Parshat VaYera - The Two sacrifices of Avraham

The Yom Kippur offering of two goats is one of the difficult services to understand. The High Priest is required to choose two goats and to cast lots on them, sending one to die in the desert and the other to die as a sacrifice in the Temple.

Parshat Vayera has a parallel to these two sacrifices. The sacrifice of Issac is parallel to the goat sacrified in the Temple. In fact, both take place on Mount Moriah. The Goat killed in the desert is paralleled in the sacrifice of Ishmael also in the desert. Which sacrifice is this?

Avraham sends Ishmael along with his mother Hagar into the desert with but one wine-sack of water. The Torah points out that it was just one sack. So in trouble are the two that Hagar decides she will leave the child to die. G-d intervenes and a well appears. Her eyes are opened and she a well. Much as Abraham's eyes are opened on Mount Moriah and he sees a sheep in the thicket.

Where was Abraham commanded to sacrifice Ishmael, if at all? We know that G-d told Abraham to listen to his wife, Sarah. She was telling him to expell Hagar and her son. Why did Abraham send such small provisions with the two when he expelled them? He was wealthy and could have sent much, a whole escorting company. He could have sent them to one of his friends or to Lot to be hosted. Why didn't he? I may suppose that this was what Sarah demanded. She wanted them to be killed in this way. And this is why Abraham resisted. But when G-d told Abraham to listen to Sarah he realized that it is His will that they be expelled in this way and left to die. And so Abraham did as he was commanded, passing his trial.

The medrash says that Ishmael had a fever and therefore finished the water sooner than expected. This implies that Abraham did give them enough water to survive. But for how long can a mother and child survive in the desert with one water bag even if they are healthy? And my questions still stand, why not send them with slaves and wagons of provisions?

You might claim that after all, Abraham had a prophecy from God that Ishamel would be the father of a nation, so he knew he would survive. But one cannot rely on a miracle. He still should provide him with reasonable provisions for a desert journey.

Abraham has two sons. One is sent to die on Mt. Moriah, but is miraculously saved. The other is sent to die in the desert, but is miraculously saved. The locations where these events transpire indicates their relative significance. Issac is G-d's holy one and so the goat brought to the Temple represents him. Ishmael is cast out because of his wrong behavior and so his goat is sent out to die in the desert as an outcast.

The Yom Kippur service is a re-enactment of these great trials of Abraham. It is designed to remind G-d of Abraham's great love for Him by recalling that Abraham was willing to sacrifce his sons. And we hope G-d's mercy will fall on us becasue of His love for Abraham. It also reminds us to be willing to give our most important things and energies to G-d.

October 2007- N.Danzig

I heard from Rav Fixler of Shadmot Mecholah what he heard from a classmate from Yeshivat Kfar Etzion back in his day.

There are a number of linguistic parallels between Parshat VayeraLech and the account of the Garden of Eden. The angels are asked to sit down under the tree. And again we are told that Abraham stands above them under the tree. Why must we be told that there was a tree there? And why twice? This is meant to link our story with that of the Tree of Knowledge. In that story the Man was given to eat from the Tree by his wife. Eve gave him the fruit in an act of selfishness, as the Rabbis tell us, so that when she died he would not marry another woman. This is a breakdown in the trust relationship that should exist between a man and a woman. The correct relationship is one of selflessness and doing for the other.

The Tree of Knowledge relates to the biblical sense of "knowing" a woman. It represents the correct form connection between two people.

And we are told that Sarah is not in the way of women. The word used for "way" is "edna" which is the same words as Eden. Thus she is not in wrong way like the Woman was in Eden. (Thus she makes the bread, the symbol of her trust relationship with Abraham and has the angels eat from it, so they should bare witness to the Tikkun she and Abraham have performed.)

The Garden of Eden story describes, among other things, the break down of husband and wife relations. We are meant to get back to that state. Abraham stood under the "tree" and fixed the way back to the garden of eden. When man sinned the way back was guarded, Abraham was expected to "follow the way of g-d , to do justice and mercy." This is the way back to the correct human relationship.

