Tag Archives: Vayeira

Vayeira: Those Whom God Has Blessed

abrahams visitorsThe Lord appeared to him by the terebinths of Mamre; he was sitting at the entrance of the tent as the day grew hot.

Genesis 18:1 (JPS Tanakh)

The Lord took note of Sarah as He had promised, and the Lord did for Sarah as He had spoken. Sarah conceived and bore a son to Abraham in his old age, at the set time of which God had spoken. Abraham gave his newborn son, whom Sarah had borne him, the name of Isaac. And when his son Isaac was eight days old, Abraham circumcised him, as God had commanded him.

Genesis 21:1-4 (JPS Tanakh)

In this week’s Torah portion, Avraham is recovering from Bris Mila. Later, Isaac is born and has a Bris Mila. So, I thought to share a few insights on … Bris Mila!

-Rabbi Kalman Packouz
“Shabbat Shalom Weekly”
Commentary on Torah Portion Vayeira

The vast majority of people in the Church don’t imagine that baby boys born into Christian families must receive a ritual circumcision, called a Bris or Brit Milah, on the eighth day of life. It’s one of those things that we think of as uniquely “Jewish.”

But if we who are in the body of Christ are called the spiritual Sons of Abraham (Romans 9:8), and if we are “one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to one hope when you were called; one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all,” (Ephesians 4:4-6), then why are we too not obligated to be circumcised?

Then after an interval of fourteen years I went up again to Jerusalem with Barnabas, taking Titus along also. It was because of a revelation that I went up; and I submitted to them the gospel which I preach among the Gentiles, but I did so in private to those who were of reputation, for fear that I might be running, or had run, in vain. But not even Titus, who was with me, though he was a Greek, was compelled to be circumcised. But it was because of the false brethren secretly brought in, who had sneaked in to spy out our liberty which we have in Christ Jesus, in order to bring us into bondage.

Galatians 2:1-4 (NASB)

Paul came also to Derbe and to Lystra. And a disciple was there, named Timothy, the son of a Jewish woman who was a believer, but his father was a Greek, and he was well spoken of by the brethren who were in Lystra and Iconium. Paul wanted this man to go with him; and he took him and circumcised him because of the Jews who were in those parts, for they all knew that his father was a Greek.

Acts 16:1-3 (NASB)

A great deal has been made about why Paul did not have Titus circumcised but he did so for Timothy. The only obvious difference between them in scripture is that Timothy’s mother was Jewish but both parents of Titus were Greek (presumably, since Luke refers to Titus as “a Greek” in Acts 16).

Brit_MilahToday, it is common in the various streams of Judaism to consider anyone Jewish who was born of a Jewish mother, regardless of whether or not the father was Jewish. In the days of Paul, this may not have necessarily been the case, but if Timothy wasn’t Jewish, we are at a loss as to why Paul made such a distinction between he and Titus.

But getting back to what I was saying before, should any distinction be made between Jews and Gentiles in the body of Christ. Aren’t we all one in Messiah with ethnic differences swept away by the hand of God as a scorching sirocco sweeps over the desert sands?

But wait a second.

The Almighty commanded Abraham, “… My covenant you shall keep — you and your descendants after you for all generations. This is my covenant which you shall keep between Me and you and your descendants after you — circumcise all males. And you shall circumcise the flesh of the foreskin and it shall be the sign of the covenant between Me and you. And at eight days old every male shall be circumcised throughout all of your generations … My covenant shall be in your flesh for an everlasting covenant” (Genesis 17:9-13).

-Rabbi Packouz

This is the “ethnic” part of God’s covenant with Abraham and his physical descendants through Isaac, Jacob, the Children of Israel, and beyond. I previously said that in this portion of the covenant ratified by God with Abraham…

God promises to make Abraham a father of many nations and of many descendants and the land of Canaan as well as other parts of Middle East will go to his descendants. God declares that circumcision is to be the sign of the covenant for Abraham and all his male descendants and that this will be an eternal covenant.

But the blessings of the earlier portion of the Abrahamic covenant God makes with Abram are significant because that portion can be applied outside the ethnic, genetic, biological stream of Abraham and his offspring.

And I will bless those who bless you, and the one who curses you I will curse. And in you all the families of the earth will be blessed.”

Genesis 12:3 (NASB)

We have to access Paul’s midrash on Abraham to make better sense of this.

Now the promises were spoken to Abraham and to his seed. He does not say, “And to seeds,” as referring to many, but rather to one, “And to your seed,” that is, Christ. What I am saying is this: the Law, which came four hundred and thirty years later, does not invalidate a covenant previously ratified by God, so as to nullify the promise.

Galatians 3:16-17 (NASB)

infant-jesus-templeThe “seed” is Messiah, Christ. He is the blessing, and this promise and blessing was established before the covenant was ratified and God required circumcision of Abraham and his offspring through Isaac, and through Jacob, and through all of Jacob’s offspring, and so on across the ethnic linkage that ultimately becomes the Jewish people.

