Vayera (Genesis 18:1-22:24): Who Will Argue For Justice?

The richness of this week’s portion is evident from the opening verses in which Abraham invites “messengers” into his tent; two mitzvoth emerge from this act; that of hospitality and that of visiting the sick (bikkur cholim)

Contained with this portion are parallels and paradigms of a broad range of family dynamics; from another wife-sister incident, to Lot and his daughters to the challenge of “blended” families with Sarah and Hagar, Ishmael and Isaac; and finally the famous passage of chapter 22 and the “binding” of Isaac. No doubt your Torah study this Shabbat will be rich and energizing.

For us this week, I wanted return to a famous story in chapter 18 of Sodom and Gomorrah and God’s plan to destroy the cities due to their evil acts and behavior. Rising to the challenge was Abraham. He challenges God’s decision with the famous lines in 18:23: “Will You sweep away the innocent with the guilty?” As he bargains for how many innocents it will take to spare the destruction he adds: (18:25) “Shall not the Judge of all do/act justly?”

The idea of justice is one that is front and center for us now. Our generation is facing crises in caregiving. As we age and, we hope granted longer life, we can anticipate that many of us will need some type of care, either from family or from an institution. The pandemic has thrown back the curtain on the inequality of access to many caregiving needs. Family caregiving and impact a family system for years. Our health care system places huge burdens on family members. Many of you reading this have lived this, are living this or will live this. The U.S. Congress is debating family caregiving support as we write this and that support is in real danger of being cut or reduced. Where is the justice in this? Who will, like Abraham, rise up to argue for equality in care and access and support? Judaism’s ethical tradition speaks to this and favors a system based on justice that calls for a basic level of support provided by society. This is not an issue that is theoretical. It is real and impacts far too many of our families, not to mention the growing umber of elders who try to manage these issues alone.

Judaism is a religious community that sees that value of tzedek as a prime value. As Abraham argues this Shabbat, how many innocent people and families must be sacrificed for want of proper access and support?

Shabbat shalom,

Rabbi Richard F Address

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