Shabbat Shalom with a Heart Healthy Dose of Torah–Vayeira
Throughout Torah, heroes emerge from anonymity, expressing their desire and commitment to change the world. One cannot miss the brevity with which Torah addresses the first almost 2100 years of earth’s life story. In just eleven chapters of the first book, Torah passes through the work of creation and then twenty generations of people living many hundreds of years each. God found no champions amongst them. Then came Avram (not yet known as Abraham). At 99 years old, he circumcised himself as a sign of his commitment to God’s covenant. Were that not enough, before he even had time to heal, he immediately set out to fulfill the most sacred part of our covenant. He sat in the front of his tent, even in pain, to graciously welcome the stranger. Welcoming the stranger is our most sacred task.
Strangers are not just the wayfarers traveling from community to community. The rabbis teach us that the stranger is everyone who continues to break new spiritual ground on the soul’s journey to find meaning, value, and engagement in life. The truth is that every one of us, aware or unaware, walks this path. We are thirsty for fulfillment because at the core of each of us is a soul innately endowed with divinity. In seeking meaning, we seek only to fulfill our destiny. As per this week’s portion, we possess an obligation to extend ourselves, even to our own discomfort, to help people along this path. We cannot profess to be people of faith if we stand unwilling to help people in this way.
We see people interrupt their own lives to take stands on matters for which they hold sacred beliefs. This faith is not a matter of the right or the left, and we defame God every time that we demean someone devout in his/her belief because we disagree. If we extended ourselves, perhaps we could learn that room exists for both of us in public discourse. We welcome the stranger: we heal the world by creating a new relationship.
We see people leave the comfort of their own homes to help restore lives shattered by the violence of nature or inhumanity. One does not serve because of his/her politics or religious affiliation. People dive into this healing work because we believe that whatever God is, God can only help where we step in to serve. In times of distress and need, there are no strangers; we only encounter other souls starving for the very love and comfort that we cherish for ourselves. In awe, I read the stories of people who, in the midst of their own loss, still work to save others. We welcome the stranger as we restore their lives.
We see people shun the other, everyone outside of our own sphere of understanding. In ignorance and fear, we create walls that separate us from each other’s life blessing. The exile that we create only serves to devolve our world and cause us to spiral into the abyss. In turning our backs on each other, we destroy the very world that grants us so many opportunities for blessing.
From Avram, we learn that it is never too much trouble to help heal someone else’s world. There exists no threshold that makes it okay to sit and watch lives disintegrate while quietly thanking God that this particular disaster did not touch your life. Torah is clear if one life is at risk every life is at risk. We have an obligation to stand up and serve and be heard, and to listen. Talmud teaches us that if one has an opportunity to protest and remains silent, it is as though he committed the transgression. Kol Yisrael aravim zeh b’zeh – each of us bears responsibility for each other … even in our own moments of need. In accepting this charge lovingly, we do best represent everything divine in a world in need of divinity. Shabbat Shalom.