Parashah #4: Vayera (He appeared) B’resheit (Genesis) 18:1-41

Beth Elohim Messianic Synagogue
Parashah #4: Vayera (He appeared) B’resheit (Genesis) 18:1-41:16
Haftarah: M’lakhim Bet (2 Kings) 4:1-23
B’rit Chadashah: Hebrews 6:13-20

Today we are going to look at a kabbalistic perspective related to Yitzchak’s name and a closer look at Ishmael’s name. Gaining a deeper understanding behind what may initially seem trivial will further support the concepts and relationship between grace and law; justice and mercy; the Old Testament and the B’rit Chadashah. In Genesis chapter 16:11-13 the narrative is a discussion between the “angel of Adonai” and Hagar who was Sari’s slave-girl who Sarai gave to Abraham to bear a child since Sarai was barren at the time. Remember that at this point Sarai’s name had not been changed to Sarah (Princess) from Sari (Mockery). In this narrative we find the source of Mideastern conflict and jealousy on the part of the Arab nations against Israel. The Angel of Adonai tells Hagar that he will always be a man of conflict “living at odds with all his kinsmen.” Again, this is the reason for the unrest in the Middle East that will continue until the battle of Armageddon is won and evil is destroyed for eternity.
Moving on to Chapter 17:19 it is G-d who names Yitzchak even before he is born. It was usually the honor of the mother to name her children, but G-d chose the name of the son of promise. Furthermore, Yitzchak was born after Avraham was circumcised. So, we may ask, so what? Let’s explore the importance of this sequence by looking at one of the mystical writings that address this parashah.
According to the Zohar, had Avraham begotten before he was circumcised, his seed would not have been holy, making the spiritual status of Yitzchak at a lower level which would not have resulted in a state of supernal holiness on a higher plane. As to the question of why G-d chose the name Yitzchak (laughter) we refer to a response given by R. Simeon: “We have elsewhere stated that through Yitzchak fire supplanted water. For water comes from the side of Gevurah (Force/[Justice]), and it is further required of the Levites that they should entertain that side with hymns and songs on diverse instruments. Hence Yitzchak was joyousness because he issued from that side and became attached to it. Observe that the word Yitzchak means “laughter’, to wit, rejoicing because water was changed to fire and fire to water; hence he was called Yitzchak, and hence the Holy One called him so before he came into the world, and he announced that name to Avraham.”
Now we need to interpret the meaning of this narrative. In the Hebrew the word for water is mayim and the word for fire is esh and “G-d called the firmament ‘shamayim’. That is there was a mixing of fire and water that formed the firmament. When the attribute of chesed(associated with Avraham prevails in the world, eventually evil flourishes, for kindness in overabundance allows even the wicked to exist. When the attribute of Gevurah (Yitzach’s character) prevails kin the world, even the righteous may be viewed as not completely worthy. These two qualities consistent with the concepts of grace and law in G-d’s Torah must be balanced and harmonized. We see in the above response by R. Simeon that fire becoming water and water becoming fire provided a description of the perfect balance and harmony between the two elements. Indeed, Avraham is considered the quintessential example of hospitality and kindness while Yitzchak’s dominant character attribute is justice!
That the Levites were to sing hymns and play instruments entertaining from the side of Gevurah provides another example of the blending of joyousness with justice. We have seen through the kabbalistic interpretation of the name Yitzchak that the true meaning of a Hebrew names describes the essence of the individual and is not given lightly. Sometimes the name does not match the essence of the individual that is expressed as the individual grows so some individuals or parents change the sacred name once the essence of the individual’s personality is identified. It is important in the study of G-d’s Torah to research the names of tribes and individuals; nations, and other locations so that we may gain a deeper understanding of the Book and its original “Author” who we as believers profess to love and follow.
As previously mentioned, Ishmael(G-d will hear), born to Hagar who was the daughter of Pharaoh was described by the angel of G-d to be a donkey of a man who would always be at odds with everyone including his kinsmen, and everyone against him. The ongoing conflict in the Middle East is a current testimony to the truth of G-d’s Torah. Ishmael was regarded as a prophet and messenger and the ancestor to the Ishmaelites in Islam. He is associated with Mecca and is considered the ancestor to Muhammad.
