Torah Portion: Vayera (He Appeared) B’resheet Genesis 18:1-22:24
HafTorah: II Kings 4:1-37
Tonight we look at a large part of the life of Avraham and Sarah. Last week we read about Sarah telling Avraham to take her maid servant and have a child by her since she was getting old and did not have a child. Then this week we read of the men (angels) coming to visit Avraham and Sarah and announcing that in a year she would conceive and bear a child. In chapter 21:9-11 we read of Sarah telling Avraham to send Hagar and her child away. He does not want to do this. So I want us to take a bit of time and look at this and see what we can learn about this woman.
As a starting point let’s talk about convictions that we may have, when we know something is right or wrong and what do we do with those beliefs when they are challenged. Most of us know on an intellectual basis what is right or wrong on any given issue. However, on a practical level, we may find it hard to take a stand on our convictions. Many times we don’t do what we know to be right because we are paralyzed by what other people might think or by our own fleshly desires.
We see it over and over throughout history. We see it in our own country today. We find ourselves following rather than taking a firm position and leading. So let’s look at Sarah for a minute and see where she falls in this question. I think we will see in this woman courage to stand on what she knows to be correct and right. We see it in this Torah portion. We read about the only recorded dispute between Avraham and Sarah. This dispute was only resolved when G-d interceded and commanded Avraham to follow Sarah on the problem that had arisen. Let’s read the story in Genesis 21:6-10. They both are thrilled with fulfillment of G-d’s promise to them for a son. But then in verses 9-10 we read of a problem that came up.
Sarah saw Ishmael mocking Isaac and told Avraham that Hagar and her son must be sent away. In verse 11 we read where this troubled Avraham very much. Then in verses 12-13 G-d intervenes and tells Avraham to listen to Sarah’s voice and that his descendants will be numbered through Isaac. Avraham does as G-d says. First, why did Avraham resist sending them away? Surely he knew Isaac, the son of promise, would be his heir. For sure he loved Ishmael. As we have seen Avraham was a person filled with loving kindness. Maybe this quality got in his way and kept him from seeing clearly what to do. Maybe it took Sarah’s clarity of the situation to bring him back to seeing clearly. G-d told him to listen to her voice, not her words so much. He was to rely on her judgment in this situation. She was not being swayed by her own feelings as was Avraham. Because of this she could see more clearly what should be done. My point in all this is to remind us that our own knowledge of right and wrong cannot be tempered by our emotions. If we make decisions based on our feelings usually we miss out. Feelings are good and part of who we are yet they can’t be our only guide when making decisions concerning moral or spiritual issues. Only G-d can keep us centered on what we should do in a situation. Courage to follow our convictions is so important today when we are being urged on every side to just go along.
If Sarah had not stood on her faith in G-d’s promise that Isaac was the promised one, Avraham might have made a terrible mistake by relying on his natural quality of loving kindness. G-d grant us the wisdom to choose wisely as Sarah did.
Finally, I would like us to look at one other event in the life of Avraham that ties into this point of Ishmael and Hagar being sent away. In Genesis 22:1-2 we read of G-d’s test of Avraham where he is told to take this child of promise and offer him as a burnt offering. I would ask you to consider this story from the perspective of what Torah is teaching about the wrongness of world views on a number of issues. Child sacrifice was a wide spread practice among ancient world civilizations at that time. Children were considered as property and completely under the control and authority of the father. He could do as he wished. Torah is completely opposed to this idea. Here we see Isaac as having a miraculous beginning similar to the birth of Samuel. Samuel’s mother promises G-d she will give him to G-d. This is the same point G-d is making here with Avraham concerning his son Isaac. What G-d is saying is that children are not property to be done with as a parent wants but are created in the image of G-d and as such belong to Him. Avraham was actually being asked to renounce ownership of his son. Children are not property of the parent but are created by G-d and our role is as guardians, raising them to be responsible before their heavenly Father who loves them. This is the test for Avraham. Sending Ishmael away was a warm up for the real test of giving Isaac to G-d totally.