is what the text says:
“…he ran from the tent door to meet them, and bowed himself to the ground, and said, ‘My Lord, if I have now found favor in Your sight, do not pass on by Your servant. Please let a little water be brought, and wash your feet, and rest yourselves under the tree. And I will bring a morsel of bread, that you may refresh your hearts. After that you may pass by, inasmuch as you have come to your servant.’” — Genesis 18:3-5
My first reaction to this text is that Abraham was not a typical Israeli from the 21st Century. If Abraham was a typical Israeli living in tents in the northern Negev today, he would pull out his gun and tell them to go away, and in a polite but clearly hostile voice ask them to leave, gun in hand.
Today the violence in the Negev desert is so rampant and so out of hand that even the Israeli police and everyone else are uncomfortable with any strangers running around the neighborhoods of the city of Beersheba and the other towns of the northern Negev. But, back to our text…
Abraham with such untypical humility welcomes these three strangers by humbling himself with the words:
“If I have now found favor in Your sight… Please let a little water be brought, and wash your feet, and rest yourselves under the tree.” — Genesis 18:3,4
As a child I had the privilege of going with my father to the northern Negev desert to visit (for my father to do business with) Sheik Soleman of the Negev. Sheik Soleman was one of the most important sheiks of the Bedouin Arabs in the whole land of Israel.
He welcomed my father, not like a supper guest, but like an emissary of the Israeli government. Yes, there was coffee served within a few minutes of our arrival, and food was served after a few hours — a whole baby lamb served over a mountain of rice laced with nuts.
Back to Abraham. The important lesson for me was that Abraham and Sarah themselves did the service, and they themselves welcomed these three total strangers. This is why the book of Hebrew says:
“Let brotherly love continue. Do not forget to entertain strangers, for by so doing some have unwittingly entertained angels.” — Hebrews 13:1,2 [NKJV]
It is clear that the writer of the book of Hebrews is referring to our portion of the Torah and encouraging hospitality. In fact, being hospitable is one of the qualifications of being an elder in the church.
“A bishop then must be blameless, the husband of one wife, temperate, sober-minded, of good behavior, hospitable, able to teach…” — 1 Timothy 3:2
“…but hospitable, a lover of what is good, sober-minded, just, holy, self-controlled…” — Titus 1:8
“Be hospitable to one another without grumbling.” — 1 Peter 4:9
The texts from 1 Timothy 3 and from Titus 1 are from the qualifications for anyone who wants to be an elder/bishop in the Lord’s church. This is important nowadays because of the modern western culture that has overtaken the body of disciples of Yeshua worldwide. Hospitality is at a premium and not as common as it was in the early 1960’s when I was a young 16-year-old homeless believer.
I can honestly say that my brothers and sisters in the Lord in the early 1960’s were more than hospitable. In fact, I can witness to the fact that even Jewish people who were not believers in Yeshua, just regular Orthodox Jews, were super-friendly and hospitable to me.
The first suit of clothing that I had in the USA was purchased by a dear Methodist sister who lived in southern Kentucky. The second suit that was for winter was purchased for me by two Jewish religious brothers who ran a rag and wool business in Cookeville, Tennessee. I managed to offend them and challenged them to make Aliyah (immigration to Israel), and in response to my typical Israeli hutzpah they took me to the local department store and bought me my first winter suit. I would say that hospitality is one of the more important qualifications for someone who wants to lead Jews and Arabs to the Lord.
Let me pass the hospitality of Abraham and get to the theological side of our Torah portion. Abraham didn’t recognize the fact that one of his three guests is the Lord Himself.
This is a major challenge, for me personally and for most of the Jewish commentators of the Torah. Just accept it and ignore the problem, and essentially agree and confirm that God (Jehovah) Himself came down in the flesh and had His feet washed and ate butter and meat, and talked to Abraham, and allowed Abraham to challenge God’s morality when God revealed to Abraham His plan to destroy Sodom.
Abraham challenged the Lord Himself with the following words:
“Abraham came forward and said, ‘Will You sweep away the innocent along with the guilty?’” — Genesis 18:23
If I would dare to translate the words of Abraham to the Lord Himself: “Are you crazy man? You are going to kill the innocent, the cool brothers, with those bad bad dudes?”
The most wonderful thing, dear brothers and sisters, is that the challenge that Abraham put before the Lord was accepted by God, and God modified His action toward Sodom, and was willing to hear Abraham’s righteous challenge. But, because Abraham argued with God about Sodom, but didn’t argue with God concerning the sacrifice of his son Isaac, but just went on with God’s command without putting up a fight to save his son Isaac, the rabbis think that God just ignored Abraham completely after Genesis 22.
Abraham was too obedient, too compliant, too religious, and just followed instruction and took his son of promise Isaac, tied him on the altar, and lifted up his knife, ready to carry out God’s command. Yes, God sent the ram and saved Isaac, but Abraham had this blind, trusting faith in God, and unlike in the situation with Sodom, he just took God’s command blind and obedient.
God just stopped communication with Abraham from chapter 22, until Abraham’s death. I realize that this is a rabbinical idea of why God stopped His communication with Abraham after the sacrifice of Isaac, but it is an interesting observation that communication between Abraham and the Lord, the Master of the Universe, just stopped.
What can we learn from this Torah portion:
First, God can put on flesh and appear without doubt as a normal man, who needs to have his feet washed and take food.
Second, God takes into consideration His righteous servants and shares with them His plans, the plans that would affect them personally and affect the community of the saints.
Third, God appreciates and sometimes even hears (listens) to His righteous servants, and takes their comments seriously. At times God actually modifies His actions. This happened twice with Moses in the wilderness of Sinai, and it happened with Elijah and the widow from Lebanon, and it happened in this case with Abraham.
What we need to learn and appropriate from this story is that we, too, as children of God who have the acquired righteousness that comes from Yeshua’s life and sacrifice, can and ought to be able to talk to God and argue with Him respectfully, but in the end accept and receive His wise judgment.
This ought to change drastically the way Messianic Jews, and some Christians, pray, and make our prayers and our requests from the Almighty a meaningful conversation and an honest dialogue between ourselves, His creatures, His children, and our Heavenly Father.
