No turning back
Torah Portion: Vayera (And The L-rd Appeared) B’resheet/Genesis 18:1-22:24
Haftorah Reading II Kings 4:1-37
Today we read and study a Torah portion filled with many topics that could keep us transfixed for hours. However, we will limit ourselves to only a few that are very important to our spiritual walk.
One of my questions this week had to do with Lot’s wife turning into a pillar of salt after she turned to see the destruction of Sodom. This is found in chapter 19:25-26. The apparent cause of her death was that she looked back at Sodom after she and the others had been told specifically not to do that by the angels. The word in Hebrew that is used for the act of her looking back might help us understand what is happening in these verses. The word in Hebrew is tabet. This word means more than a glance, it would be compared to staring at something. Lot’s wife’s actions was more than just wanting to see what was happening. It was more like a longing, or still being attached to the sinfulness of Sodom, missing her life there.
When G-d speaks to us about something we need to deal with or leave behind in our life, we are called to not look back. We are called to follow Him, knowing and trusting Him to lead us on to a new and better path. Here, we see a person who could not totally let go of what had been, even in the face of a warning from G-d. Also, the word, consumed, used by the angels in 19:17 is even more powerful in Hebrew. It is teezpay and literally means to be swept away, to be wiped out or destroyed. G-d gave them all a stern warning but she chose to not listen.
We must be ready to move at G-d’s command, not hold on to what was but be ready for what is ahead. The Messianic scriptures are filled with verses stressing the same thought. A good example is found in Luke 17:27-29. These verses specifically reference both Noah and Lot.
Looking back, wanting things left behind, can reveal where we stand spiritually. When we hear G-d’s call He expects us to be able at a moment’s notice to His answer call and follow the direction of the Holy Spirit. This is not limited to big decisions but also daily decisions. He might want us to give up something in our life that we are holding on to dearly. Something that keeps us separated from Him or does not glorify Him. It could also be an action such as reaching out to someone, listening to someone who needs comfort.
Now I want us to consider my first question I sent this week. How do you think Avraham dealt with the seeming contradiction in these verses; Genesis 12:2, 13:16, 15:5, 17:5-6,17:21 and G-d’s command to sacrifice his only son Isaac? What was the trial he faced, one that we face in our own lives?
In our portion today we read in Genesis 22:2 where G-d commanded Avraham to take his son Isaac and present him as a burnt offering to the L-rd. It is important to remember that child sacrifice was a common practice among the people of the land at that time. An example of this can be found in II Kings 3:26-27. We saw earlier in our portion that Avraham was chosen by G-d because he would teach his children and his household after him, to keep the way of the L-rd, to do justice. (18:19) He was to be a role model of what a father should be and do, not someone who would sacrifice their own children. No doubt G-d commanding him to sacrifice Isaac was a test of his faith in G-d, but maybe it was also about something deeper.
Think back to all the times that G-d promised Avraham the Land yet when his wife died he did not even have a place to bury her. Maybe the larger lesson here for Avraham and for us too might be that there can be a long and winding road between promise and fulfillment. This does not mean G-d does not keep His word. He might have been teaching Avraham to hold on to his faith in the Promises of G-d even thought he could not see the end result. Faith demands a spirit that does not grow weary. Deeper faith gives us the ability to hold on to G-d and His promises even when we see contradictory events or things around us. True faith does not live by sight or immediate fulfillment. We are called to keep going even if the way between promise and fulfillment is long. G-d will do all He has promised but it may not be immediately.
Here in our story G-d spoke to Avraham four times about children in Genesis 12:2, 13:16, 15:5, 17:5-6. G-d told Avraham his son by Hagar would not be his spiritual heir and in 17:21 he assured him Isaac was to be the son of promise. Now here G-d comes to Avraham and commands him to sacrifice his son of promise. Avraham’s trial or test was not if he could give up something he loved, he had already done that by leaving family and the land of his birth. He had also given up his first born son. No, the real test was if Avraham would live with the seeming contradiction of these two things he heard G-d saying. He was asking him to sacrifice the very son that was the son of promise. Could Avraham live with uncertainty? Can we? He did just that. He carried on with what he knew G-d commanded. He prepared for the sacrifice, wood and fire and believing that somehow, he didn’t know how it would turn out, that G-d would provide a sacrifice. He believed that the G-d who promised him a son would not allow him to sacrifice that son but he did not know how G-d would work it out. He taught us all here that our walk of faith is not certainty, it is the courage to live our life with uncertainty. He knew the promises of G-d would come about and he could live with the uncertainty of not knowing how or when. Our faith must be able to stand the trials of life even when times may seem dark and no answers found.