CCAR Newsletter Sep-Oct 2015 - 7
(Continued from page 4)
all that Abraham knows without knowing the
"why." It is a leap into the unknown, a radical
leaving of all that is familiar.
Long before our final leave-taking, each time we
encounter Lech L'cha we might ask ourselves:
What leap do I need to take? We can use
Abraham's example to disturb ourselves from
becoming complacent in our work, in our
relationships, and in situations that cause us
anxiety. We can hold out Abraham's model as a
powerful pastoral tool for those who are fearful of
what their futures may hold. There can be comfort
in knowing that it is okay not to know, as there
was for the woman with whom I was speaking.
I have had the experience of being a guest
in someone's home and feeling like I was
doing them a favor by visiting. So, too, I have
had the experience of feeling that I was an
unwanted imposition. Vayeira offers two models
of hospitality: one is successful, the other
dangerous and disastrous.
Abraham is the host you want to have: In a
flurry of activity and efficiency, Abraham sees to
the needs of his guests and sends his household
running to prepare a sumptuous feast for them.
Then he sits down with them. The outcome is
a significant exchange with God's messengers
followed by an encounter with God that is lifechanging.
The angels who arrive in Sodom find Lot sitting
at the gates of the city. Like Abraham, he rises,
bows, and invites them home, where he spreads
a feast before them. The evening unfolds rather
differently due to the egregiously unwelcoming
culture of Sodom. What begins with gracious
welcoming deteriorates rapidly.
I have visited synagogues that believe they
are Abraham's tent but, while they certainly
don't descend to the depths of Sodom, the
superficial friendliness quickly gives way to...
being ignored. Many people have told me that
they have had the same experience: someone
greeted them with a smile, asked their name,
showed them around, and then left them
alone. Among the fascinating findings in Robert
Putnam and David Campbell's "American
Grace" is a clear message about what it
means to be a welcoming community and the
importance of going beyond the first steps and
beyond the superficial to truly befriend people
and bring them into the community.
Tucked away at the end of this parashah is the material for a good Jewish trivia question: How many wives did
Avraham have? The answer is unclear.
Genesis 25:1-4 tells us that after Isaac married Rebekah, his father married Ketura. The Sages disagree
about her identity. Some claim she is Hagar, arguing that vayosef ("another") should be understood through
Isaiah 8:5, Again God spoke to me-that is, Avraham married Hagar "again" and gave her a second name
to reflect her fine qualities: she was perfumed (mekuteret) with mitzvot and good deeds and had refrained
from sexual intimacy throughout all the years she was separated from Avraham (B'reishit Rabbah 61:4, Pirkei
D'Rabbi Eliezer ch. 29, Tanchuma Chayei Sarah 8). Rashi agrees.
Others accept the text at face value: In his old age, Avraham remarried and had six offspring by Ketura.
Rashbam, Radak, and Ibn Ezra follow the p'shat.
Bible scholars hold that the names of the descendants of Ketura seem to be a tribal confederation that
interacted with early Israelites, possibly as trading partners, and were at some later point in history enemies, in
much the same way that other genealogies of Genesis record tribal groupings, mixings, enmities, and mergers.
We can, however, view this as a story of reconciliation: After Sarah dies, Isaac brings Hagar back to his
father because he knows Abraham still loves her and she will provide comfort in his old age (B'reishit
Rabbah on Genesis 24:62). Perhaps this explains (emotionally, not physically) how Abraham, who
miraculously fathered Isaac at 100, now effortlessly fathers six more children at 140. The reconciliation is
completed only after Abraham dies, when Ishmael reunites with Isaac: "[Avraham's] sons Isaac and Ishmael
buried him in the cave of Machpelah..." (Genesis 25:9).
Isaac dug anew the wells that had been dug in the days of his father Abraham and... he gave them the
same names his father had given them (Genesis 26:18).
Family therapists have tracked behavior from one generation to the next. Alcoholism, child or spousal
abuse, and depression all occur with greater frequency if one's parents exhibited the same behaviors.
This should not surprise us. Our parent(s) teach us what is "normal" behavior by example. How
parents treat one another informs how their children come to understand marriage. How parents treat
their children is their children's primary model for parenting.
Isaac emulates Abraham in many important ways. During a famine, he shnors off the same king his
father did, executing the same ruse. He favors one child over another. Does he think these are normal
behaviors? He is so tied to his father's example that in our verse, he reopens the wells his father had
used and even calls them by the same names.
However, our pedigree does not foreordain our own behavior.
While examining our upbringing may cause "Contention" and "Enmity" (the names of Isaac's first two
wells) in our families, this need not be the result. Through further exploration, a third well is found that
Isaac calls "Room," suggesting that despite rejecting our parents' behavior, there is room enough to
not reject our parents.
Understanding the origins of their behavior may allow us to break the cycle and let go of some of the
enmity we feel so that no longer will "the iniquity of the father be visited upon their children unto the
third or fourth generation" (Exodus 20:4).
Degel Machane Ephraim (Rabbi Moshe Chaim Ephraim of Sudikov, 1748-1800) views Jacob's
ladder as a symbol of our spiritual life upon which we ascend and descend at various times
throughout our life. He insists that it is impossible for a person to remain steadily on any one level
or to constantly ascend in holiness. "One ascends and descends, and the descent is necessary for
the ascent." The ability to rise higher on the ladder depends on the times we fall. It is, perhaps, a
daunting and scary thought, but it makes sense.
(Continued on page 6)
Table of Contents for the Digital Edition of CCAR Newsletter Sep-Oct 2015
CCAR Newsletter Sep-Oct 2015 - 1
CCAR Newsletter Sep-Oct 2015 - 2
CCAR Newsletter Sep-Oct 2015 - 3
CCAR Newsletter Sep-Oct 2015 - 4
CCAR Newsletter Sep-Oct 2015 - 5
CCAR Newsletter Sep-Oct 2015 - 6
CCAR Newsletter Sep-Oct 2015 - 7
CCAR Newsletter Sep-Oct 2015 - 8
CCAR Newsletter Sep-Oct 2015 - 9
CCAR Newsletter Sep-Oct 2015 - 10