I have a confession to make to you. The d’var Torah that you are about to read was not my original submission to The Jewish Standard. The night following the presidential election (since the editors ask for our submission a week in advance) I was exhausted and found myself still working at 10:30 at night. So I went into my Dropbox, found a d’var Torah for Parashat Vayera that I had written four years ago, quickly edited it, and emailed it to the editors of The Standard.
It wasn’t a bad d’var Torah, but then again, it wasn’t one of my best either. I took the easy way out. There. I said it.
Only there is one huge problem. Parashat Vayera has nothing to do with taking the easy way out — just the opposite in fact. When Abraham learns that God is going to destroy Sodom and Gomorrah, he challenges God to save these cities for the sake of even ten righteous individuals, and questions God, “Will not the judge of the world act justly?” When God tests Abraham later in the parashah (in perhaps one of the Torah’s most awful, inexplicable scenes), directing Abraham to sacrifice his son, Abraham doesn’t back down.
The beginning of the parashah is no different. We read, “And God appeared to him [Abraham] in the terebinths of Mamre. He was sitting at the opening of his tent during the heat of the day” (Genesis 18:1). Eleventh century commentator Rashi explains that God appeared to Abraham “to visit the sick.” Quoting a teaching of Rabbi Chama bar Chanina, Rashi explains that it was the third day following Abraham’s circumcision.
Abraham must have been in tremendous pain. He was recovering from a self-inflicted surgical wound. He could choose to simply sit down, lie back, and allow Sarah to wait on him left-and-right, but he doesn’t. Addressing his visitors, Abraham says, “Let me get you something to eat, so you can be refreshed and then go on your way — now that you have come to your servant” (18:5). After Sarah and a servant assist in the preparation of the food, Abraham places a meal before his visitors, his honored guests, and speaks with them. It doesn’t matter how he is feeling, the level of his tiredness, his pain or suffering. He remains a man of purpose and intent. Abraham doesn’t take the easy way out.
Abraham should be a model for us in the current season and in our current political and social climate. Consider what Abraham does in the span of a few chapters. He is argumentative and he won’t back down. He challenges the status quo and he won’t take no for an answer. He offers hospitality and kindness to strangers even while he finds himself in the throes of unspeakable pain. With his son before him on the altar that he has built, he stands up when an angel cries out to him and he says hineni (here I am), even when his heart must be breaking.
It is so easy to select a piece of writing from one’s personal archives, change a word or a sentence, and then send it along — as if it’s just another item that can be crossed off the list. And it is so easy to turn a blind eye to the horrifically troubling state of our world. I am not naive. I know full well that there is seething bigotry, misogyny, homophobic discrimination, racism, and Islamophobia in our world. But I can’t imagine that we’re satisfied living in a world where white supremacist hatred rules the day.
Our tradition says no to such vitriol. Our tradition says no to such vicious bile. Our tradition commands us to respond vociferously, to act, to shed light where there is none, to stand and to be a decent and loving human being. Our tradition commands us to defend the rights of the poor, the orphan and the widow, to love the stranger in our midst because we were strangers in the land of Egypt, and ultimately to pursue justice, and value life at any and all costs.
A pipe dream, you think? After Tuesday, November 8, it can’t be done, you say? Are we all feeling too tired to work toward these goals? Well, like Abraham, I don’t intend to take the easy way out. And neither should you.