Monday, October 26, 2009

Parshat Vayera - The Oaks of Mamre, the First Recovery Room

Parshat Vayera

“The Eternal One appeared to him by the Oaks of Mamre; he was sitting at the entrance of the tent as the day grew hot." (Genesis 18:1)

Right from the beginning, the Torah portions make certain we understand all that is about to happen is the doing of God. The next verse continues, "Looking up he saw three men standing near him." Abraham is sitting at the opening of his tent, shading himself from the heat of the day.” In the Talmud it teaches this was the third day after Abraham's circumcision, and God was fulfilling the mitzvah of Bikkur Cholim - visiting the sick. But even so, as he sat there convalescing, Abraham seemed caught off guard by these special visitors who seem to appear out of nowhere. He lifts up his eyes and suddenly sees they are standing by him. The language implies that he was startled by their sudden appearance. Although he does not realize it right away, these men are representatives of God.
One of the many things we learn about in the book of Genesis is the special nature of the Patriarchs’ relationship to God, they were singled out by the intimate nature of their relationship with God. But, at the very end of the Torah it says, "Never again did there arise in Israel a prophet like Moses, whom the Eternal knew face to face" (Deut. 34:10). So, if Moses was the only one to interface with God directly, then how did the others come to know God? More importantly what about us? How can we connect to God?
The nature of each of our relationships with God is personal and individual. However, in Judaism there are certain connections made within the context of a relationship with God - we have certain elements of practice which are supposed to help shape our interaction, so our connection is deeper, more profound. We get a hint of this in the story with Abraham where both he and God exhibit behavior to guide us in connection. In this story two mitzvot are at the center: Bikkur Cholim and Hachnasat Orchim (Visiting the Ill and Welcoming Guests) and so we too the Torah reminds us here must live up to this value – we too must care for others just as God cared for Abraham and all our ancestors. In so doing, by being dedicated to these mitzvoth we reflect our godliness, not only helping those in need and make our own lives richer but we also deepen our connection to God, creating a more powerful and actionable relationship.So what have you done this week or better yet today to live up to that example? Have you visited a hospital? Hospice? A home bound community member recently? And what about guests - Abraham on the 3rd day after surgery was willing to welcome guests into his home are you so generous with your home and time?

Parshat Noach - Our end of the deal and YOURS!

Parshat Noach
The Eternal smelled the pleasing odor and the Eternal said in His heart: "Never again will I curse the earth on account of humankind, since the inclinations of the human heart are evil from his youth; nor will I ever again destroy every living being, as I have done." (Genesis 8:21)

After emerging from the Ark, the first thing Noach does is build an altar and offer a burnt offering to God. God acknowledges Noah's offering and in return promises never again to destroy the earth, despite the human inclination to do evil. Rashi notes that the repetition of the promise, "Never again... nor will I ever again..." indicates that this promise is delivered as a solemn oath, a notion which is reinforced by the prophet Isaiah who states in this week's Haftorah, this to Me is like the waters of Noah: As I swore that the waters of Noah would nevermore flood the earth, so I swear that I will not be angry with you or rebuke you." (Isaiah 54:9). God then strengthens this oath, with a symbol the rainbow. So we ask have we kept our end of the deal? How about God – has God kept the Divine end of the bargain? Don’t we continue to give into the evil inclination? Even right after the covenant is made we see Noah getting drunk, Ham's sexually aberrant behavior, and the arrogance of the builders of the Tower of Babel.
So what happens? A set of safeguards are set up by God because there is recognition that we need help on our end, that we will not be able to fulfill our part of the deal and so after the deluge, the world is given another chance, but this time God is not taking any risks. After the flood humanity and the measures of our lives is defined by covenant and law. Therefore, safeguards are put into place, they are called Covenants and the first one is not for Israelites or Jews alone it is made with all of humanity so even before the Covenants with Abraham and the Israelite people a series of laws that were binding on all peoples according to the rabbis is established. There are seven precepts that are incumbent upon all people: they must avoid 1) idol worship, 2) incest, 3) murder, 4) blaspheming God's name, 5) theft, 6) injustice, and 7) eating flesh cut from a live animal. In this way we all stand equal in the eyes of the law before God – equal responsibility to hold up our end of the bargain.