This week we read parasha Vayeira. “Vayeira” means “appears” and we learn of many times that God appears to Abraham. We also learn of many times God presents Abaraham with a difficult situation to resolve, often called a trial.
The first appearance is at the beginning of the parasha where the 99-year-old Abraham is recovering from having circumcised himself and all the men in his household. Abraham’s favorite thing is welcoming guests, and he waits outside his tent in the desert heat. Knowing of Abraham’s love of this custom, God sends three travelers, in the form of malachim (spiritual beings we call angels). The malachim announce that Sarah will have a child, which she and Abraham have wanted more than anything.
Abraham feeds the malachim a fine meal, and they then leave to destroy Sodom – where Abraham’s nephew, Lot, lives with his family – because the people there are very cruel to each other. God reveals this plan to Abraham, because Abraham does charity and justice and God has promised him good things. Abraham pleads with God to save Sodom, saying it would dishonor God to destroy the righteous people with the sinners. Abraham asks God to save the city if the malachim find 50 righteous people, then 45, then 40, 30, 20 and finally, 10 – the number of a minyan. God agrees that if 10 righteous people are found, the city will be spared. But Lot is the only righteous person living in Sodom, so God destroys it.
Abraham and his household travel to Gerar. As in Egypt, Abraham fears he will be killed by those who admire Sarah’s beauty, so he introduces her as his sister. As Abraham anticipated, the king, Abimelech, takes Sarah to his palace. God comes to Abimelech in a dream and tells him he is to die because he has taken a married woman. Abimelech sends Sarah back to Abraham and they make peace.
The son the malachim promised is born – Isaac. As he grows, his half-brother Ishamael mocks him, acting out what he has been taught by his mother, Hagar, who was Sarah’s handmaiden. Sarah realizes that Hagar and Ishmael will be bad influences on Isaac, and she tells Abraham to make them leave. Abraham loves his son Ishmael, and is distressed at the thought of sending him away. God appears to Abraham again, and tells him to do as Sarah says, and that God shall also make a great nation of Ishmael, just as God will make a great nation of Isaac.
At the end of the parasha, God again appears to Abraham, and instructs Abraham to take Isaac to a mountain (which we now know as the Temple Mount in Jerusalem) and sacrifice him. Isaac is 38 years old and could easily keep his father from carrying out this commandment, but he and Abraham both obey. At the last minute, as Abraham is about to kill his beloved son, God has a malach stop the sacrifice, and Abraham substitutes a ram for Isaac. God once again appears to Abraham and promises that, because Abraham has not withheld his son from sacrifice, God will make Abraham’s descendants as numerous as the stars of the heavens and the sands of the seashore, that his descendants shall inherit the gates of their enemies, and that all the nations of the Earth shall bless themselves by his descendants.
That was the last time God appeared to Abraham. Having succeeded at ten trials God set before him, Abraham was not rewarded immediately, but by a promise of great things for his descendants – like you.