Care for all people
Vayera (And He Appeared) B’resheet/Genesis 18:1-22:24
Haftorah Readings: II Kings 4:1-37
This week we read a Torah portion that presents us with many situations that bear looking at in depth. Genesis 22:1-19 tells us about G-d coming to Avraham and telling him to take his only son Isaac and sacrifice him on Mt. Moriah. Let’s look at this and see what we can learn from it. I must admit these verses have always been difficult for me to grasp. Remember, this was the son of Promise. He was the son of Avraham and Sarah that G-d had promised and was the product of a miracle birth. Avraham was 99 years old and Sarah was long passed child bearing years. Yet G-d intervened and brought this boy into their lives. And now He commanded Avraham to sacrifice him to G-d.
This week I listened to a broadcast by Lord Jonathan Sacks that helped me grasp the lesson behind this incident in scripture. To understand it clearly we have to start from the beginning. In Genesis chapter one we read the creation story. Here we can clearly see and grasp that G-d is the creator and ultimate owner of everything. He brought our world into being and renews it daily. Creation is His statement that all things have their beginning in Him. Isaiah 66:1tells us this very fact, “Heaven is My Throne and the earth is my footstool.” This is echoed in Matthew 5:35 and Acts 7:49.
At the time of Avraham, every pagan society had no such understanding. Even children were looked upon as property to be used or misused as the parent saw fit. They were little more than slaves. We see this attitude throughout history, such as ancient Greece and Rome. Even in our day, children are used to fight wars, to be used in the sex trade and other despicable ways.
However, in scripture we get another view of children. It is clear that parents are not owners of their children. We are guardians who are meant to care for and nurture our children. Scripture sees our children as belonging to G-d. That is the point being made here in our verses. G-d wanted to clearly show Avraham his son was not his property to do with as pagans did but he was to be loved and cared for and released to G-d. Isaac belonged to the Heavenly Father. So G-d stopped him from taking his son’s life but rather to care for him.
Now to my question of the week. What had been the history of the world up to this point? G-d put Adam and Eve in the Garden where they quickly fell into sin. When confronted, they tried to pass the buck. Adam said Eve caused him to sin. She blamed the serpent. Each denied any personal responsibility. Cain, when confronted by G-d for the death of his brother Able said, “Am I my brother’s keeper?” He denied moral responsibility. Finally, we come to Noah. Noah failed the test of collective responsibility. He was a man of virtue in a terrible time but had no impact on his neighbors. He saved his family and the animals but no one else. When we look at scripture it never says Noah ever tried to speak to others about G-d.
When we get to Avraham we begin to see a different way of living. Last week we read of the conflict between the herdsmen of Lot and Avraham. Avraham’s reaction teaches us something. He immediately proposed a solution (Genesis 13:8-9) He made no judgement and did not place blame. He looked at the problem and acted. We also read last week about a local war that resulted in Lot’s capture. Avraham gathered a force and rescued Lot and all the other captives, taking no reward for his effort. Here we see him as his “brother’s keeper” unlike Cain and Able.
This week we see Avraham as he came face to face with the Father. Up until this time G-d’s interaction with people had been through dreams and visions. Here the encounter was face to face. G-d and two angels came to Avraham in the heat of the day. First notice Avraham’s reaction. He treated these visitors with respect and great hospitality.
Then in Genesis 18:17-21 G-d shared with Avraham what He was about to do to the cities of the valley. In Genesis 18:23-25 we see an amazing encounter between G-d and Avraham. We see a mere human challenge G-d. Avraham’s challenge was, “would you sweep away the righteous with the wicked? Far be it from you, will not the judge of all the earth do justice.” We all remember the outcome of these verses. G-d could not find even 10 righteous people of the cities.
Compare this interaction with Noah in Genesis 6:13 where G-d said he was going to put an end to all people because the earth had become corrupt. What stands out is that Noah did not protest. He did exactly as G-d commanded, nothing more, nothing less. As far as what we see in scripture he did not plead for the people living around him who would surely die. Here today we see Avraham take collective responsibility even for people he did not know.
I think G-d expects us all to express that same concern and care for all people, not just for our own family and friends. We see it over and over in the Messianic scriptures. G-d loves all people and expects us to do the same. Without that our world is lost. Allow G-d to use you today.
(Through the years I have immensely enjoyed reading the teaching of Rabbi Jonathan Sacks. I heard on the news a few minutes ago that he passed away today from his third struggle with cancer. Please pray for his family.)