Fourth, faith and faithfulness are of great importance, and Abraham proved this when he took his son Isaac up to Mount Moriah to sacrifice him. But, blind faith that is held and sometimes performed without the use of our minds and without thinking it through and without consideration for others around us, might not be appreciated and accepted by the Almighty God of Israel or by His Son, Yeshua.
We are only faithful in our actions and faith when we do things mindfully with full awareness of what we are doing and why we are doing it. God doesn’t need or want robots, He wants children who are able to think things through and make relational and purposeful decisions.
Finally, the events around Abraham’s sacrifice of Isaac are some of the more complicated to share and explain to the current TikTok generation… The way that I have discovered to share this event is through the stories of the superheroes, like Superman and Spider-Man, and the rest of the Hollywood myths.
The long-term good of the world and the human race is something that we, as individuals and our families, ought to care about and even sacrifice ourselves for. For me personally it is not a question of religion at all, it is a question of being committed to do all that is in our power for the greater God.
The famous rabbinical statement from the Tractate Avot in the Mishnah is translated to English like this:
“Hillel used to say: (1) ‘If I am not for myself, who is for me? (2) And when I am for myself, what am I? (3) And if not now, when?’” — Tractate Avot 1:14
The idea behind Hillel’s statement is that our life means nothing if we are selfish and live only for ourselves. Yes, we ought to take care of ourselves and our own, first and foremost, but if that is all that we are going to contribute in our lives, then what is the difference between us, as human beings, as children of God, as children of Abraham?
We would be no better than an animal, and most of the animals would be better than us as human beings. Animals kill to eat and survive or to defend themselves, but we as human beings kill for money, jealousy, hate, pleasure (we hunt animals and pay much money for licenses for this dubious “pleasure”)…
Our father Abraham becomes the supreme example of faith and obedience to the Almighty God. And the ultimate sacrifice of the son of God’s promise to him, he was willing to offer, with a deep faith that even if he offered Isaac they would return home alive and safe. This is what Abraham said to his servants who were keeping the donkeys:
“And Abraham said to his young men, ‘Stay here with the donkey; the lad and I will go yonder and worship, and we will come back to you.’” — Genesis 22:5 [NKJV]
Notice that Abraham said to his servants: “and we will come back to you!” Realizing that even if he obeyed God with this impossible and outrageous command to sacrifice the one son of promise on whose shoulders all the promises of God depend, God would raise him back from the dead and keep His promises.
So, yes, dear brothers and sisters, if we live only thinking of ourselves and ours, and don’t have the heart of God to care and at least pray for our nations, and churches, and synagogues, and the larger family, and just the people of our cities, and the leadership of our countries, what are we?
What kind of human animals would we be if we trusted God to redeem us and present us with an eternity where there is no illness or death, suffering, or hate, and then turn around here on God’s good earth and care only for ourselves and our families?
“If I am not for myself, who is for me? And when I am for myself, what am I? And if not now, when?” — Tractate Avot 1:14
God give us the eyes to see through His Word in the text of the Bible, but much more through His living Word, Yeshua the Messiah, who became the Word of God in the flesh.
Yehuda Bachana: Honor God or Honor Man? 
Read the transcript below, or watch a video of the teaching by Yehuda Bachana.
The first and most important topic of this Torah portion is hospitality. Abraham is sitting at the entrance of his tent; he lifts his eyes and sees people passing by.
Immediately, he runs to invite them inside and urges them to stay with him and enjoy his hospitality.
From this comes a well-known saying in Judaism:
“Greater is hospitality than receiving the Divine Presence.” — Shabbat 127a
How did the sages come to the conclusion that attending guests is more important than talking to God? It feels almost heretic to even say it, how much more thinking or living by it?
Taking preference in addressing immediate needs, caring for people at the expense, or seeing it as more important than God? As people of faith, those who take Scripture seriously, it is difficult for us to accept or understand this.
Hospitality continues to be a prominent topic of this Torah portion. Another character who welcomes guests, and is willing to protect them by risking his own life, is Lot.
God sends His angels, who look like people, to Sodom. Similar to Abraham, who sat at the entrance to his tent, Lot is sitting at the city gate. When he sees these people (or angels), he urges them to come to his house, even when they insist on sleeping in the street.
Lot, who is aware of the dangers in Sodom, wishes to protect these guests. Lot is willing to defend his guests, and when the townspeople attack his house demanding that he sends them outside, Lot goes out of his house, closes the door behind him, and tries to protect them with his own body. He is willing to do anything to prevent his guests from being harmed.
Back to Abraham. Why did the sages say that receiving guests is more important than talking to God? They said it, because they understand the situation differently.
According to the rabbinical viewpoint, God has already revealed himself to Abraham in a vision, as the portion starts with:
“The Lord appeared to Abraham near the great trees of Mamre while he was sitting at the entrance to his tent…” — Genesis 18:1
And after this, after God already appeared:
“Abraham looked up and saw three men standing nearby…” — Genesis 18:2
So, when Abraham saw travelers passing by, he asked God to wait, and ran out to invite them in. From this understanding came the idea that:
“Greater is hospitality than receiving the Divine Presence.” — Shabbat 127a
However, I think the story is different. Abraham is sitting at the entrance of the tent, and he sees God, or at least the angels of God.
And I think Abraham does not recognize them as angels, but for him they are just travelers. And yet he runs out and insists that they stop for refreshments.
I would like to stop here, and reflect on the depth of the saying:
“Greater is hospitality than receiving the Divine Presence.” — Shabbat 127a
And I will ask again, does living and thinking like that not sound heretical? To give priority to people? Even in the time of need or trouble, to put human beings before God?
The New Testament gives additional insights into this discussion. In the first epistle of John, he asks if we are not capable of liking and respecting people that are in front of us today, people next to us, whom we can see, with whom we can communicate directly.
If we do not love or respect those we can see, how can we claim to love and respect God, whom we cannot see? How can we say “we love God” but we do not love His creation, people, who are made in the image of God?
It is easy to live a life of faith, easy to welcome the Divine Presence, when God reveals Himself to us. It is hard to see His presence, hidden behind three anonymous travelers.
