Blog Vayera 5782

This week’s portion is Vayera “And appeared” וַיֵּרָא. In my opinion, this word can also be understood as “the Divine Presence manifested itself” in a situation, in a moment, and a specific person: Abraham.

When we get up in the morning, we recite a beautiful prayer called “Modeh Ani” (I give thanks מודה אני). Notice that in this prayer we thank God for regaining our consciousness after having “hibernated” in a dream world, and we put “thanks” before “I” (it is not Ani Modeh but Modeh Ani). Judaism comes from the Hebrew word Yehudi, from the root “Hoda” meaning “gratitude”, which in turn comes from the name Yehuda, chosen by our mother Leah to express her gratitude for the birth of her fourth child when she said, “This time I will praise Adonai”; therefore, she named him “Yehudah” (Bereshit 29:35). Giving thanks for everything is an integral part of Judaism.

Rav Shaul in his messianic writings spoke about the importance of being grateful as we see in 1 Thessalonians 5:18 “Give thanks in everything, for this is what God wants from you who are of one mind with our Messiah Yeshua”; Ephesians 5:20 “Always give thanks for everything to God the Father in the name of our Messiah Yeshua”; and Asaf wrote in Tehilim 50:23 “Whoever offers thanksgiving as his offering honors Me… “

Let’s go back to Parashat Noah, to review Lech Lecha a little and to examine one of the key points for this teaching. It says in Bereshit 11: 26-28, “Terach lived seventy years and fathered Avram, Nachor and Haran. Here is the genealogy of Terach. Terach fathered Avram, Nachor and Haran; and Haran fathered Lot. Haran died before his father Terach in the land where he was born, in Ur of the Kasdim”; and verse 30-31 says “Sarai was barren — she had no child. Terach took his son Avram, his son Haran’s son Lot, and Sarai his daughter-in-law, his son Avram’s wife; and they left Ur of the Kasdim to go to the land of Kena’an. But when they came to Haran, they remained there.”

Without going into the Talmudic and Midrashic explanations on this passage, it is enough to read what it says in Joshua 24: 2-3 “Yehoshua said to all the people, “This is what Adonai the God of Israel says: ‘In antiquity, your ancestors lived on the other side of the [Euphrates] River — Terach the father of Avraham and Nachor — and they served other gods. I took your ancestor Avraham from beyond the river, led him through all the land of Kena’an, increased his descendants and gave him Yitzchak.”

By making a parallel of these passages, we see that God calls an entire family, but from all those who were called, only one person was able to settle down and fulfill his Divine purpose, that was Avram. Avram, later Abraham, captured the Voice of Heaven (Bat Kol), and this awakened certain characteristics within that made him an entirely different man in his time because, in addition to “invoking” the Divine Name and bringing the concept of monotheism to the world, we see the personification of Chesed in Abraham. 

Chesed is much more than charity; it embodies goodness, love in practice, faithfulness, unwavering and trustworthy-love, loyalty, grace, acts of devotion, mercy, and even then, an exact definition of what this word encompasses still falls short. What I am sure of is that Chesed (חסד) emulates the characteristics that are born of a grateful person, and as our RANEBI used to say, the Hebrew language is pictorial; it is not conceptual, so to explain Chesed we must study how this quality was applied in the daily life of Abraham.

From the passage of the portion of Noah we see that Abram adopts the son of his brother Haran, who is Lot (לוט) which coincidentally means “hidden or veiled”, giving us an idea that after his father died, Lot as an orphan was ignored. However, Abraham took him as a son and chooses to raise him until he became an independent man. According to many authors, the greatest Chesed in this life is to take a child and adopt him, because not only is the responsibility of a father assumed, but also a whole life is cared for, fed, clothed, covered, in such a way that a human being can never repay this debt, and most importantly, it is done without expecting anything in return.

We read in Bereshit 13:1 in Lech Lecha verse: “Avram went up from Egypt — he, his wife and everything he had, and Lot with him — into the Negev.” That is, for Avram, Lot had become a son; in fact, Lot received blessings from Heaven thanks to Abram. As it says in Bereshit 13: 5 “Lot, who was traveling with Avram, also had flocks, herds and tents”. He had finally become a self-sufficient man, seeing himself as the potential heir of his uncle Abraham. This brings up the incident, in which Lot, possibly thinking that he would inherit all the assets of his uncle who did not have children, acted disrespectfully by allowing his sheep to graze in the area where Abraham’s cattle were, displaying his ingratitude. 

Again, Abraham shows Chesed by humbling himself before his nephew (where it was not necessary) and offering him peace; verse 13: 8 states “Avram said to Lot, “Please, let’s not have quarreling between me and you, or between my herdsmen and yours, since we are kinsmen.” And he (Avram) offers to separate, going in the opposite direction, to preserve the shalom bait (the peace in the home). Bereshit 13:10 says “Lot looked up and saw that the whole plain of the Jordan was well watered everywhere, before Adonai destroyed Sodom and Gomora, like the garden of Adonai, like the land of Egypt in the direction of Tzoar” and 13:11-12 “And Lot chose all the plain of the Jordan for himself, and Lot traveled eastward; thus, they separated themselves from each other. Avram lived in the land of Kena’an; and Lot lived in the cities of the plain, setting up his tent near Sodom.”

