“Vayera” (Genesis 18-22) is perhpas one of the top 10 Torah portions of our tradition. It begins with the visit of “men” (angels?) to Abraham as he recovers from his brit and we see the proof texts for the mitzvoth of hospitality and visiting the sick. The portion includes the rather powerful tale of Abraham, Hagar, Ishamel, Sarah and Isaac; and the intra familial conflict that is so symbolic of what we even see today. The portion concludes with the infamous story of Isaac and Abraham going to the mountain and the “binding” of Isaac, or the “akedah” story which has occupied commentators for centuries.
The portion also includes the fascinating and troubling story of the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah. So much in just one portion.
Many of you know the outlines of Sodom and Gomorrah and the reasons why they were to be destroyed. Again, places of evil and corruption. Lot and his family are given word to escape and they do. One and only one caution was given and that was, once on their way, do not look back at the destruction. Of course, Lot’s wife did, as the story tells us, and was turned into a pillar of salt. A pillar that many guides in the Negev as you approach the Dead Sea will be happy to point out!
What to make of this strange story for us Boomers? I think the answer arises from some of the commentaries that remind us that to dwell in the past, to see tomorrow only in light of yesterday, is to inhibit our ability to enjoy and create a positive tomorrow. Rabbi Abraham Twersi, in his comment on this passage reminds us that “doing something about today and tomorrow is acting in a positive way which can be effective, but this may be impossible if one is preoccupied with trying to make yesterday better.” I often remind people in workshops and discussions on this portion that to dwell in the land of “if only”, or “I could have” or “I should have”, keeps us bound to a past we cannot remake. And there is a certain sense of liberation in putting that past behind us, of letting go of that which we cannot control. Regret is a challenging and often dangerous neighborhood to stay in.
So, a wish from Torah, that we not be afraid to accept the past, learn from it, but not be bound to it. To look back prevents us from moving forward.
Rabbi Richard F, Address. D.Min