The greatness of Abraham is, that for him, serving God and showing hospitality to strangers is the same thing. It is the work of God in every way.
Here we learn an important and fundamental principle of our lives as believers. We honor God through honoring the image of God — other people.
I will make it even more difficult: do we need to prefer the care of people over serving God? Is this not heresy?
Yeshua is asking the same question in the parable of the Good Samaritan, in Luke 10:25. He is telling us a story of an anonymous traveler.
On the way down from Jerusalem he was attacked and wounded by robbers, and left dying on the side of the road. Yeshua tells us of two people, a priest and a Levite, who saw him, but did not stop to help.
Why didn’t they help him? And why did Yeshua specifically choose a priest and a Levite as an example?
Because the wounded man could die, or maybe he already had died, and if the priest or the Levite touched him, they would be defiled. They would become impure and unable to serve God in the Temple.
And this is our dilemma exactly. Which is more important, the work of God or a crucial help to God’s creation?
I imagine them thinking: “I want to help this poor man, but God is more important. I must remain pure for the work of God. I am a priest and I have to lead people in the Temple. It is all for God. Someone else, who is not a priest, will probably pass here soon. Someone who is not in a hurry to serve God. And hopefully he will help this poor man.”
In my opinion, the priest and the Levite were not bad or selfish people. I am sure they wanted to help.
But they compared their commitment to the work of God, with helping a stranger on the road. Not knowing if even they are able to help, since they are not doctors and the fellow is dying.
They decided that the work of God was more important. And that on the road to Jerusalem, will be others, who could help.
Yeshua goes on telling us of another simple man, a Samaritan, not of the children of Israel. But when he sees the wounded man, he stopped to save him, he took care of him.
By the way, the Samaritan wasn’t a doctor either. He just took the wounded man to a place, where he could be treated and cared.
Yeshua is asking, who in this case kept the commandment, “love your neighbor as yourself”? Who showed kindness to that wounded man?
And the answer is of course the Samaritan. The same person who stopped everything.
I am sure the Samaritan was also busy and in a hurry, but nevertheless he stopped his own personal race of life in order to help another man. Flesh and blood who was hurt.
The moral of this parable is that we too have to act like that Samaritan. Yeshua teaches us that the poor and needy man standing before us is now a priority, and comes before the work of God.
The New Testament sees the commandment of hospitality as very important, the writer of Hebrews says:
“Keep on loving one another as brothers and sisters. Do not forget to show hospitality to strangers, for by so doing some people have shown hospitality to angels without knowing it.” — Hebrews 13:1,2
What an exciting verse! In many Hasidic stories, hospitality is a fundamental mitzvah. There are many stories of a rude or dirty guest who comes in and exploits the hospitality. In these stories, the rude or simple man is later revealed as a hidden righteous man, or an angel, who tests the host.
Hospitality can be a difficult test. A stranger enters our lives, his presence can disturb our peace and comfort, he can violate our personal space and freedom we have in our homes. Serving him food and refreshments can also be a challenge.
And that’s when we remember the examples of Abraham and Lot, and the words of the New Testament:
“…for by so doing some people have shown hospitality to angels without knowing it.” — Hebrews 13:2
This verse makes me excited and fills me with hope. It makes me wonder, could I have hosted an angel, in my home? Or in the congregation?
Let’s go back to Abraham. He passes his test and invites the angels into his house. Abraham himself runs and hurries to take care of his guests, and to serve them food and drink.
It is all done by the master himself, not by a worker, as Abraham had many workers. But the fact that he does it himself shows us that for Abraham it was not a hassle. On the contrary, he is happy to serve, and does it quickly and with joy.
Abraham teaches us that hospitality is the work of God. And when Abraham was sitting by the great trees of Mamre in the heat of the day, it was not clear when these passing travelers had a chance to eat, drink or rest.
So, Abraham took care of them. Strangers who are in trouble, walking in the heat of the day. Abraham offers them food, drinks, and a place to rest.
Yeshua deepens our understanding of this principle, when He connects help to those in need with the work of God, since man was created in the image and likeness of God. Yeshua teaches us that what we do for our brothers and neighbors, is like we’ve done it to Yeshua himself.
This teaching appears many times in the New Testament, but the clearest one is found in Mathew 25:37:
“Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink…’ The King [Yeshua] will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’” — Matthew 25:37,40 [NIV]
From this teaching of Yeshua we understand that everything we do to one another: visiting mourners, visiting the sick, charity, hospitality, is as if we are doing it to the King and Messiah, to Yeshua Himself. This is what “greater is hospitality than receiving the Divine presence” means.
Because when we help each other, it is as if we do it for the Creator of the world. In addition, the Spirit will not dwell in us, as a family, nor as a community, unless we show hospitality, give charity, comfort mourners, and visit the sick.
If we do not behave in a righteous and moral way, sitting and praying in the congregation, church, or synagogue will not help us. Without a righteous way of life, His Spirit will not dwell in us.
We started with a well-known saying:
“Greater is hospitality than receiving the Divine Presence.” — Shabbat 127a
And we will end with another famous phrase, which in my opinion goes hand in hand with the first one:
“Derech eretz [the righteous way of life] precedes the Torah.”
The way we treat each other is important.
Joseph Shulam: Brad TV Video Teaching – Vayera 
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.
Joseph Shulam: We Can (And Should) Talk With God 
Reading the book of Genesis is always a wonderful and a challenging experience. Every time that I read any part of the word of God I am challenged and I always learn something new. But, Genesis is the sum total of my enlightenment because every one of the stories that are normally used in churches to entertain the children with “Bible Stories” is so full of challenging facts.
In fact I am surprised that these stories are used to teach children in Sunday School and often time not used to teach the adult Bible studies. This week is one of these Torah Readings, the portion of Vayera, Genesis 18:1 – 22:24, and the Haftarah reading is from 2 Kings 4:1-37, and from the New Testament the reading that we read is from Luke 26:38; 24:36-53.