From the departure of Haran to this passage, approximately 24 years had elapsed, during which Lot learned hospitality, justice, emunah, chesed, caring for others, seeking peace, from Abram. However, Lot could not take in the totality of Avram´s life as his example, rather we see that he acts according to his impulses, by the desire of his eyes, by his selfishness (preferring his well-being), and choosing the best for himself by going to live in a place of corruption, far removed from the life of righteousness that he had learned from his childhood.

What was this city like? How did this corruption influence Lot, who had tendencies toward justice but also a high inclination toward evil? Bereshit 13:13 says “Now the men of Sodom were evil, committing great sins against Adonai”. At the beginning, we see that he came to settle “nearby”, he was not yet a citizen. Being this close, the yetzer harah, the evil inclination of a society affects even a just man, but later we see that the Eternal gave Lot the opportunity to do teshuvah and to return to his uncle’s house, when in chapter 14 we read about his capture and how God helped Abram to rescue him. Chapter 14:16 says “He recovered all the goods and brought back his nephew Lot with his goods, together with the women and the other people”.Personally, it seems to me that our RANEBI liked the expression “Our God is the God of beginning again.” This was Lot’s chance, but he didn’t take it.

According to the midrashim, the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah were characterized by being the opposite of Chesed; there was murder, homosexuality, promiscuity, robbery, and those citizens who showed Chesed were punished[1]. On the other hand, Jude 7 says: “And Sodom, Gomorrah, and the surrounding cities, following a pattern like theirs, committing sexual sins and perversions, lie exposed as a warning to those who must undergo punishment.” The prophet Ezekiel mentions in 16: 49-50 “The crimes of your sister Sodom were pride and gluttony; she and her daughters were careless and complacent so that they did nothing to help the poor and needy. They were arrogant and committed disgusting acts before me; so that when I saw it, I swept them away”; The Torah in Devarim 32:32 explains: “Rather, their vine is from the vine of Sodom, from the fields of Gomorrah — their grapes are poisonous, their clusters are bitter”; And the prophet Isaiah 3: 9 says: “Their very look witnesses against them! They parade their sin, like Sodom; they don’t even try to hide it — all the worse for them! — they bring evil upon themselves.” They were shameless, exhibitionist, and even proud of their sins (proud describing the humanistic genre of today).

For all this, Lot represents ingratitude and is a prime example of what we should avoid. Because of their actions, two nations emerged, Moab and Amon, who would later emulate this ungrateful behavior; the Torah prohibits us from joining with them. We see the opposite of Lot in Abraham, who argued with the Eternal in Bereshit 18, hoping that there would be at least 50 righteous men so that He would forgive these cities, yet he discovered at the end that there were not even 10. We see that Lot had become an illustrious citizen, but he did not “invoke” the Name of the Bore Olam. 

We do not see Lot returning to the house of Abraham, rather the Torah describes how Lot was influenced by the society of his day, to understand his distorted acts of chesed. For example, Lot became a citizen, moved to the city, married a woman of Sodom, and had daughters. While it is true that he received the men of God into this city and offered them shelter, he could not influence the city and its behavior, neither his sons-in-law, wife, nor daughters. We observe that the Torah is specific in saying that the malachim took them, in other words, it was not a voluntary and conscious decision for Lot to leave. He preferred his attachment to his material wealth (19: 6) never thinking that fleeing was the best option for him and his household. We see how he, in an act of misguided charity, even offered his daughters to be raped throughout the city (19: 8) and later how “midah keneged midah” (מדה כנגד מדה) occurred, when his daughters also misguidedly raped their father (19: 31-38). 

In the verses above, we never see Lot thanking Abraham even once for interceding for him, for rescuing him, for having raised him, educating him, and giving him financial means. Later, we study how his descendants influenced Israel to fornicate with their daughters, commit idolatry and how Balak King of Moab tried to curse Israel by hiring the prophet Bilaam.

The precious thing about this story is that God is the God of beginning again, and we see how a person who shows gratitude in the form of Chesed can change his story, no matter his past. We read this in the story of Ruth, who broke this cycle of ingratitude and consequently brought King David from her womb.

On a neurological level, being grateful and showing Chesed regulates our hypothalamus by generating dopamine (it produces the sensation of well-being, happiness, pleasure, and vitality). Being grateful reduces cortisol, the stress hormone, and stimulates the anterior cingulate cortex, which is linked to empathy and emotions bringing physical, psychological, emotional health and well-being to our body and soul.

Gratitude is not the same as giving a lip-service “Thank you”, which has the merit of showing that you are an educated person. To be a grateful person is to manifest gratitude through our actions, as we read in Psalms 42: 4, 69:30; 95:2; 100:4; 147:7-9; Isaiah 51:3; and Jeremiah 30:19. This gratitude applies to our home life, to our community, to society at large, to ourselves, and to the Eternal. Do we want the Divine Presence to manifest or appear to us? Let’s begin by being truly thankful and by practicing Chesed.

Shabbat Shalom!

Mauricio Quintero


[1] https://www.sefaria.org/Sanhedrin.109b.2?lang=bi