In the year 2047, Avraham’s circumcision physically set him apart from all other men. This was the final act of “speciation” within creation, and Avraham emerged as a new species within humankind. As with all species, this new species of human was “whose seed is within it”, and was obligated to maintain the natural code of “each according to its own species”.
Before this moment, it was impossible for Sarah to have children. Only after undergoing the name changes and circumcision were Sarah and Avraham able to create Yitzchak. The first born Jew to emerge upon earth had to be the result of a new, spiritually genetic creation. In a staged setting befitting this final act of creation, the Creator Himself visited the healing Avraham as he sat “in the heat of the day”. It is proper that Hashem and a heavenly tribunal of angels should have attended the event of Yitzchak’s birth. Their sitting together and enjoying Avraham’s hospitality was a celebration of this momentous occasion.
Following the foretelling of Yitzchak’s birth, the Torah turns its attention to “Justice”, the most important manifestation of Hashem’s relationship with humankind. The story of Sodom, her trial, sentencing, and final destruction, is intended to show the world what the Jew is. We are the caretakers of Hashem’s children, humankind. In an amazing confrontation with G-d, Avraham asked G-d to justify the destruction of Sodom. G-d allowed Avraham to understand that evil can not always be rehabilitated. On occasion, it must be eradicated.
Reminiscent of the Mabul, G-d introduced His final creation, the Jew, to the harsh realities of true Chesed. Misplaced mercy is often the greatest evil, while the utter destruction of evil can be the greatest kindness. Sodom could not and should not have been saved. Avraham, as the “father of nations”, as the impassioned teacher, had to argue on behalf of compassion and “one more chance”. Yet, when all negotiations proved unrealistic, Avraham accepted G- d’s decree and moved on.
Continuing the theme of divine justice, the next scene in the Parsha is the actual destruction of Sodom in the year 2047 and the extraction of Lot and his daughters from the conflagration of Sodom and Gomorrah. In the merit of Avraham and Sarah, Lot and his daughters were spared so that they could father the nation of Moav, from which Ruth, the great grand mother of King David and Mashiach, would be born.
As with creation, justice must have clear and distinct boundaries. Just as the species are separate from each other, so too must justice and injustice be separate. Therefore, the Almighty showed that His justice differentiates between just and unjust. Whether the single Tzadik like Noach, or an individual like Lot, G-d can always differentiate between the righteous and the evil by saving the good from the destruction of the evil.
With the birth of Yitzchak, the relationship between Avraham and the non- Jewish world was addressed. Through the creation of Mashiach the Jew and the non-Jew would be partners in the eventual redemption of the world; however, the mission of the Jew is to teach divine values to humankind in preparation of that moment.
In an intentional contrast to his previous confrontation with Pharaoh, Avraham encountered the righteous Avimelech. The outcome showed the difference between a divine value system and one designed, with the best of intentions, by limited human intellect. “… I realized that the one thing missing here is the fear of G-d.” (20:11) Avimelech, in contrast with Pharaoh’s insistence that Avraham leave Egypt, asked Avraham to dwell among the Plishtim and teach them the ways of divine justice.
In a further display of divine justice, Sarah, the paragon of chesed, demanded that Yishmael and Hagar be sent away from Yitzchak. Avraham obeyed Sara’s wishes and Yishmael was sent out to meet his personal destiny. In many ways, what appeared as callous insensitivity proved to be the greatest benefit for both Yitzchak and Yishmael. As G-d said to Avraham, “…do everything that Sarah tells you”. (21:12)
Our greatest challenge is to trust G-d at times when our emotions and intellect rebel against the seeming irrationality of His justice. It is the lesson Avraham imparted to Avimelech; the lesson that Sarah taught Avraham in forcing Yishmael out of the house; and it is the lesson taught by the final chapter of Vayera, the Akeidah. The obvious contradiction to every rational value and feeling challenged Avraham and Yitzchak to confront the degree of their own trust in the Creator and prove their worthiness as His final creation.
Copyright © 1998 by Rabbi Aron Tendler and Project Genesis, Inc.
The author is Rabbi of Shaarey Zedek Congregation, Valley Village, CA.