The opening statement after which the name of the Parasha is taken starts with the word Vayera. Vayera is translated into English with the word “appeared”:
“Then the Lord appeared to him by the terebinth trees of Mamre, as he was sitting in the tent door in the heat of the day.” – Genesis 18:1 [NKJV]
This chapter is a good example of what I wrote earlier in this prayer list. There is Abraham by the oaks of Mamre with his camp, a very large camp with at least 318 men who are trained in war and are between the age of 20 to 50 years old. Three strangers appear in Abraham’s camp. These guests are total strangers.
He doesn’t know them at all. He welcomes them and with typical Middle Eastern hospitality. This is what the text says: he ran from the tent door to meet them, and bowed himself to the ground, and said,
“My Lord, if I have now found favor in Your sight, do not pass on by Your servant. Please let a little water be brought, and wash your feet, and rest yourselves under the tree. And I will bring a morsel of bread, that you may refresh your hearts. After that you may pass by, inasmuch as you have come to your servant.” – Genesis 18:3-5 [NKJV]
My first reaction to this text is that Abraham was not a typical Israeli from the 21st Century. If Abraham was a typical Israeli living in tents in the northern Negev today, he would pull out his gun and tell them to go away and in a polite but clearly hostile voice ask them to leave, gun in hand.
Today the violence in the Negev desert is so rampant and so out of hand that even the Israeli police and everyone else is uncomfortable with any strangers running around the neighborhoods of the city of Beersheva and the other towns of the northern Negev.
But, back to our text! Abraham, with such untypical humility, welcomes these three strangers by humbling himself with the words: “If I have now found favor in Your sight, please let a little water be brought, and wash your feet, and rest yourselves under the tree!”
As a child I had the privilege of going with my father to the northern Negev desert to visit (for my father to do business) Sheik Suleiman of the Negev. Sheik Suleiman was one of the most important Sheiks of the Bedouin Arabs in the whole land of Israel.
He welcomed my father, but not like a supper honorable guest, but like an emissary of the Israeli government. Yes, there was coffee served within a few minutes of our arrival, food was served after a few hours, normally it was a whole baby lamb served over a mountain of rice laced with nuts.
Back to Abraham, the important lesson for me was that Abraham and Sarah themselves did the service and themselves welcomed these three total strangers. This is why the book of Hebrews says:
“Let brotherly love continue. Do not forget to entertain strangers, for by so doing some have unwittingly entertained angels.” – Hebrews 13:1,2 [NKJV]
It is clear that the writer of the book of Hebrews is referring to our portion of the Torah and encouraging hospitality. In fact being hospitable is one of the qualifications of being an elder in the church.
“A bishop then must be blameless, the husband of one wife, temperate, sober-minded, of good behavior, hospitable, able to teach…” – 1 Timothy 3:2
“…but hospitable, a lover of what is good, sober-minded, just, holy, self-controlled…” – Titus 1:8 [NKJV]
“Be hospitable to one another without grumbling.” – 1 Peter 4:9 [NKJV]
The texts from 1 Timothy 3 and from Titus 1 are from the qualifications for anyone who wants to be an elder/bishop in the Lord’s church. This is important because now days because of the modern western culture that has overtaken the body of disciples of Yeshua world wide, hospitality is at a premium and not as common as it was in the early 1960’s when I was a young 16-year-old homeless believer.
I can honestly say that my brothers and sisters in the Lord, in the early 1960’s, were more than hospitable. In fact I can witness to the fact that even Jewish people who were not believers in Yeshua, just regular Orthodox Jews were super-friendly and hospitable to me.
The first suit of clothing that I had in the USA was purchased by a dear Methodist sister who lived in southern Kentucky. The second suit that was for winter was purchased for me by two religious Jewish brothers who ran a rag and wool business in Cookeville, Tennessee.
I managed to offend them and challenged them to make Aliyah and in response to my typical Israeli chutzpah, they took me to the local department store and bought me my first winter suit of clothes. I would say that hospitality is one of the more important qualifications for someone who wants to lead Jews and Arabs to the Lord.
Let me pass over the hospitality of Abraham and get to the theological side of our Torah portion. Abraham didn’t recognize the fact that one of his three guests is the Lord Himself. This is a major challenge, for me personally and for most of the Jewish commentators of the Torah non-Jewish commentators just accept it and ignore the problem and essentially agree and confirm that God (Jehovah) Himself came down in the flesh and had His feet washed and ate butter and meat, and talked to Abraham, and allowed Abraham to challenge God’s morality when God revealed to Abraham His plan to destroy Sodom.
Abraham challenged the Lord himself with the following words:
“Abraham came forward and said: ‘Will You sweep away the innocent along with the guilty?’” – Genesis 18:23 [NKJV]
If I would dare to translate the words of Abraham to the Lord himself, they might possibly come out as: “Are you crazy man? “You are going to kill the innocent, the cool brothers, with those bad, bad dudes?”
The most wonderful thing, dear brothers and sisters, is that the challenge that Abraham put to the Lord was accepted by God and God modified His action toward Sodom and was willing to hear Abraham’s righteous challenge.
But, because Abraham argued with God about Sodom, but didn’t argue with God concerning the sacrifice of his son Isaac, but just went on with God’s command without putting up a fight to save his son Isaac, the rabbis think that God just ignored Abraham completely after chapter 22 of Genesis.
Abraham was too obedient, too compliant, too religious, and just followed instructions and took his son of promise Isaac, tied him on the altar and lifted up his knife ready to carry out God’s command. Yes, God sent the ram and saved Isaac, but Abraham had this blind, full-trusting faith in God, and unlike the situation about Sodom, just received God’s command blindly and obediently.
So God just stopped communicating with Abraham from chapter 22, to Abraham’s death. I realize that this is a rabbinical idea of why God stopped his communication with Abraham after the sacrifice of Isaac, but it is an interesting observation that communication between Abraham and the Lord, the master of the universe, just stopped.
What can we learn from this Torah portion?
First, God can put on flesh and appear without doubt as a normal man, who needs to have his feet washed and receive food.
Second, God takes into consideration His righteous servants and shares with them His plans, the plans that would affect them personally and affect the community of the saints.
Third, God appreciates and sometimes even hears (listens) to His righteous servants and takes their comments seriously. At times God actually modifies His actions. This happened twice with Moses in the wilderness of Sinai and it happened with Elijah and the widow from Lebanon, and it happened in this case with Abraham.