We notice two very distinct differences when comparing Yitzchak to Ishmael:
1.Ishmael was born by natural means while Yitzchak was a supernatural event.
2.Ishmael was circumcised at 13 which is considered the age of awareness or accountability whereas Yitzchak entered into the covenant of circumcision as an eight-day-old infant, a time at which a person is not aware of what is happening or its significance.
Ishmael represents a rational human relationship with G-d that is limited by human understanding and human nature. Yitzchak represents a supernatural bond that goes above and beyond human rationality/nature.
In this week’s parashah we see another dichotomy, this time of two personalities: that of Avraham and Lot. Lot was the son of Abraham’s brother (Gen. 12:5; 14:12). Last week we addressed the decreased respect Lot held for Abraham as they traveled together which finally ended in each going his separate way. The way in which this event occurred tells us much about the selfish nature of Lot and the hospitable nature of Abraham. In Chapter 19 Lot was found sitting at the gate of S’dom which was found to be completely evil. We know this is true when we read the discussion between Abraham and Adonai in Chapter 18.
Lot had to have learned much from Abraham including the custom of being hospitable to strangers, even though he was selfish. His hospitality is described in Chapter 19 as he first offered the two angels who came to visit, and he eventually got them to accept a meal and rest. He also tried to mitigate the situation when the homosexual men came to attempt sex with the two angels/men who were guests in his home. In this event he chose to offer his two virgin daughters to the invaders rather than allow them to sodomize his guests. Fortunately, out of His mercy, G-d intervened through the angels and the invaders were blinded. Unlike the situation with Noach who did not hesitate to enter the ark at G-d’s command, Lot was told to hurry up and take his wife and two daughters and leave the city. However, we are given a glimpse into Lot’s attitude and doubt. He dallied and the angels/men took his hand, his wife’s hand, and the hands of the two daughters and led them, leaving them outside the city (Gen. 19:16). Lot was still influenced by his human desire and lack of trust. Rather than fleeing to the hills as G-d told him to do, Lot asked to go to a small city that was less than what G-d wanted him to do; that is, rather than “going up” to the hills, he chose to stay on the plain; a lower level both physically and spiritually. He asked for and received a “second best” living situation. We know the city to which Lot went was also evil because G-d was planning to destroy it too. Again, out of His mercy, G-d did not destroy it because of Lot.
Lot’s spiritual issues or the lack thereof also affected his progeny. Lot and his two daughters lived in a cave outside of Tz’oar where he had originally fled. They remained virgins until they decided to make their father drunk with wine and have sex with him to perpetuate the family line. The resulting tribes were the Ammonites and the Moabites, neither of which were allowed to enter the congregation of Israel. Yet, Ruth who was a Moabite princess became the great grandmother of King David, accepting the G-d of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob as her Own, validating once more that G-d is sovereign. He has a plan that will come to full fruition regardless of human attempts to change it in any way or haSatan’s attempts to usurp G-d’s authority and dominion over the universe.
Haftarah: 2 Kings 4:1
In our parashah, the angels tell Abraham, “Just like you are alive today, you will be alive next year…” In the Haftarah, we read the same phrase used by the prophet Elisha. As he passed through Shunam, a woman saw him and invited him into her house. This woman, although meager of means, convinced her husband to build Elisha a room in their attic to make the holy man more comfortable. Elisha wanted to pay her for her kindness. He discovered that the woman wanted only one thing in life, a child. He told the woman, “Just like you are alive today, you will be alive next year, and you will embrace a child.” This story connects well with our parashah. Not only is the prophecy similar, but the same phrase is used in both cases!
B’rit Chadashah: Hebrews 6:13-20
These passages and the ones prior to our sidra (the portion of the Torah reading) warn us that when people who have experienced reconciliation to G-d through Yahshua’s sacrifice and then fall away from faith by trusting not in Yahshua’s own sacrificial death and high-priestly office, but in animal sacrifices and the system of the Cohanim which the Torah set up to administer them- then it is impossible to renew them so that they turn from their sin, as long as for themselves they keep executing the Son of G-d on the stake all over again. The reason is that they ignore what His death on the stake means, as proven by their trusting in animal sacrifices instead of His sacrifice. Thus, they keep holding Him up to public contempt by not glorifying his death as an atoning death, seeing it as having no special significance, so that His execution as a criminal becomes the dominant theme.
