Vayera (Genesis 18:1-22:24) Innocence in the Face Of Evil!

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            Vayera! A portion that will challenge us, even in the best of times. But this week, well, it hits us with a gut punch. The portion is filled with powerful scenes, from the three “visitors” to Abraham’s tent and the promise of Isaac to stories of total family dysfunction with Lot and his daughters, Sara, Hagar, Ishmael, and Abraham. Of course, the concluding scene in chapter 22 is the haunting Akedah, the binding of Isaac. There is so much in this portion that speaks to our lives and the challenges before us.

            Yet, no doubt, many who study this portion this Shabbat will go directly to Genesis 18:16-32. It is here that one of the great scenes in Torah takes place, the argument/discussion/confrontation between God and Abraham over the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah. The dialogue between them over saving innocent lives during disaster and destruction. The oh so timely verse, as if drawn from today’s headlines in 18:25: “Far be it from You to do such a thing, to bring death upon the innocent as well as the guilty, so that innocent and guilty fare alike. Far be from You! Shall not the Judge of all the earth deal justly?” The result of the discussion? The cities are destroyed, innocent and guilty alike!

            It is always fascinating to so many of us that, week to week, the Torah somehow speaks to what we are living through. This question, in a variety of ways, is being asked daily. Some of it with passion, grief, compassion, and sensitivity, and sometime with violence and more evil. In the end of the scene God says if there are ten innocents, the cities will be saved. Not so then. But what of now?  History has taught us that there are times in history when evil exists and raises its sword and to pacify it or ignore it only leads to more evil. Are we at that point now in the Middle East? Is that what the Torah is telling us? How many other moments Torah and history have we witnessed innocents killed along with the guilty? Human history is a recurring tale of woe. Can there be any way out of this too often repeated cycle? How shall we, a people called to a life of justice and mercy, of hesed ; how can we deal with Abraham’s question, a question that is being asked now, every day?

            This verse, 18:25, is not easy to read or study. How do you react to this verse? How do you, can you protect the innocents while eradicating evil? Is there a difference in the words which appear in this section between Tzedek and mishpat?  How can we understand this story in the light of the Gaza war? There are no easy answers. Yet, maybe, in some small way, as you discuss this portion and, I hope, these key verses, some small pathway can be shared that will allow us to move forward. It IS up to us.

Shabbat shalom

Rabbi Richard F Address


  1. Wow. How extraordinarily timely this question in this week’s parashah. If only it gave us the answers…seeking the meaning, seeking the pathway.

  2. We are tormented by what seems like ” an eye for an eye”, as we watch in horror at the news accounts. An enemy that seeks our destruction representing, we are told, over 2 million persons in a land mass, the size of Delaware or even Philadelphia, has metastasized itself as their representatives . Under their rule, they use their population as human shields, while running their hospitals and taxing them. Over 30,000 Hamas we are told, killing and working the world media accounts, accounts all to ready to place total blame on the historical scapegoat. Can we judge IDF actions as we see accounts of “taking out ” the few perpetrators with so many civilians. We are told that those under 30 predominantly share Hamas views. Is this true ? Are we only assuring a never ending cycle of hatred and furthering more joining their “cause”. Is there an option of having gone more slowly while rockets rain down on Israel.
    How does the world forget the innocent Jewish civilians of all ages brutally massacured so quickly without provocation ? Did college students protest the dropping of 2 Atom Bombs on Japan in order to save perhaps hundreds of thousands of American troops had the war gone on in 1945.
    If we believe that G-d is a universal force of love and creation but not on a personal level, then we must conclude that we only bring these things on ourselves. I share here my observations.
    I certainly don’t pretend to have answers. WJC Presidenr Amb. Ronald S. Lauder, proposes that it is Time for a “Marshall Plan” for the middle east reported by Alan Rosenbaum in the Jerusalem Post, June 5, 2023. It sounds logical but I am afraid that it would suppose that your adversary wants the same thing. So long as Hamas rules, I don’t see that as a possibility. Too many countries seem supportive , especially those who would wish to see western democracies fail. So what’s the answer?

What are your thoughts?

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