What we need to learn and appropriate from this story is that we, too, as children of God who have the acquired righteousness that comes from Yeshua’s life and sacrifice, can and ought to be able to talk to God and argue with Him respectfully, but in the end accept and receive His wise judgement.
This ought to change drastically the way Messianic Jews and some Christians pray and make our prayers and our requests from the Almighty a meaningful conversation and an honest dialogue between ourselves, His creatures, His children, and our Heavenly Father.
And fourth, faith and faithfulness is of great importance and Abraham proved this when he took his son Isaac up to Mount Moriah to sacrifice him. But, blind faith that is held and sometimes preformed without the use of our minds and without thinking it through and without consideration for others around us, might not be appreciated and accepted by the Almighty God of Israel or by His Son, Yeshua.
We are only faithful in our actions and faith when we do things mindfully with full awareness of what we are doing and why we are doing it. God doesn’t need or want robots, He wants children who are able to think things through, and make relational and purposeful decisions.
God give us the eyes to see through His word in the text of the Bible, but much more through His living word, Yeshua the Messiah, who became the word of God in the flesh.
Joseph Shulam: The Lord Keeps His Promises 
Our father Abraham is known for his faith, but also for his hospitality. The reading this Shabbat is from Vayera; Genesis 18:1 – 22:24. This text that is read around the world in every synagogue, like the portion of Genesis, and Noah and Lech Lecha, is another very significant reading in God’s Word.
The reading from the prophets, the Haftarah reading, is from 2 Kings 4:1-37. The reading from the New Testament is from Luke 1:26-38, and 24:36-53. I continue to be amazed and inspired every time that I read any significant portion of the Word of God. The key to being amazed and inspired reading the Word of God is not to read like a dummy.
When you read the Bible you are not reading for your pleasure. You need to read as if you were in a dialogue with the writer. You are reading to argue and to try to understand. You are reading to ask questions and possibly to argue and dig deep into the text in order to answer the questions that the text opens up in your mind.
You are in the arena and you are there to wave the red cape and to challenge the big bull that is snorting challenges at you. The challenges are to act, to argue, to get out of your comfort zone.
So, here we are, Parashat Vayera, starting in Genesis chapter 18:1:
“Then the Lord appeared to him by the terebinth trees of Mamre, as he was sitting in the tent door in the heat of the day.” – Genesis 18:1 [NKJV]
This opening statement is already of great impact. Up until now God had talked to and had revealed Himself to Abraham in a dream, in a vision, and in a conversation, but this is so much more than any previous occasion in which the Lord had communicated with Abraham.
In this appearance, the Lord together with two angels simply appears unannounced and so to speak just knocks on Abraham’s door! There was no previous announcement, and under normal circumstances, this would not be appropriate.
For a king, for the Lord, for the creator of the Universe, to just drop in without fanfare, or to at least have hundreds of angels preceding the entourage of the King of kings and welcome Him with flowers and a red carpet, is highly unusual, and I would say shocking!
If I read this text carefully and also consider the reference to this event in the book of Hebrews 13:2:
“Do not forget to entertain strangers, for by so doing some have unwittingly entertained angels.” – Hebrews 13:2 [NKJV]
The teaching on hospitality and the requirement of hospitality for those who are elders in the church comes from the example of Abraham in this Torah portion.
Let us consider the basics of hospitality from this story of Abraham and the guests that he receives:
“So he lifted his eyes and looked, and behold, three men were standing by him; and when he saw them, he ran from the tent door to meet them, and bowed himself to the ground, and said, My Lord, if I have now found favor in Your sight, do not pass on by Your servant. Please let a little water be brought, and wash your feet, and rest yourselves under the tree. And I will bring a morsel of bread, that you may refresh your hearts. After that you may pass by, inasmuch as you have come to your servant. They said, ‘Do as you have said.’” – Genesis 18:2-5 [NKJV]
- Welcoming the guests and honoring them humbly and bowing to the ground as a sign that they are more noble.
- They were strangers and Abraham didn’t know what they wanted. As a part of his welcome, he begs them to stay.
- Abraham immediately follows the protocol of the Middle East and offers to wash his guests’ feet. They have been walking on the road and washing their feet is like the gesture of taking your shoes off when you are in the Far East. It is the welcoming convention and in the Far East they offer you slippers to wear.
- The next thing that Abraham did was to immediately offer the guests food.
We are commanded in the New Testament to be hospitable, and this is even a requirement for people who are elders (pastors) in the church. If your elders and pastors are not hospitable they are not qualified to be in the position of elder or pastor (in the Bible these are identical offices – one is an elder and the other serves as a shepherd of the congregation – that is to say, in the New Testament, the two positions are interchangeable).
This story also amazes by the detail by which Abraham asks Sarah his wife to prepare bread for the guests, while he himself runs to the flock and picks out a calf to be prepared for them. It bears mentioning that meat was not eaten every day in this part of the world. Meat was only eaten on holidays and on special occasions like weddings and feasts (this custom is described in the first chapter of 1 Samuel).
We must remember that Abraham still doesn’t know who these three men are! He is treating strangers, just passersby, with such hospitality.
We should remember that Abraham was a very powerful sheik whose camp must have included hundreds of soldiers and their families. He must have had many servants as well as those who had followed him from Haran to the land of Canaan! Yet, he takes it upon himself to personally select a calf and tells Sarah to make cakes from fine meal, the best flour for baking the bread.
There is so much for us to learn here about biblical practices and to ask ourselves what part of this biblical paradigm should serve us as an example.
The next big thing in this text of Genesis is the revelation that the Lord reveals to Abraham:
“And the Lord said, ‘Shall I hide from Abraham what I am doing, since Abraham shall surely become a great and mighty nation, and all the nations of the earth shall be blessed in him? For I have known him, in order that he may command his children and his household after him, that they keep the way of the Lord, to do righteousness and justice, that the Lord may bring to Abraham what He has spoken to him.’” – Genesis 18:17-19 [NKJV]
The Lord shares His plans with His servants and Abraham is God’s servant. See this text in Amos 3:7,
“Surely the Lord God does nothing, Unless He reveals His secret to His servants the prophets.” – Amos 3:7 [NKJV]
This is important to me personally. I want to know what the Lord is doing and what I am to do. When the Lord enlightens me from His Word I always appreciate it. What I don’t think is right is to try to calculate the end times. The Lord has given us enough information to cause us to be vigilant and to be prepared and ready for Yeshua’s return.