Some other observations

0. Compare the two laughings of Sara. Do both seem like disbelief?

1.In verse 18:19 G-d gives the reason for telling Abraham his plans for destroying Sodom and Gamora. It is because he and his descendants will follow G-d's ways in Zedek and Mishpat (Justice and Law). Verse 21 is interesting from two points of view. 1. Can god really "go down" to look? The Rambam deals with this issue. 2. Another point is that God is telling Abraham I will go and make judgement on the city. This implies that God has not already made judgment. I.e. they can still be found innocent. Abraham see this as God in fact asking him to interfere, which is what Abraham does. Otherwise Abraham's pleading for Sodom can seem too bold, but when we realize God really told him to make a case, then Abraham is not being at all disrespectful, h"v.

Then Abraham show his leanings, he could be in favor of the destruction of Sodom, but he is a rahman and tries to save them. The nature of Abraham's argument reflects back on God's reason for asking his advice. Abraham uses the concepts of Zedek and Mishpat. He asks God if he will kill the Righteous(zadik) along with the evil? Will the Judge (shofet) of the world not do justice (mishpat)? So we see Abraham does zedek and mishpat and God love Abraham for this. And Abraham reminds God that He too must follow the ways of Zedek and Mishpat. Thus God requires man to be just and man requires God to be just. It is almost as if Man makes God in his image. A god that is not just, Abraham would not worship. Remember that according to the rabbinic tradition Abraham discovered God on his own. That means that God is a logical concept that can be derived by pure reason. Abraham had no tradition or revelation (until LechLecha). If God acts contrary to his reasoned definition then he is no longer God, h"v. God himself must be constrained by the rule of Justice. And that is what Abraham is telling God, or rather , that is what the story is teaching us.

2.There are a lot of parallels between the destruction of Sodom and Gamora and the Flood. In each case one righteous man is saved along with his children and sons-in-law. In both cases after the destruction the Zadik gets drunk and is sexually mistreated by his children. In the Lot story he escapes for a time to the city Zoar. The name is derived from the word "mizaar." But that word is not clear in its meaning. It might mean small or close. But from the story it seems to mean sanctuary or escape. I think this is related to a similar word which is also unclear in its meaning. In the Flood story there is a Zohar in the Ark. Rashi brings that this word may mean window or may mean light emitting gem. I suggest that Zoar and Zohar are related words and both mean an escape route. That was there function in both stories, another parallel. My friend Mitch pointed out that in the flood story the real question is whether they were worthy of being saved. If Zohar means window then they had enough merit that they could actually look at the destruction and survive. If it means gem then they had less merit. So too, Lot had not enough merit to look at the destruction and thus his wife died while looking at the destruction of Sodom.

3. Abraham tells Sarah to say she is Abraham's sister to Avimelech. When Avimelech protests at finding out the truth, Abraham answers like a good lawyer (verse 20:11): 1. I saw I had not choice, lest you kill me over her. 2. She really is my sister. 3. This is my custom, every since I left home I always say she is my sister. These are each great explanation but they are mutually exclusive (especially point 1 and 3. If he always says this, then even had Avimelech's people been God fearing he still would have said she was his sister. ). In verse 21:26 Avimelech use Abraham's tactics against him. Abraham accuses Avimelch of letting his servants steal Abraham's well. To this Avimelech responds: 1. I did not know about it. Who did this in fact? 2. You did not tell me about it before. 3. I only heard about it today. These claims are also mutually exclusive (or at least 1 and 3 are).

Verse 22:7 says that Ayeh is the sheep to be sacrificed on the alter. We know that Ayeh is G-d's holy place in Kabbalah. Christians could use this interpretation.

Which important Torah figures have Egyptian wives? Abraham, Ishmael, Joseph and Moses.

© Nachum Danzig 2010