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Parasha Vayera – Fascinating Questions I’d Love Answers To

My friend Ronnie Shak and I were studying Parasha Vayera (sometimes spelled Vayeira) and we came up with some tough questions. Unfortunately we weren’t skilled enough with the commentaries at our disposal – Rashi, Mikraot Gedolot’s commentators – to find answers to these questions. I’m sharing them here so hopefully you guys can share your answers and comments.

In perek 18, passouk 14 reads, “Is anything a wonder beyond G [beyond G’s ability]? At this appointed time I will return to you at this time next year, there will be life and Sarah will have a son.”

There’s a couple of repetitions there for which Ronnie and I found no explanation.

Why say “At this appointed time” (“lamo’ed”) and “at this time next year” (qae’t)?

Rashi explains that ‘lamoed’ here is used as in Parasha Lech Lecha, perek 17 passouk 21, “lamoed hazeh bashana haacheret.” Translation: “At this time next year.”

This explains where the translation gets ‘next year’ from when the original Hebrew (qa’et) literally just says “as time life.” And no, that’s not a reference to Time Life, the publishing company (though maybe that’s where they got their name?).

Wouldn’t it be more concise to just say ‘lamoed chaya’ – “this time next year there’ll be life,” instead of having two references to time?

Similarly, there’s another apparent repetition.

Why does it say, “there will be life and Sarah will have a son?” Couldn’t it just say more briefly, “Sarah will have a son” ?

If there’s a baby boy, obviously there’ll be life…

The response seems to me that the reference to there being life is a slightly metaphorical reference to Sarah’s ability to give birth. On what basis can I justify that interpretation?

A moment earlier, perek 18 passouk 11, it says that Sarah had ceased to get her period.

And the following verse reads, quoting Artscroll’s translation, “And Sarah laughed at her insides, saying, “After I have withered shall I again have clear skin? […]”

So there’ll be life in Sarah – a renewed energy, a renewed vigor.

I’m just putting that out at a possibility – if there’s any mistake, it’s my own, not Ronnie’s.

That may help answer the question of repeating time. Let me recite verse 14…

“[…]lamo’ed ashuv eleicha qa’et chaya uleSarah ben.”

Translating literally, we get “At the time [next year] I will return to you and now [she is] alive and to Sarah [there is a] boy.”

That translation takes “qaet” as it is translated elsewhere in the Tanach, in the sense of ‘now.’

“And now Sarah is alive [e.g. able to bear children] and she has a boy [i.e. she’s pregnant.]” This also fits with the fact that G’ is speaking to Abraham, and therefore it would make sense for Him to refer to Sarah in the third person, “she is alive.”

Furthermore, this translation can be supported based on the reference to Sarah having a boy – and not ‘Sarah and Abraham,’ or ‘the two of you’. Phrasing things that way makes sense if Sarah was pregnant but Abraham was not yet a father…

That said, I’m not a Rabbi and so I don’t know if this can make sense of if there’s some other tradition of commentary on this that makes this explanation completely implausible…

2. Another fascinating question (or group of interconnected questions) regards the following verse, 15.

The angels arise and look towards Sodom, and Abraham walks “with them to send them off” (Artscroll translation).

It seemed to me that we were jumping ‘du coq a l’ane’ as we say in French, from the rooster to the donkey. One topic to another with apparently no clear link between them.

Ronnie answered that question.

He said that the angels were done announcing the forthcoming birth of Isaac.

They were ready to move on with their next mission.

The best explanations are the simplest ones, so that was pretty great.

But then Ronnie raised a tangential question – why not just deliver the news and leave immediately then? What is the importance of Sarah’s laughter?

One possible answer we came up with was that it contrasts with what’s about to happen.

Sodom’s destruction comes with instructions to Lot and his family for their escape – don’t turn to look back. Lot’s wife looks back and turns into a pillar of salt.

Lot’s wife and Abraham’s wife both had doubts about what G’ told them through his angels. Abraham’s wife had greater merit, thanks perhaps to her surroundings with people whose spiritual development was on an upward path, as opposed to the depravity Sodom was known for.

Another possible explanation regarding the laughter is that names relate to people’s character.

If Abraham’s son was to be named based on his mom’s laughter, it might clarify for us what she was laughing about.

What more appropriate point to tell us about the laughter than in the context in which it occurred?

3. The next two verses relate still further to the issue of Sodom, and Ronnie came up with some excellent points.

“Vayomer H’, hamechasseh Ani meAvraham asher Ani osseh? VeAvraham hayo ihyeh legoi gadol venivrechu bo kol goyei ha’aretz.”

“And H’ said, ‘Shall I conceal from Abraham what I do, and Abraham will surely become a great and mighty nation, and all the nations of the earth will be blessed through him?'” (Artscroll translation.)

What’s the relationship between hiding the impending doom of Sodom and Abraham being a father to a great nation and the nations of the earth being blessed through him?

Ronnie pointed out that from Lot’s daughters would descend Amon and Moav.

Both those nations caused a lot of problems for the nation of Israel. Ironically, Ruth the Moabite is the ancestor of King David.

I thought the connection might be, “Would it be better if Abraham knew about the impending destruction? What would his free will lead him to choose – avoid lots of trouble for his descendants by letting two troublesome nations be pre-empted by having their 2 maternal ancestors destroyed (Lot’s 2 daughters)? Would that be an acceptable price to preclude King David ever coming about?”

Ronnie had a better answer.

We know that when Abraham found out G’s plan for Sodom, he negotiated with G’, pleading for the lives of Sodom’s residents.

Abraham argued, “What if there are just 50 righteous people in the city – will You spare it? Just 40? Just 30?…”

The link between (i) the question of concealment and (ii) the statement of how Abraham was blessed, Ronnie suggested, is one of causation.

I’m paraphrasing from memory, but roughly what Ronnie said was that if the plan was concealed, how could Abraham earn the blessing? Or perhaps the blessing existed previously but couldn’t come true unless Abraham was able to negotiate [and eventually save Lot.]

Certainly on a basic level this makes sense to me.

Had Lot’s daughters perished in Sodom’s destruction, Ruth the Moabite could never have been born.

And neither could King David, Ruth’s descendant. And we know that David both expanded the Kingdom of Israel’s borders and wanted to build the temple, which his son Solomon later did. Those can rightly qualify as Abraham’s descendants becoming a great nation.’

That could be it, or it could be we’re somehow mistaken. Either way, I’d love to hear you guys’ insights into these questions!

Posted in Judaism.

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