The speculations and calculations boarder on false prophecy and even more serious than false prophecy. We have to simply be patient with the prophetic proclamations in the Bible and to neither try to rush or delay the hand of the Lord. His calendar is perfect and He Himself is the only one who knows the dates of the events. Yeshua Himself says that He does not know the day and the hour of His return.
If Yeshua doesn’t know and the angels don’t know, then who knows? I would automatically question anyone who claims he knows, whether he’s a television pastor, or some self-proclaimed television “prophet” who is doing what he does for profit.
Abraham’s concern that he does what is righteous in the eyes of the Lord, also makes an impression on me and teaches me to take it easy and to overcome my fears with regard to what is happening in the world, past, present, and future. Abraham’s question is for me a key issue:
“And Abraham came near and said, ‘Would You also destroy the righteous with the wicked?’” – Genesis 18:23 [NKJV]
The question that Abraham is asking in simple English is: “Lord can You be unrighteous?”
Is God able to be unrighteous? Is God bound by moral principles? Or is God without limits when it involves His decisions and actions?
These are questions that Abraham has and this gives Abraham the right and the strength to haggle with God like someone buying fish in the Arab market of the Old City of Jerusalem. What amazes me is that God is willing to haggle with Abraham and actually, in spite of the fact that God knows the end before the beginning and knows how many righteous men are in Sodom, God is willing to allow Abraham the privilege of testing His measure of righteousness. The Lord allows this haggling of Abraham, for our benefit.
The Lord wants us to know that He is a righteous God. The Lord wants us to know that when it is necessary to punish cities, countries, or individuals for their sins, there will be divine consideration for God’s righteous servants and they will not be ignored. (The question is asked about the Nazi Holocaust of World War II. The answer that I can give you is that only the Lord knows who is righteous and who is not. He is the only one who can see into people’s hearts. We don’t have the ability to know or to evaluate who is righteous.)
In Sodom, in the end, there were not even 10 people who were righteous. Sodom had to fall and be destroyed. Until this very day Sodom has not been rebuilt as a city. Until this day, Capernaum, Beit Saida, and Korazim, the three cities that Yeshua cursed, have not been rebuilt and are archaeological monuments and tourist sights.
Yes, the Lord keeps His promises! He keeps His promises to Abraham, and to Israel, and to the world. If we learn anything from the story of Abraham there are two things that must be taken seriously:
- The Lord keeps His promises!
- Each promise of the Lord puts the burden on us as humans and as disciples to keep the faith and to do His will and to serve Him by serving and caring for His children.
These above reasons my dear brothers and sisters are why it is so important to pray for each other and to pray for people whom we don’t even know personally, since by praying for them we confirm that we are members of a kingdom that is much greater than us and our small fellowships and small worlds.
When we pray for people, for brothers who are in need of healing or a job, and other needs for their life and comfort, we partner with the Creator in the care and protection and provision of His creatures and creation.
Keep praying and keep caring and keep doing everything you can to partner and participate with God’s people anywhere and everywhere you know, and anywhere you are faced with someone’s need. Like the song says, “I say a little prayer for you!”
Joseph Shulam: What Would You Do if You Were Abraham? 
Anti-Semitism is on the rise the whole world over, and the USA is no exception. So, here is what I propose to you, my Christian brothers and sisters. Please keep reading the Bible.
You can start from this week’s Torah portion, Genesis 18:1 – 22. This reading has some of the most important texts in Genesis.
In chapter 18, Abraham is interceding for Sodom, a city in which God could not find even 10 righteous people. Just consider this, my brothers and sisters, if there were 10 righteous men in Sodom, God would have spared this city.
This puts a great big burden on every one of us, disciples of Yeshua (Jesus). We love our countries and our nations, and we want only blessings and only good to befall our countries and nations. We want to be those people whom God can look down on this earth and say what He said about Noah, “Noah is a righteous men in his generation.”
We can be faithful and we can be righteous in Yeshua, with Yeshua, and by virtue of His righteousness. We can be salt and light and a blessing to our communities and our nations, and our brothers and sisters, those near and those far.
It is a wrong reading of the Word of God to give up and say, “There is no one righteous not even one!” And give up on doing our best to do what is right and what is good and what is not selfish and self-serving.
Read the Torah portion this week, and put yourselves in Abraham and Sarah’s shoes, and ask yourselves what you would do and where you would be today if you were in Abraham’s shoes (or maybe his sandals).
Remember the words of God to Abraham, and ask yourselves if God means what He promises, and are His promises still active and with the same power:
“I will bless those who bless you, And I will curse him who curses you; And in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.” – Genesis 12:3 [NKJV]
Joseph Shulam: We Must Not Forget How Much God Loves Us 
This week’s reading of the Torah is Parashat Vayera (Genesis 18:1 – 22:24). Vayera is one of the most dramatic sections of the whole Hebrew Bible. There are two events in this reading that actually have changed our view of God and His character.
The first event is the interesting meeting of three “angels” with Abraham at the oaks of Mamre. The Oak of Mamre is near the city of Hebron. The city of Hebron is the place where Abraham purchased the cave of Machpelah as a burial place for Sarah, his wife. In fact, our patriarchs, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Sarah, Rebecca, Leah, and Joseph, are all buried in the same cave in Hebron.
The second, even more dramatic, event is when Abraham, in obedience to God’s command, takes his son Isaac to be sacrificed on the top of the hill of Moriah. This is the same hill where Solomon built the Temple in Jerusalem, and today the Dome of the Rock stands.
I would like to share with you a little about both of these events. The meeting between Abraham and the three angles has some very important teachings for us all, Jews, Christians, and Muslims, if we wish to learn from the Torah. Here are some of the important things we can all learn from Abraham!
