The First Consultant: Vayera 2016

by Adam J. Rosenbaum

Pre-Game Chatter: Are you in the habit of consulting with other people before making a big decision? If so, what qualities should those people have?

While in previous portions God had consulted with other heavenly beings, Parashat Vayera represents the first time that God does so with a human:

The Pitch: “Now the Lord had said, ‘Shall I hide from Abraham what I am about to do, since Abraham is to become a great and populous nation and all the nations of the earth are to bless themselves by him? For I have singled him out, that he may instruct his children and his posterity to keep the way of the Lord by doing what is just and right, in order that the Lord may bring about for Abraham what He has promised him.’” – Genesis 18:17-19

Swing #1: “A good educator makes use of the happenings of daily life to inspire or reprove his students. Actual instances of reward for good deeds or punishment for evil provide him with impressive object lessons by means of which he can urge his students to avoid evil and to choose good instead. Thus the destruction of Sodom provided Abraham with an excellent object lesson for his endeavors to teach men ‘to do righteousness and justice’, for it was a visible demonstration of the results of evil and injustice. Therefore the Lord said, ‘Shall I hide from Abraham what I am about to do?’ Seeing that Abraham will ‘instruct his children and his posterity’ and, indeed, teach his entire generation to ‘do what is just and right,’ should I really hide from him My plan to destroy Sodom because of its sins? If I make it known to him in advance, it would only serve to help him in his holy endeavors, for then the people will not be able to argue that the fall of Sodom was nothing but an accident.” – Avnei Ezel

Swing #2: “Even though the Lord sends prophets against their will to deliver messages to which they object, from Amos 3:7 [‘For the Lord God does not do anything without first revealing His plan to His trusted agents, the prophets’] we learn that there is a divine need to brief the prophet before sending him on his mission. From the Abraham story we learn that Amos’ statement is not theoretical, but an actual reality.” – Yochanan Muffs, Love & Joy

Swing #3: “With elegant sarcasm on both sides, the Lord first mocks Abraham’s righteousness and his very trust in the Lord and Abraham follows by mocking, at one and the same time, the Lord’s power and his veracity. … Neither Abram/Abraham’s own righteousness nor that of his unaccountable promised offspring was mentioned as a motive for the Lord’s earlier promises to Abram/Abraham. As now announced, this motive carries within it a tacit threat. The Lord is telling Abraham why the promise of offspring might not be kept: Abraham might not be righteous enough to deserve it.” – Jack Miles, God: A Biography

Late-Inning Questions: Do you agree with Miles that God tells Abraham of the plans to destroy Sodom and Amorah as a warning to him? Or, do you agree more with the opinions of Muffs and Avnei Ezel, that God’s inclusion of Abraham is an act of empowerment? Is it possible that God speaks with Abraham even though God’s mind is already made up? Is it ever useful to consult with other people even though we are going to ignore their opinions?

On-Deck at Emanu-El: In the aftermath of divisive election, it’s incumbent for us to ask: “Where do we go from here?” So join me for a text study and discussions on how Jews can make a difference in a changed America. The sessions will take place Wednesday, November 30th, and Wednesday, December 14th. Each evening, those happy with the election results will discuss at 7PM, while those unhappy with the results will discuss at 8PM. (If you want to attend both sessions, please be respectful of the different tones of each session.) These sessions also will be broadcast on Facebook Live.

The Big Inning at the End: Congratulations to Kris Bryant, the Cubs’ third-baseman, for winning the 2016 National League Most Valuable Player award, as well as all the other BBWA award-winners. And to those who didn’t win, make sure to keep loved ones away from Twitter for a few days, right Justin Verlander?

Shabbat Shalom!