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Vayera – A thought for the week by Michael Lewis

Vayera is the second Parasha of three covering the life of Abraham.

We begin on the plain of Mamre just after Abraham has circumcised himself and his men (including Ishmael who was 13 years old) and he is visited by 3 “messengers”. We finish after the story of the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah, the sending away of Ishmael and Hagar and the Akedah, the binding of Isaac.

The Sedra starts with the words:

וַיֵּרָ֤א אֵלָיו֙ יְהֹוָ֔ה
Now the Lord appeared to him

How are we expected to act when coming face to face with the presence of God? In non-Jewish traditions it is described as a ”theophany” or an “epiphany”; something transcendent where the observer is awestruck. How would we recognise such a situation? It could be described as undergoing a spiritual moment such as witnessing the birth of a child or seeing something of great natural beauty. The Jewish world provides something more.

Abraham, even in the presence of God seems to concentrate on the three men who are there. God interjects, asking him why Sarah laughed at the prospect of a child.

At Sodom, God is there.

And Abraham approached and said, "Will You even destroy the righteous with the wicked?

The resultant bargaining for the city is well known.

When Isaac is born and Hagar and Ishmael are sent away God is still there.

But the matter greatly displeased Abraham, concerning his son. Abraham receives reassurance of their welfare.

At the time of the Akedah, the binding of Isaac, famously the response to the appearance of God is the positive “Hineni” (here I am).

We pray to God and seek his blessings each day. We try to follow the commandments and the precepts we have inherited. We stand in awe at those who have engaged directly with him throughout our long history as we read in the Tanach but, what would we do, personally if, like Abraham, “the Lord appeared”?,

As Jews, our response to the appearance of God is interactive: we engage. We do not step back; we step forward and declare “Hineni”.

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