Friday, November 18, 2016

Parashat Vayera: Religious School-led Shabbat service

Shabbat Shalom! In this week's Torah portion of Parashat Vayera, both of Abraham's children face near death. His first son, Ishmael, and his mother, Hagar, face dehydration in the desert after Sarah has cast them out of her home. But an angel of God appears to Hagar and assures her that all hope is not lost. Ishmael will also grow up to be a great man and a father of a nation, just as we know was promised of Isaac. "Look up," he tells her, and behold she sees a well of water. Was it there the whole time, a hidden oasis she had overlooked in her weariness and despair? Or had God made it appear with the angel? The great medieval grammarian and Biblical Commentator Rabbi David Kimhi, also known as RaDaK offers both of these possibilities as equally likely options. A few hundred years later, the Italian Rabbi Sforno concludes for us, “God granted her the instinct to look for water in the place where she would find it. She had been blind previously so that her eyes had to be “opened.”
Following this episode with Ishmael, is of course the infamous Binding of Isaac. God tells Abraham to take his precious son, his favored one, to a place that God will show him (familiar words for Abraham). This time however, the place that God will make known to Abraham is not a holy promised land, but rather a mountain on which to sacrifice Isaac. Once there, an angel of the Lord appears just in time to save Isaac. Is this the same angel who appeared to Hagar just as she was giving up hope for survival of her son? Is this the guardian angel of children in distress? The Talmudic gladiator-turned-sage Reish Lakish claimed that names and personalities of angels came back with the exiled Jews from Babylonia, and that there’s no reason to assume identities of these “messengers of the Lord” that the Torah speaks of.
In any case, whoever the angels were in each of those scenarios, it is clear they were sent by God to interfere before these children of Abraham could end up dead. And it is clear why to those who study Torah. Although the circumstances for their near-death experiences seem to be set up by Divine intervention in Abraham’s life and we might question why they were all in such predicaments in the first place, we do know that the promises to Abraham cannot be carried out without them. Abraham’s future is destined through his children, just like the children of this community are our future.
So, as we honor the learning of our Religious School tonight, and we honor a student becoming a Bar Mitzvah, a new adult in our community, we also recommit ourselves as adults, teachers, parents, and leaders of this community, to do everything we can to look out for the children, our own and others. We promise to protect them from harm, to teach them ways of Torah, and to celebrate all their successes, together.
May we see our youth grow wise, our community grow strong, and our future be as bright as those same stars that Abraham’s descendants are promised to emulate. Amen and Shabbat Shalom.

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