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Rabbi Jon's Reflection on This Week's Torah Portion

11.3.2023

Vayera: We Must Look Upon Tragedy And Realize Evil Is Its Source

A short reflection on Vayera (Genesis 18:1 - 17:27) 

I was 11 years old when my mother took me to see The Godfather. I sat there spellbound, sucking down milk duds and soda, thoroughly enjoying myself. Then suddenly, I couldn't see anything. Darkness engulfed me. I was terrorized until I realized my mother had thrown her coat over my head, shielding my eyes from some unspeakable action. Once the objectionable onscreen action ended -- whatever it was -- she removed her coat, acting as if nothing had occurred. As a child my eyes could be covered. But as I grew, my mother could no longer protect me from seeing. It was up to me to decide when to look and when to avert my gaze. 

Today, tragedy surrounds us. When we turn on the television and see acts of violence on CNN or FOX do we change the channel?  When we see onscreen images of the recent terrorist tragedy in Israel or another anti-Israel or anti-Jewish rally do we skip to another newsfeed? When is the daily visual barrage too great, forcing us to place our mother’s coat over our own heads or the heads of those we love? In other words -- how much can we take? When does it overwhelm us? When do we hide from the reality around us? 

This brings me to Today’s Torah Portion and to Lot’s wife. 

Her sin?  

She looked. She never spoke.  She never did much of anything besides gazing upon the destruction of evil. And, perhaps, that’s exactly what she was supposed to do – look, remember, and tell the story to future generations. But, her gaze overwhelmed her. It is difficult to look upon destruction. She saw tragedy and she turned into a pillar of salt. To me, the pillar represents the salt of her tears, overwhelming her, transforming her. Who wouldn’t be overwhelmed by the destruction of a city in which one had lived? Destruction is a terrible thing to gaze upon. 

Do you remember the story? 

Angels come to Sodom and Gomorroah.  They find shelter for the night at the home of Lot, Abraham’s nephew. They are the only good family left in town. The angels tell Lot that it is time to leave because his city is to be destroyed. He gathers his family and runs because of the angels’ warning. Before departing, they are warned – don’t look back. As they run, Lot’s wife turns and sees the flames of destruction. Terror and sadness overwhelm her.  She promptly transforms into a pillar of salt. We are commanded to tell this story on a yearly basis. We are commanded to remember how evil overtook a community. 

Sadly, not every tragic event can be buried for future review. Often, the time to process a tragedy is immediate. The speed of today’s information flow is just too great to wait until next week or even tomorrow. But, as we interpret, we need to be careful as to who is guiding us. We need to be aware of the truth behind the images, because many interpretations are false. We need to ask ourselves – from where did the information come and can it be trusted? We need to look, to understand, to fact-check, and to act. 

We must open our eyes and see that terrorists have opened a floodgate of violence that can only end with the destruction of the perpetrators. If a news source tells us otherwise, it is false. Hamas holds all of Israel hostage, threatening violence at any moment with their stockpiles of underground weapons and resources. It is only by destroying Hamas that Israelis and Gazans can return to their homes and live without fear. Hamas is the evil found in Sodom and Gomorrah, and this evil is making Israelis and Gazans flee their homes, and Hamas is the evil that needs to be destroyed. Sadly, the destruction that is caused when trying to wipe out evil is so great that it gives us all pause, just like Lot’s wife, and brings us all to tears. It is as these moments we must remember how Abraham negotiated with God over the survival of Sodom and Gomorrah. He didn’t win the conversation. But, he did achieve the goal of angels getting some good people out of harm’s way. The Israeli government has done similarly with their warnings to Gazans to retreat and by being a partner in opening the Rafah Crossing. In contrast, Hamas has neither aided in evacuations nor have they shared underground stockpiles of supplies with the civilians they should be assisting. If Hamas was more than a terrorist organization, it would do more to protect the Gazan people. Instead, it uses them as human shields. 

We must be aware of the tragedies occurring around us. We cannot ignore the suffering of fellow Jews – in Israel and worldwide – and innocent Gazans. We must act and take stands by sending donations to Israel, by attending rallies, and by speaking up for the innocent. 

Ultimately, we must look at tragedy to understand its basis. We need to be aware of the cruelty done by terrorist groups like Hamas in order to understand where tragedy begins. We must act to support Israel in ending evil so that innocents like Lot and his family can return to their homes and live in a world where terrorist attacks are minimized if not ended forever.

***

 

VAYERA SUMMARY

  • Abram welcomes three visitors, who announce that Sarah will soon have a son. (18:1-15)

  • Abraham argues with God about the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah. (18:16-33)

  • Lot's home is attacked by the people of Sodom. Lot and his two daughters escape as the cities are being destroyed. Lot's wife is turned into a pillar of salt. (19:1-29)

  • Lot impregnates his daughters, and they bear children who become the founders of the nations Moab and Ammon. (19:30-38) 

  • Abimelech, king of Gerar, takes Sarah as his wife after Abraham claims that she is his sister. (20:1-18) 

  • Isaac is born, circumcised, and weaned. Hagar and her son, Ishmael, are sent away; an angel saves their lives. (21:1-21)

  • God tests Abraham, instructing him to sacrifice Isaac on Mount Moriah. (22:1-19)

For more on this Torah portion from the URJ go to: https://reformjudaism.org/torah/portion/vayeira 

Sat, March 2 2024 22 Adar I 5784