- Men, especially righteous men, can face God and have a conversation with the Almighty.
- God is willing to have a conversation with righteous men, and I would add that at times the Lord is willing to have a conversation even with evil men, like Balaam, and Cain.
- The righteous men (of course including women) can change the course of history. God is willing to take into consideration the righteousness of men and withdraw His Hand from punishing a city, if there is a significant number of righteous people in that city.
- The Lord is a willing to accept logic and is sensitive to His reputation among men. Like in Jerusalem’s Old City today, merchants give you a high price, but they are willing to reason with you, and oftentimes come down in price up to 70%, and still make a good profit.
About Abraham’s sacrifice of Isaac his son I have written before, and the only thing that I would like to say about it now is that we are all in need of the key word in this story in Hebrew – “hineni”, which in English means, “here I am Lord, ready to obey and do your will.”
This word appears more than one time in Genesis 24:1,7,11. It is a key word that many of the servants of God have used – Abraham, Jacob, Joseph, Moses, Samuel, and David.
Now some people would doubt these foundational observations about the Lord God our Creator. They might see God as an ogre, full of wrath and anger. However, the Lord defined Himself and gave us His characteristic qualities more than once. The place that I like to quote is from Exodus 34:
“And the Lord passed before him and proclaimed, ‘The Lord, the Lord God, merciful and gracious, longsuffering, and abounding in goodness and truth, keeping mercy for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, by no means clearing the guilty, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children and the children’s children to the third and the fourth generation.’” – Exodus 34:6,7 [NKJV]
A note about the last part of this text. In the 8th Century B.C., the Lord changed this principle, and we have two fine records of this change:
“Behold, the days are coming, says the Lord, that I will sow the house of Israel and the house of Judah with the seed of man and the seed of beast. And it shall come to pass, that as I have watched over them to pluck up, to break down, to throw down, to destroy, and to afflict, so I will watch over them to build and to plant, says the Lord. In those days they shall say no more: ‘The fathers have eaten sour grapes, And the children’s teeth are set on edge.’ But everyone shall die for his own iniquity; every man who eats the sour grapes, his teeth shall be set on edge.” – Jeremiah 31:27–30 [NKJV]
Ezekiel also pronounces this change in the way that God deals with the sinners:
“The word of the Lord came to me again, saying, ‘What do you mean when you use this proverb concerning the land of Israel, saying: “The fathers have eaten sour grapes, And the children’s teeth are set on edge”? As I live,’ says the Lord God, ‘you shall no longer use this proverb in Israel. Behold, all souls are Mine; The soul of the father as well as the soul of the son is Mine; The soul who sins shall die.’” – Ezekiel 18:1–4 [NKJV]
Here too it is clear that God can change His mind about something that He declared many centuries earlier, when He gave the Torah to Moses. To understand this is very crucial for those of us who believe in the revelation of God through Yeshua our Messiah.
The story of Abraham and the three angels at the oaks of Mamre is a monumental example of God’s understanding and consideration of the top of His creation – the human being, the Homo sapiens. We must always remember how much God loves us, that He gave us two of His most pronounced characteristics – image and likeness.
He gave us dominion over His creation, land and sea, and in the 20th Century, also a little bit of His sky. We can fly in iron birds and even go out to of the atmosphere into space (see Genesis 1:26,27).
Yehuda Bachana: Abraham’s Greatest Challenge 
Read the teaching below, or watch a video of the teaching by Yehuda Bachana.
Shabbat Shalom, Parashat Vayera is a difficult passage that raises many questions, for example:
- When the angels visited Abraham, they ate food, in other places in the Bible and in Jewish tradition angels cannot eat. What made the angels who visited Abraham different? Why could they eat?
- Lot’s wife turns into a pillar of salt.
- Lot’s daughters rape their father and bear him children.
- Abraham claims before the king of Gerar that Sarah is his sister and not his wife, after making the same mistake in Egypt.
- Hagar is sent by Abraham to die in the desert.
These are all very challenging stories. If we stop and think about them for a moment, we can see that they’re not simple at all. We must find an explanation for them, for without an explanation these stories are unacceptable.
And the most challenging of all the stories from this weekly Torah portion is the binding of Isaac. No matter which angle we take on this story, we are met with difficulty:
- A father who travels with his son for three days just to die, and that father’s handling of his son’s question: “…but where is the lamb for the burnt offering?” – Genesis 22:7b [NIV]
- And God’s demand for human sacrifice.
This Shabbat I want to touch on the subject of faith. Abraham has become the symbol of faith, and today we stand as people of faith. What can we learn from Abraham’s faith today?
Abraham had Doubts
Abraham’s passing of the test of the binding of Isaac is considered to be a divine expression of Abraham’s strong and genuine faith. This is shown in Jewish tradition and in the New Testament. It is referred to extensively in the New Testament, for example:
Understand, then, that those who have faith are children of Abraham… So those who rely on faith are blessed along with Abraham, the man of faith. – Galatians 3:7,9 [NIV]
By faith Abraham, when God tested him, offered Isaac as a sacrifice. He who had embraced the promises was about to sacrifice his one and only son, even though God had said to him, “It is through Isaac that your offspring will be reckoned.” Abraham reasoned that God could even raise the dead, and so in a manner of speaking he did receive Isaac back from death. – Hebrews 11:17-19 [NIV]
James also presents Abraham as an example of true and ideal faith, in which is found works and good deeds.
Faith has many advantages, such as better coping with pain and loss. Faith helps us in maintaining and strengthening the family unit, and faith encourages us to mutually support one another. To care for one another is indeed one of the foundations of the community. Furthermore, it is statistically proven that people of faith are less dependent on medicinal treatment.
Today I want to examine Abraham’s faith from another angle.
The meaning of the name “Isaac” is “laughter” – Sarah’s laughter, the laughter of embarrassment. Sarah fears what her neighbor will say. And Abraham’s laughter. Yes, Abraham laughed as well. We read in this portion that Abraham speaks to God, and he does not really believe that a child will be born to him from Sarah.
Our father Abraham was a normal person, and like any normal person, even Abraham had moments of doubt and lack of faith. This is important for me to note, because we all tend to attribute the heroes of the Bible with superhero status. And I’d like to point out that our father Abraham was made from the same material as you and I.
