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Parashat Vayera 5780 — 11/16/2019

Parashat Vayera 5780 — 11/16/2019

Bereishit 18:1-22:24

Vayera eilav Hashem / And He appeared to him – Hashem (18:1)

In colloquial English the opening of our parashah should read, “And Hashem appeared to him [i.e. Avraham]…” In Hebrew this would be Vayera Hashem eilav. Hebrew sentences generally follow the order verb-subject-object. This emphasizes the action over the actor, but links the two, with the object of the action trailing. Artscroll translates our verse as above, to emphasize the unusual word order, verb-object-subject, used here. This order joins the action to the object of action, linking them more closely than they would otherwise be. In fact, Or haChaim points out that in all previous occasions when Hashem appeared to Avraham, the normal verb-subject-object order is used. The emphasis is on Gd’s speaking, rather than on Avraham’s receiving.

Why is this appearance different from all other appearances? Here is what Or haChaim has to say:

It seems that the Torah’s intention is that it comes to inform us that Hashem was resting His Shechinah upon him so that he became a “chariot” for the Shechinah, for you find that our Sages of blessed memory stated (Bereshit Rabbah 82:6): The Patriarchs are the chariot of the Shechinah. This is what it means when it says: Vayera eilav Hashem; that Hashem revealed His Shechinah to him, [resting it on him continuously].  Therefore it states the word eilav [“to him”] immediately after Vayera before stating Hashem, to indicate that the Shechinah was now revealed upon Avraham [permanently]. This is something that would not have been understood had it said Vayera Hashem eilav for Hashem would have separated between the word for the revelation (Vayera) and the one upon whom the revelation was made (eilav). … For this reason you will find that vayera is no longer stated in any of the prophecies that were conveyed to Avraham after this point. Rather [Torah says] Hashem said to Avraham for Hashem was always present before [Avraham] like a crown upon his head [and therefore there was no need to appear or call].

Or haChaim goes on to associate this new level of spirituality with Avraham’s being newly circumcised:

[The verse] may also mean to teach us the following: That as a result of Avraham’s performing the bris milah on himself Hashem now appeared to him with an all-encompassing light from on High, i.e., with a greater degree of prophetic clarity. For there are multiple levels with regard to the prophetic vision one can have of the Holy One, blessed be He, one level being higher than the one before it, and what [Avraham] was able to perceive through his new level of prophecy following his bris milah was a complete prophecy, one that was clearer and more comprehensive than what he had been able to perceive prior to his bris milah. This is what the verse informs us when it says, vayeira eilav Hashem, rather than using the more common expression, “vayeira Hashem eilav,” that it means to say that what [Avraham] was now able to see in this “appearance” to him was “Hashem,” i.e., the entire breadth of the exalted Four-Letter Name.

The four-letter Name of Gd is based on the root that means, “to be.”  Thus Gd is, fundamentally, Pure Being, completely unified, abstract, transcendental to all the activity of creation. What does it mean that “Avraham was now able to see … the entire breadth of the exalted Four-Letter Name”? We already know (from last week’s discussion) that Avraham kept the entire Torah – i.e. he was able to intuit Gd’s Will and act accordingly. This, however seems to be a new spiritual level.

Perhaps we can understand it this way. To intuit Gd’s Will certainly requires an exalted level of consciousness, one unimpeded by stress and strain in the soul and the nervous system. Just as a rock dropped into a pond sends its ripples over the entire surface of the pond, so every action of ours has consequences for the whole of creation. Creation is much too vast for our human intellect to fathom all the consequences of every action. There is plenty of room for error in such a situation.  However if the awareness is stationed at its most fundamental level, the level of Pure Being, the level from which all the laws of nature arise, then the infinite “computing power” of nature is spontaneously available to us, and our actions are fully in accord with Gd’s Will.

This is a wonderful state of awareness, where unity is available to us constantly in our inner life. Yet our perceptions are the same as before. I think what Or haChaim is describing here is another stage of growth that is available to us: growth on the level of perception.  Perception normally is on the level of boundaries – we perceive things, and generally only the surface level of those things. But just as we have levels to our existence and to our consciousness, so everything has layers of existence. Even just on the physical level, objects are composed of molecules, which are composed of atoms, which in turn are composed of elementary particles, etc. The ultimate level of everything is Pure Being, When through a process of refinement of the mechanism of perception we recognize the same Pure Being in the object of perception that we experience in ourselves, the our entire life, inner and outer, is dominated by Unity, Wholeness. I think this can fairly be described as seeing the entire breadth of the Four-Letter Name, the Name that represents wholeness. Why this growth should be associated with brit milah I don’t know – presumably it has to do with uncovering the inner layer of life that milah represents. Perhaps when we get to some better level of consciousness we’ll be able to understand it.


Commentary by Steve Sufian

Parashat Vayera

Genesis Chapter 18.
1. Now the lord appeared to him in the plains of Mamre, and he was sitting at the entrance of the tent while the day was hot.
2. And he lifted his eyes and saw, and behold, three men were standing beside him, and he saw and ran toward them from the entrance of the tent and he prostrated himself to the ground.

When Gd appears to us, as He does for some in our congregation, how will He appear? With a Form, or as The Formless, The Unbounded, All-Pervading, Omnipresent, All-Knowing, All-Powerful, All Loving, All Joyful? Or as a Mixture of Formless and Form?

Gd appears to Abram (not yet Abraham) as Abram sits in the doorway of his home; how does He Appear? As the Formless, or with Form?

The Parshah does not tell us nor does it tell us that Gd spoke to Abram nor does it tell Abram’s reaction to Gd appearing: immediately after we are told that Gd appeared, we are told that Abram looked and saw three men.

The men turn out to be angels, messengers of Gd, Expressions of Gd, so I read between the lines and take it that Gd appeared first as the Formless and instantly! He appeared with Form, as the three angels.

When Abram was sitting at the entrance to his tent, he was the link between the inside, the Formless, Unity, and the outside, the Formed Diversity.

This is definitely a taste of Teshuvah, return to Primordial Oneness.

Through the sound of Torah, we can have a taste of Teshuvah:

Although the meaning of Torah and its guidance for us in English translation may not be so easy to grasp, the sound of Torah can give us something of the feeling of the Torah as Gd, Totality, Oneness, vibrating within Gd.

Here is a recording of Parshat Vayeira read by Rabbi Michael Slavin, the regular reader at Chabad’s central Brooklyn synagogue:

In listening to this recording, I felt delight and joy, flowing sweetly, an inspiration to master Torah tropes and Hebrew so I, too, can read, feel, recite Torah and share the delight and joy of Torah with others.

I hope we will all have the opportunities to fulfill this wish.

Baruch HaShem