The purpose of the author of Hebrews who I believe was Apollos, a Torah observant Jew from Alexandria, was not to provide fuel for the Calvinist-Arminian controversy of 1500 years later, but to turn his readers’ concern away from the animal sacrifices and toward the significance of Yahshua’s final sacrifice. This is clear from the context of the following four chapters, that deal with precisely this question and which constitute the heart of the book. Keep in mind, the sacrificial system that will be reinstituted in the future according to Ezekiel will be established because Yahshua will be ruling with an iron hand at that time, and all who are living will be required to follow it.
It is helpful to know something about Apollos as the scriptures describe him in Acts 18:24-28. He was an eloquent man and mighty in the scriptures. It is written that he was instructed by Aquilla and Priscilla (a woman) after they heard him, taking him unto themselves and expounding unto him the way of G-d more perfectly.
It is possible to make a Midrash on these verses that does not address the Calvinist- Arminian controversy. Calvinism teaches the eternal security of the believer. It is possible to define “believer” tautologically, in such a way that no one so defined as “believer” ever falls away; but then no one could be certain he/she is a “believer” until his/her life has ended. For it is manifestly possible for a person to trust the Messiah as fully as he/she knows how, by any imaginable subjective or objective measure of his ability to trust, and to experience subjectively all the benefits of faith, and still fall away at a later point in time. If that happens, it is impossible, so long as he/she remains In that state, to renew him/her again to that he/she turns from his/her sin. Why? Because G-d has given us everything He can give, yet now he/she refuses to accept his/her status as righteous with G-d, along with the responsibility of living a holy life within the Torah. In vv. 7-8 these good gifts of G-d are compared to rain, intended to make a good crop grow. But if an evil crop comes, it is in due course burned- a reminder of the fate of the wicked on the Day of Judgment. But the New Testament (Refreshed, renewed Covenant) way of dealing with the security of the believer is different. Yochanan (John) articulates it well: “The way we can be sure we know Him is if we are obeying His commands” (1 Jn. 2:3-6).
Some, insisting on the eternal security of one who has confessed the Messiah, understand this passage to say that carnal believers will be deprived of rewards ( 1 Cor. 3:8-15), or that they will spend the Millennial Age (Rev. 20:2-7…) in Outer Darkness (see Matt. 22:13-14) instead of ruling with Messiah. There is no hint of “justification by works”; rather the work and service to his people constitute “good actions already prepared by G-d,” that is the Torah having been delivered, which those “delivered by grace through trusting” should do (Eph. 2:8-10).
Such action-oriented urging to persevere is also found in 1 Cor. 9:25-27; Rom. 8:11-13 and 12:1-2. The point is reinforced by being expressed negatively in the advice not to be sluggish – a word found in the B’rit Chadashah (New Testament) only at the beginning and end of this exhortation in 6:11, 12 and at 5:11). Believers will surely realize their hope and receive what has been promised. This is the reason for the demonstration in vv.13-19 of how sure G-d’s promises are to those exhibiting trust and patience.
The verses from 13-20 demonstrate that Avraham was a man of great trust (11:8-19; compare to Rom 4:1-22; Gal. 3:6-18). The double security of oath and promise that G-d offered him should encourage us to whom a hope has been set before us of going right on through… the curtain of the Holy Place in heaven to G-d himself (10:22).We are able to do this because we are united with Yahshua who has entered ahead of us as our forerunner just as He was the Column of Cloud by day in the desert for the Israelite’s. He was and is able to enter because he became a Cohen Gadol (High Priest) forever, to be compared to Malki-Tzedek. Malki-Tzedek was the King/Priest of Salem (Jerusalem). Abraham paid tithes to him which makes him a higher order than the Levitical priesthood. Yahshua was of this order and not a Levite. The author thus returns to the line of thinking from which he had shifted at 5:10 in order to exhort his readers to diligence and to lay the groundwork for his argument (7:20-21).
May we draw on the strength of YHVH/Yahshua as we endure our refining experiences. May we persevere and overcome, continually seek wisdom, grace, peace beyond all human understanding, and the opportunity to uplift and encourage others as they are tried and tested as did those of G-d’s people described in and behind the scenes of the written Torah.
Shabbat Shalom,
Rabbi Tamah-Davis-Hart