It is written of Abraham:
Abraham fell facedown; he laughed and said to himself, “Will a son be born to a man a hundred years old? Will Sarah bear a child at the age of ninety? – Genesis 17:17 [NIV]
And about Sarah it is written:
So Sarah laughed to herself as she thought, “After I am worn out and my lord is old, will I now have this pleasure?” – Genesis 18:12 [NIV]
Further evidence of Abraham’s skepticism can be found in the continuation of the conversation between him and God:
And Abraham said to God, “If only Ishmael might live under your blessing!” Then God said, “Yes, but your wife Sarah will bear you a son…” – Genesis 17:18,19a [NIV]
According to these verses, Abraham has already accepted the fact that he will never have a son from Sarah, and only Ishmael will be his successor. (“If only Ishmael might live under your blessing!”) In response, God persuades Abraham not to despair by saying, ” …but your wife Sarah will bear you a son.”
My point is that sometimes all of us, including the heroes of the Bible, have doubts and questions of faith. We are all in a journey of faith. The idea that from the moment we come to faith we’ve finished the journey is simply not true.
It is precisely as believers that we bury the old man and rise up as a new creation. As believers, we are headed in a certain direction, upwards. A direction that honors our Father in heaven. Sometimes we deviate from the path, to the right or to the left. But we can always correct the course of our lives and get back on the path.
Abraham was Quick to Obey
If I return to Abraham, my understanding is that the question isn’t about blind, constant, unquestioning faith. For Scripture tells us that Abraham had given up hope that a son would come to him from Sarah his wife.
The question is what action we take in regards to God’s commandment. What you think in your heart is one thing. You can ponder in your heart, you can question in your heart, you can doubt in your heart. But what matters is our actions, as Yeshua tells us in the parable of the two sons (Matthew 21:28-30).
What is the purpose of the commandment of the binding of Isaac? The answer is explicitly written in the Torah:
Some time later God tested Abraham… – Genesis 22:1a [NIV]
In other words, it was a test to see if Abraham would obey the commandment. Why did God specifically choose this test?
I do not think that this test comes down to the simple question of whether Abraham was willing to sacrifice to God his firstborn son. For all those people who sacrificed their sons to Molech were prepared to do such things.
Another example we have in the Bible is the story of Jephthah the Gileadite. He, before going out to battle, made a vow to God. He vowed that if he would win the battle, he would sacrifice to God whatever came to out greet him. Jephthah ended up sacrificing his daughter, who came out to meet him with tambourines and dancing (Judges 11). Yet he is not considered a symbol of faith for that action.
Many people throughout history have sacrificed their loved ones, for the sake of faith, ideology, or their country. I believe that Abraham’s testing was much deeper and more complex than merely to see whether Abraham was prepared to sacrifice his son to God.
In almost all the conversations between God and Abraham, there is one central recurring theme. It is God’s promise of the continuation and transformation of Abraham into a great nation, like the sand of the seashore and the stars of the heavens.
And after years of waiting and patience on the part of Abraham, the miracle takes place – a son is born to Abraham and Sarah. Isaac’s birth foretells the continuation of the family, the birth heralds God’s promises to make Abraham into a great nation. The faith and expectation of Abraham throughout these years was not in vain.
And now comes the most terrible commandment – to sacrifice Isaac, the promised son, to God. This means that God’s promises will not be fulfilled. All these years God has given promise after promise, and now it turns out it was all false.
Isaac’s death will reveal that God does not keep His promises – and this is Abraham’s real test: What will Abraham’s reaction be? Will he cry out about the personal wrongdoing? The promises that will not be fulfilled? The long years of waiting?
In addition, the unique wording of the commandment enhances the test:
Then God said, “Take your son, your only son, whom you love—Isaac—and go to the region of Moriah. Sacrifice him there as a burnt offering on a mountain I will show you.” – Genesis 22:2 [NIV]
Doubt gnaws at his heart: Did Abraham correctly understand the Word of God? Or was he about to lose his son, the thing most dear to him, due to a misunderstanding? Abraham has three days to consider this matter, to back out, to disobey.
Today the answer is known to all. Our father Abraham was willing to fulfill God’s commandment without hesitation, without crying out to heaven in protest, and without resenting the immorality of this terrible commandment.
This may be the true meaning of faith in God. When we do not understand the commandments, and yet hurry to obey them. And therefore, in a number of books and epistles in the New Testament, Abraham is considered to be the ideal believer.
In the believing world today, the emphasis is on coming to faith. And the main question I will raise is this: what are our goals? Is coming to faith the end of the story? Is it the supreme goal for everyone to come to faith, and thus be saved?
I think we have a higher goal than “the salvation of all Israel”, in which coming to faith is only the first step. Our coming to faith is not the end of the journey, but rather the beginning. From this important step onward, we must turn our faith in the word of God into a way of life. Into actions that are life-changing, life-improving, and life-giving.
The concept behind Netivyah is to show that you can believe in Yeshua as the Messiah and remain faithful to God, to the Bible, to the people of Israel, and to the Jewish traditions.
Our work is particularly important because we are the example, we are a representative sample.
The question is, how we will fare on the test?
The outcome must be success. We are committed to preserving our Jewish identity, as an authentic identity. We must be the proof that one can believe in Yeshua as the Messiah and at the same time remain faithful to Israel.
We are promised that all Israel will be saved (Romans 11). We believe that every knee will bow and every tongue will confess that Yeshua is the Messiah, the son of the living God.
This week’s Torah portion teaches me that I must trust and believe that this is indeed what will happen. And I must work towards this goal without any question or doubt, without asking, “will this happen?” But rather, “how can I help?”
The answer is to translate faith into reality, into everyday life. To rise up and grasp that we are the representative sample, and people are looking at us. Our neighbors are examining us, they want to know what the meaning of our faith is, and where it leads us.
This test is in every aspect of our lives, from the way we behave towards each other, to our relationship to the Word of God and the Jewish tradition.
May we have a peaceful Shabbat, and may we grow stronger in our faith and in the righteousness of our path.