- Abraham welcomes three visitors, who announce that Sarah will soon have a son. (18:1-15)
- Abraham argues with God about the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah. (18:16-33)
- Lot's home is attacked by the people of Sodom. Lot and his two daughters escape as the cities are being destroyed. Lot's wife is turned into a pillar of salt. (19:1-29)
- Lot impregnates his daughters, and they bear children who become the founders of the nations Moab and Ammon. (19:30-38)
- Abimelech, king of Gerar, takes Sarah as his wife after Abraham claims that she is his sister. (20:1-18)
- Isaac is born, circumcised, and weaned. Hagar and her son, Ishmael, are sent away; an angel saves their lives. (21:1-21)
- God tests Abraham, instructing him to sacrifice Isaac on Mount Moriah. (22:1-19)
by Don Cogan
In this chapter of Genesis, Vayera, G-d appears to Abraham in the form of three men who visit Abraham’s tent near Mamre. Abraham offers them water and place to rest, and asks his wife Sarah to prepare a meal for them.
God conveys to Abraham that Sarah will bear a son. Sarah, overhearing this from inside the tent, laughs “within herself” in disbelief, as she is far older than the typical child-bearing age of most women. God asks of Abraham, “wherefore did Sarah laugh?” pointing out that G-d is capable of enabling the seemingly impossible to happen. Out of fear Sarah denies having laughed at the notion of bearing a child, yet G-d insists that she had in fact laughed, revealing his ability to know the seemingly unknowable.
In the second part of this chapter, seemingly unrelated to the first, God conveys to Abraham that the wicked cities of Sodom and Gomorrah must be destroyed, as their inhabitants are exceedingly evil. Yet Abraham asks G-d to relent, posing the question: “if fifty righteous people can be found, can the cities be spared?” In response to additional questioning by Abraham, in which Abraham asks if even fewer righteous found would be sufficient, G-d indicates that he would be willing to spare the city even if only ten persons can be found to be righteous.
Why are these two seemingly disparate events occurring together in Vayera; that is, the revealing to Abraham that Sarah will bear a son, and Abraham’s apparent “bargaining” with G-D regarding the possibility of sparing Sodom and Gomorrah?
One possible explanation is that both circumstances test the trust between G-d and Abraham. In the first instance, G-d conveys to Sarah that a miracle will occur, her bearing of a child. And He demonstrates that He is capable of knowing one’s innermost thoughts, ostensibly to prove that He has the ability to make the unordinary happen. So even with their being substantial doubt at first at least by Sarah, the couple do proceed to have a son.
In the following verse, Abraham assesses the mercifulness of G-d by testing G-d’s willingness to spare Sodom and Gomorrah, even if only a small number of persons can be found to be righteous. And he continues to test the limits of G-d’s mercy by asking whether ever smaller numbers of righteous individuals in the cities would be sufficient to deter their destruction.
The establishment of trust between God and his people is a continuing theme of great importance throughout the Torah, as we will see upcoming in the chapter regarding the binding of Isaac by Abraham.
In my own life I have come to realize that two things are of importance to undertake a task or goal. The first requirement is have or develop a strong enough desire to do so. Secondly, I need to have a belief that the accomplishment is possible. There are those times, however in which I have had the desire and yet my belief may be lacking or at least very minimal at first.
In my early years, I had developed an interest in pursuing a course of study in a relatively new field, biomedical engineering, which I knew very little about at first, and for which I had little basis for believing they could pursue that direction since I had very little related prerequisite background. In a way, I was much like Sarah being told she could have a child in advanced years! How could I possibly accomplish this? I had the desire for sure, and yet the willingless to pursue it came from convincing myself that I would do it somehow, even though the basis for believing so was lacking at first. In other words, I had to have faith: faith being the belief in things yet unseen.
I also had to realize that I was almost certain to make mistakes and setbacks along the way, sometimes some choices or decisions which may be not the best (or at least may appear to be incorrect). Similar to Abraham being challenged in his hopes of their being righteous persons in Sodom and Gemorrah, I had to realize that being wrong at first is not necessarily the end of the road. At times it’s necessary to try another path, and as I recall in my efforts to get into the biomedical field, I had to repeatedly investigate academic programs to find one that was appropriate, and later to check into a lot of job prospects to find one that was a good choice.
The second such occurrence that comes to mind, was the decision that Cheryl and I made to adopt a child. We looked into different avenues – different possible countries to pursue, each of which presented roadblocks and frustrations along the way. Even when we decided upon Russia, we encountered changing regulations, paperwork that had to be revised multiple times, and several adoption requests that did not go through. Yet we persevered (athought there were multiple times we felt like Sarah in Vayera) and we finally were able to adopt our wonderful son Max!