Parshat Vayera

Translations of kabbalistic texts are by Rabbi Larry Tabick, The Aura of Torah. Translations of the Torah and other commentaries are from Sefaria, except where otherwise noted.

Bereishit 18:16-17

The men set out from there and looked down toward Sodom, Abraham walking with them to see them off. Now the LORD had said, “Shall I hide from Abraham what I am about to do …” 

Yitzchak of Vorki, 19th century

There is no action of heavenly origins in the world that does not contain within it the element of lovingkindness., even in times of transgression and judgment — may God preserve us. Thus, when Sodom was overthrown, the element of Hesed was present in that Lot was rescued. Hence Scripture says, “Shall I hide from Abraham” — that is, the attribute of Abraham, the attribute of Hesed, “what I am doing” — there cannot possibly be any act that does not contain within it an element of Hesed.

There is an important kabbalistic point here: any action, even if it primarily reflects the attribute of Judgment, will include other aspects of divine energy,  including lovingkindness. The practical implication is that even negative events in our life should have some positive aspect. 

Is there value in searching for those aspects?

Bereishit 20:9-11

Abimelech summoned Abraham and said to him, “What have you done to us? [Trying to pass off your wife Sarah as your sister, so I would sleep with her.] What wrong have I done that you should bring so great a guilt upon me and my kingdom?  You have done to me things that ought not to be done. What, then,” Abimelech demanded of Abraham, “was your purpose in doing this?”

“I thought,” said Abraham, “surely there is no fear of God in this place, and they will kill me because of my wife. And besides, she is in truth my sister, my father’s daughter though not my mother’s; and she became my wife.”

Before we discuss the kabbalistic text, what is going on here? Abimelech is sharing my thoughts on Abraham’s bizarre behavior. What is going on with Abraham’s explanation?

Rabbi Pinchas of Koretz, 18th century

Thus did the Rav speak to a man who was afraid of a nobleman. He said, “Do not be afraid of him! I urge you not to be afraid, as it says in Jeremiah, ‘Do not break down before them, lest I break you before them.’ [Jeremiah 1:17]. For when people are not afraid of a thing, they are above that thing. This is not so when they are afraid of something; then the thing is higher than they are. Then they truly have something to fear.” Thus far [did he speak].

In the name of the Rav: This is [the explanation of ] the popular saying “I have a fear of fear.” Understand!

This is [also the explanation of what Abraham said to Abimelech]: “Because I thought: Surely, there is no fear [of God at all in this place]” [Genesis 20:11]. That is, since an improper fear had entered his heart, he [wrongly] deduced from this that there was no fear of God “in this place.” The place may cause the mind to be confused by extraneous thoughts.

What is fear of fear?

What is appropriate fear and inappropriate fear?

What does it mean to allow the thing you fear to be above you, and why is that something to truly fear?

Rabbi Pinchas seems to be saying that we travel to new places or new situations our minds may get overcome by our thoughts. How does that fit with your experiences? What is it that is generating those thoughts? (What might Avivah Zornberg say?)

Bereishit 21:17

God heard they cry of the boy [Ishmael], and an angel of God called to Hagar from heaven and said to her, “What troubles you Hagar? Fear not, for God has heeded the cry of the boy …

Menachem Mendel of Vorki, son of Yitzhak of Vorki, 19th century

I also heard [the following] on the verse, “Then God heard the voice of the child” [Genesis 21:17] (for you will not find in the Torah that Ishmael cried out or said anything at all). He [Menachem Mendel] spoke as follows: “[It was] a still, silent scream.” [Menachem Mendel was known for his silent prayer to God.]

The Torah text mentions Hagar crying as she thinks about her son dying from thirst. It does not mention any words or sounds coming from Ishmael. 

Why is the rebbe highlighting silent prayer? Or silent screaming? What kind of practices might follow from this idea?

photo: Torah scrolls of the Jewish Congregation in Helsinki