Adonai Appeared To Him
There is a lot to unpack in this parsha. It is one of the most interesting, if not more challenging in the Torah. I certainly had many questions over the course of study throughout the years when reading it.
For instance -- In Genesis 18:8 when Avraham is visited by the three men at his tent "He took curds and milk and the calf that had been prepared and set these before them; and he waited on them under the tree as they ate."
While I realize this era is before HaShem gave His Law to Moshe Rabbenu it is obvious that the eating of meat and dairy is not a prohibitive activity in this era of Avraham. The commandment to not boil a kid in its mother's milk was given for several reasons, including to teach those entering the Land of Promise to compassionate to animals, as was the command to not muzzle an ox as it plows the fields. HaShem know that the way to be compassionate to your fellow humans is mirrored by the compassion one has for the lower animals. The Talmudic Rabbis in their enthusiastic love of HaShem's Law built a hedge around that commandment to ensure no transgression of uncompassionate behavior - not to just inhibit our eating habits. This will be explored in much greater detail in a future parsha dealing specifically with the Law of Moshe.
When the Angel of Adonai promises that this time next year Sarah would bear a child, she laughs at the thought of it because she is already very old and well past the age of childbearing. She isn't so much chastised as lovingly corrected. The response by the visitor is one of my favorite verses in the Torah as it is a constant reminder to me of the unlimited faithfulness of HaShem.
"Is anything too wonderous for Adonai?" Genesis 18:14
If we Jews ever wonder what I purpose for life really is, aside from the mundane all humans share, verse 19 of Chapter 18 should dispel any doubt as to the ultimate reason we are in the here and now"
"For I have singled him out, that he may instruct his children and his posterity to keep the way of Adonai by doing what is just and right..." In other words - Keep the way of Adonai (His Torah) by doing what is just and right (the Commandments of Torah) in order that HaShem may bring about for Avraham and his posterity (all the Jewish people in every generation) what was promised him.
Before the visitors leave and as they are walking along Avraham journeys with them for a while. The Angel of Adonai tells Avraham what he is about to do with the cities of the plain - specifically Sodom and Gomorrah and the outlying towns of the region. When he hears what is about to transpire we get to witness the character of a man totally given over to his love of HaShem and all His creation. Avraham is fully aware of the evil that exists in these cities and towns. His nephew Lot is living among them so he has heard and possibly even witnessed first hand the corruption and depravity of the residents there, young and old alike. Yet, despite this Avraham displays a level of mercy for them that won't be witnessed in another human being until Moshe Rabbenu. He begins bargaining with HaShem for the life of the people there.
"For be it from You! Shall not the Judge of all the earth deal justly?
Avraham asks HaShem to spare the entire area for the sake of 50 righteous that may be found there. G-d agrees to Avraham's request. Not stopping there this man of G-d continues to bargain down to 45, 40, 30, 20 and finally 10. HaShem agrees to spare the entire area for the sake of 10 righteous who may be found dwelling anywhere in those cities, towns, villages and hamlets.
Within Judaism many functions, types of prayers and gatherings cannot occur without a Minyan - a gathering of 10 men. Many of our Sages of Blessed Memory agree that this tradition has its origins in Avraham's asking HaShem to spare the peoples for the sake of the 10.
Alas, not even 10 men of a righteous soul could be found in all the cities and towns of the Plains, only Lot - who by virtue of being Avraham's nephew was spared, along with his two daughters. Even his wife and two sons-in-law could not escape the deserved wrath and anger of HaShem.
After the destruction of these evil habitations the story moves on to the further wanderings of Avraham and Sarah. As promised Sarah conceived and bears a son to Avraham in his and her old age and she named him Yitzhak (Isaac), which means laughter, because Sarah laughed when the Angel of Adonai had told her of her prophetic birth a year earlier.
Some ereal friction develops between Sarah and her handmaiden Hagar the Egyptian over who would be the first born heir of Avraham. Hagar felt it should be her son by Avraham - Ishmael, while Sarah was insistent that no son of a slave would inherit that position of honor but it would be her son Yitzhak alone that would fulfill the promise given to her husband by HaShem.
Having enough of the infighting Sarah tells her husband to cast out the woman and her son from among them. Avraham is reluctant, for after all, Ishmael is his son too. While he may not get the inheritance of a firstborn son he nevertheless has a place of honor at the table of Avraham. Sarah, however is unrelenting and HaShem tells Avraham to "not be distressed over the boy or your slave; whatever Sarah tells you, do has she says, for it is through Yitzhak that offspring shall be continued for you. And as for the son of the slave-woman, I will make a nation of him, too for he is your seed." Genesis 21:12-13
Now comes apart of the story that many find very difficult to accept. Several years have passed, Yitzhak is about 37 years of age and HaShem calls upon Avraham to take his son, his only son that he loves beyond measure; take him to a place designated by HaShem and offer him up as a sacrifice to Adonai Eloheynu. What? Wait a minute!
Throughout the course of Avraham's life HaShem has put him through a series of tests and trials totalling nine at this point. Why the tests? Because this man, Avraham will be progenitor of a people that HaShem will set apart for the purpose of bring deliverance to the entire world one day. Through this man will come the Mashiach the Deliverer of Israel. If you are going to be the very first in what will become a long line of descendants to reach that ultimate goal -- then yeah you will need to be put through some unique trials and testing. This offering up of the only son of promise would be the final and 10th (there's that number again) test.
Needless to say, not only Avraham, but Yitzhak too (remember he is an adult at this time) pass this final test with flying colors. [SEE: Genesis 22:1-19]
Until next week - Shabbat Shalom.