Vayeira for Tweens: And God Appeared

Vayeira, Genesis 18:1–22:24

D'Var Torah By: Barbara Binder Kadden, RJE

Adonai appears (vayeira) to Abraham. Abraham is sitting at the entrance to his tent when three men approach. He greets them and offers them a place to rest and food to eat. They accept his hospitality. Abraham asks Sarah to prepare cakes and then he chooses a calf for a servant to prepare.

One of the men then informs Abraham that Sarah will give birth to a son. Sarah overhears this and laughs to herself because she is well past child-bearing age and Abraham is quite old as well. Adonai asks Abraham why Sarah laughed at the idea that she would soon be a mother. Sarah tells Abraham that she did not laugh. She denies her original response because she is frightened that God will view it as a lack of faith. But God assures Abraham that Sarah did indeed laugh.

The three men then set off for Sodom. We hear God questioning whether or not Abraham should be informed about the impending destruction of Sodom and Gommorah. Because God has chosen Abraham to be a great nation, to be a source of blessing to the other nations of the world, and to be a role model of justice and righteousness, God decides to tell him. Abraham then begins bargaining with God in hopes of saving the inhabitants of those cities. When it is clear that no one in the city is innocent, God's decree remains in effect.

Two angels arrive in Sodom and are greeted at the city gate by Lot who urges them to accept his hospitality. They do so, but the townspeople of Sodom do not approve of the presence of strangers and demand that Lot turn them out of his home. The Sodomites resent Lot and try to harm him, but his guests protect him. The guests then inform Lot that he and any of his family in the city must leave because they have been sent to destroy it. Lot tells his sons-in-law about the impending destruction but they choose not to believe him.

With the destruction imminent the angels insist that Lot and his family hurry but they delay. Finally, the angels grab Lot, two of his daughters and his wife, and bring them out of the city. They are warned not to look behind them as they leave. Unfortunately Lot's wife does not obey. She looks back and is immediately turned into a pillar of salt.

As was promised, Sarah becomes pregnant. Abraham and Sarah have a son whom they name Isaac and on the eighth day of his life he is circumcised.

Isaac grows up and is weaned and Abraham holds a great feast in his honor. Sarah wants Hagar and Ishmael thrown out of their home so that Ishmael will not have any part of Isaac's inheritance. Abraham is very unhappy about this, but God tells him to listen to Sarah. Hagar and Ishmael are cast out into the wilderness. Ishmael nearly dies but his cry is heard and an angel of Adonai reassures Hagar that Ishmael will live to become a great nation.

God decides to test Abraham and commands him to sacrifice his son, Isaac. Abraham prepares to do this and as his hand is raised to carry out the sacrifice an angel of Adonai calls out for him to stop. Because of Abraham's willingness to obey God's command, the promise of a great nation described as numerous as the stars in heaven and the sands of the seashore is repeated.


The parashah opens with the verse, "And God appeared to Abraham." (Genesis 18:1) Nothing else is said in the Torah text about this appearance. The Talmud explains that it was on the third day after Abraham's circumcision and the Holy One of Blessing (God) appeared to ask about Abraham's health. The Talmud continues by teaching that this interpretation gave us the basis for the mitzvah of bikur cholim, visiting the sick. The Rabbis also taught that a visit to the sick takes away one-sixtieth of the illness. Yet simply visiting the sick person is not enough. The individual who is ill must be helped in some way and have his/her material needs satisfied by the visit.

A second mitzvah, haknasat orchim, welcoming the stranger, also has its basis in this parashah. Tradition teaches that Abraham kept an open doorway on each side of his tent so that any passing stranger would know that he or she was welcome to enter. Welcoming the stranger was not just a sign of good manners, but an absolute necessity because of the harsh desert climate and the nomadic life. (Encyclopedia Judaica)

Rashi, a 10th century Biblical commentator, identifies the servant who helps Abraham prepare the food for the three visitors as Ishmael. Rashi explains that Abraham involved his son in the doing of this mitzvah in order to teach it to him.

God tells Abraham that Sarah laughed at the thought that she would bear a child at her advanced age. Abraham questions Sarah about this, but she denies that she had laughed. Notice that God changed Sarah's words. God tells Abraham that she laughed due to her age and not because Abraham is old (which is what she said in her original statement). This was to prevent Abraham from getting angry with Sarah. The women's Yiddish commentary to the Torah, Tzenah Ur'enah, teaches that it is from this story that the Sages learned that for the sake of shalom bayit, a peaceful home/family harmony, a harmless lie is allowed.

To Talk About

  1. Why was offering hospitality so important during Abraham's time? Consider where Abraham lived (the desert), and how that might have influenced how he behaved. With your family, list different ways in which you can welcome a newcomer.
  2. Based on the Commentary, how did Abraham teach the mitzvah of haknasat orchim to Ishmael? What mitzvah did Lot perform that enraged the people of Sodom? Who might he have learned the mitzvah from? In what ways was Abraham fulfilling the special roles which God had assigned to him and his descendants? Describe a mitzvah that you have learned from another family member. Identify this person and explain how they taught you this mitzvah.
  3. While we are taught that lying is wrong, in the Commentary section it seems that a "white lie" is allowed if it will preserve shalom bayit, family harmony. What do you think about this? Are there circumstances when a lie is acceptable? To your knowledge has this ever occurred in your family? What happened? In what ways are you responsible for shalom bayit in your family?
  4. Abraham faced two situations in relation to his sons in this parashah. Describe them. In what ways did they test Abraham? Parents often face tests when it comes to their children, though usually not as severely as Abraham. What kinds of tests have you faced as a parent, as a child? How did these tests effect your relationships with your spouses, with your children and/or with your parents?

Further learning

Rabbi Huna, who lived during the Rabbinic period announced that mealtimes at his home were to be considered an open invitation to strangers. Rabbi Huna had a saying, "Kol dichfin yaytay v'yachul," which translates as "Let all who are hungry, come and eat." This expression has become part of our Passover Haggadah.

Ideas for Participating in the Mitzvah of Haknasat Orchim

If new members are listed in your temple bulletin, make it a point to seek them out and welcome them to your community. You just may be making a new friend for yourself, your family and your community. Share a holiday meal or celebration with a new member or family. You don't have to limit it to someone who has just joined your community—include people you would like to get to know.

Reference Materials

Vayeira, Genesis 18:1–22:24 
The Torah: A Modern Commentary, pp. 122–148; Revised Edition, pp. 121–148; 
The Torah: A Women's Commentary, pp. 85–110

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