What Was The Last Big Thing G-D Asked You To Do?
Parshas Vayeira, which means, “He appeared,” opens on a very hot day near Hebron; so blisteringly hot that Rashi describes it as Hashem having taken the sun out of its sheath in order that there would not be any travelers walking by for Avraham to care for as he healed from his circumcision. [Chayenu: Cf. Rashi Tehillim 19:5]
Moreover, we learn from Rashi that because Avraham could not fulfill this aspect of his Divine Service, he was upset; in his mind, his pain was not an impediment to his desire to be a paramount of hospitality. His mission to share with the world the truth of monotheism, that there is only One G-D, gave him such joy that not being able to do so left him feeling discontent. Right here we should ask doesn’t Hashem know what’s best for Avraham and by extension, what is best for us when it comes to all aspects of life? I have no doubt that each and every one of us is going to say, “yes.” But it is Hashem’s response to Avraham’s sadness that I want us to consider: it’s true that no humans wander by because it is as we New Englanders say, “still a scorcher,” but three angels, three spirit beings come near to Avraham’s tent and his and Sarah’s desire to serve others is made possible. What might we learn from this? No doubt each of us takes something personal away from this event, for me, I am encouraged to remember that the purpose for which Hashem brought our Neshama/soul to earth is always under His watchful eye and as we stay the course, He gives us both physical and spiritual chizik/strength, and joy to carry on.
Parshas Vayeira continues on with the story of Lot, the destruction of Sedom and Amorah, the seduction of Lot by his daughters and Avraham and Sarah’s travel into Gerar where their encounter with Avimelech occurs. All of this a treasure trove ready for you to glean but I want to continue with this week’s theme, of the biggest thing Hashem has ever asked you to do. When we look at the life of Avraham we see many “big” things asked of him: leave your father’s house and go somewhere that you don’t really know, then when he’s 99 years old to circumcise himself, and finally when his son Yitzchak, his son of covenant is 37, he hears this, “Please take your son, your only, the one whom you love, Yitzchak, and go to the land of Moriah. Take him up there as a burnt offering…” [22:2] This is the last of the ten tests that Avraham faced. What test are you facing?
The common understanding of this scene is that Hashem asked Avraham to sacrifice his son. Indeed the father and son climb the mountain with Yitzchak carrying the wood and Avraham carrying the fire and a knife. Next, we see that the son allows himself to be bound on the altar, [he had to be willing, after all he is a 37 year old man] and then the uplifted hand of the father holding the knife, “so as to slaughter his son.” [25:10] Before we rejoice because of the heavenly intervention, I just have to ask, “What did Hashem ask Avraham to do?” This is a vital question because the text only says to’ “Take him up there as a burnt offering.” Does G-D ask Avraham to slaughter Yitzchak? Rashi and many other commentators tell us no, only to bring him as a burnt offering. So, what does this mean for us? There is an excellent article on Chabad.org concerning the Laws of the Burnt Offering/Karbanot Olah by Moshe Bogomilsky that is worth the read.
There are many aspects to the Laws of the Karbanot Olah, but for today let’s consider that no part of the burnt offering was given to the Kohanim; the entire offering was burnt on the altar. No one but Hashem received this offering and this is the reality shared between Avraham, Yitzchak, and Hashem. The reward it brought was the doubling and redoubling of the blessing. Today there is no Temple to which we bring our offerings; prayer has become our offering accepted by Hashem at His request. When our tests are bigger than we think we can handle, it seems to me that it is the time to make sure that we dig deeply in to the words of Torah, seek advice from our leaders in case there is something that we are misunderstanding and remember that our prayers are the burnt offerings that we lay upon the altar trusting that Hashem hears each and every word.