In his letter to the churches in Galatia, Paul is strongly discouraging the Gentile disciples from being circumcised because, by that point in history, circumcision was the “shorthand” expression for ritual conversion to Judaism. If the Gentiles, through the blessings of Abraham’s seed (singular) and faith in Messiah, were already justified before God, and received the one Spirit, just as the Jews received that same Spirit, then for the purposes of justification, nothing else is required of the Gentile disciples.

Therefore I, the prisoner of the Lord, implore you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling with which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, showing tolerance for one another in love, being diligent to preserve the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit, just as also you were called in one hope of your calling; one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all who is over all and through all and in all.

Ephesians 4:1-6 (NASB)

One body, one Spirit, one justification, one salvation, a unity of Spirit still doesn’t have to mean a uniformity of identity.

There’s a saying that goes, “everyone’s unique but no one is special,” but I don’t know if I can buy into that. I’m all for equal access to job opportunities and equal pay for equal work, but God did some really unique things. He chose the ethnic Jewish people, that is, those who were physically descended from Abraham, and Isaac, and Jacob, and Jacob’s sons, and the children of Jacob’s sons, who were all of the people led by Moses to Mount Horeb in the Sinai to receive the covenant and ultimately all of the promises, including the Land of Israel.

We can discuss the “mixed multitude” who eventually assimilated into the tribes after several generations and disappeared from the face of history, a process that cannot be anachronistically applied to modern times or even the time of James, Peter, and Paul. We can discuss ritual conversion to Judaism which existed in the time of James, Peter, and Paul and which exists today. I agree that you can’t “convert” to a tribal affiliation (which is why the ancient “gerim” in Torah were not converts). Judaism has long allowed for a few, select outsiders to join them, not because of ancestry, but by choice. But then, one choses to go “all the way,” so to speak, not retaining Gentile identity while living as a Jew. If we accept that God granted the Jewish community the authority to establish legally binding customs since antiquity, then we can accept Jewish converts.

But according to Paul and ultimately the Jerusalem Council (Acts 15), circumcision (conversion) is not required of the Gentile disciples of Messiah. We are one in Spirit and “co-inhabit” the body of Messiah. The body of Messiah is like the human body, which has different organs and structures, all of which are required for a healthy living person, and just like the body of Messiah, actually requires different parts.

abraham1All of this was set into motion thousands of years ago with Abraham and it is a blessing that the whole world isn’t required to convert to Judaism in order to be reconciled to God. No stream of Judaism I’m aware of requires conversion and circumcision in order to be right with God. The Bible and God have always presupposed a world made up of Jews and Gentiles who are reconciled before our Creator. Messianic Judaism is the living example of a Judaism that recognizes the spiritual equality of Jews and Gentiles in Messiah without compelling circumcision and full Torah observance upon the Gentiles in the body (not that we can’t take on board more of the mitzvot voluntarily).

I know this won’t satisfy the Hebrew Roots Gentiles who believe in uniformity in the Messianic body, nor the traditional Christians who also require uniformity. But those alternatives either rob the uniqueness God gave to the Jewish people through circumcision, the Torah, and Israel by having Gentiles say “it belongs to us too,” or strips that uniqueness away, defying God’s will by Christians telling Jewish people they must cease their ethnic and religious uniqueness and performance of the mitzvot if they wish to worship Moshiach, requiring that Jewish believers live like the Gentiles in the Church.

Why has this mitzvah survived in strength while so many other mitzvot have fallen to the wayside by otherwise minimally observant Jews? Perhaps the answer is found in the 2,000 year old words of Rabbi Shimon ben Gamliel, “Every mitzvah that they (the Jewish people) accepted upon themselves with joy … they still perform with joy.” (Talmud, Shabbos 130a). Deep in our collective psyche we know that the Jewish people is eternal, that we have a mission to be a “Light Unto the Nations” and to perfect the world, that the Almighty loves us and watches over us — and that it is our great joy and privilege to be a part of that Covenant!

-Rabbi Packouz

However you choose to view this in terms of being Gentile members of the body of Christ, the creation of “the Church” didn’t eliminate the promises God made to Israel. Paul said (Galatians 3:17) that “the law, introduced 430 years later, does not set aside the covenant previously established by God and thus do away with the promise.” So too the work of Messiah did not annul the covenants previously established by God, but rather, Messiah was and is the crystallization of prophesy, the perfect expression of all of the covenants, the doorway allowing both people who are uniquely Jewish and those of us who are uniquely Gentile, to enter into relationship with God, co-inhabitants in a body that does require the heart, liver, lungs, spleen, stomach and many other organs, as opposed to being a single body, with a single organ, and a single identity, and a single function. A human being with only a stomach and no other parts couldn’t possibly live, so demanding absolute uniformity and canceling diversity within the body of Messiah kills the body.

Rabbi Packouz says the Jewish people are eternal. Circumcision is one of the signs of that eternal and unique existence before God. Opposing this is opposing God’s will. We can only be one in Messiah and possess the One Spirit of God by living in accordance with that One Spirit and that One God.

Therefore Jesus answered and was saying to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, the Son can do nothing of Himself, unless it is something He sees the Father doing; for whatever the Father does, these things the Son also does in like manner.

John 5:19 (NASB)

I’ve often heard that we should imitate our Master, but I don’t think in this case it means so much what we eat or what we wear, but rather, how we treat those who God has uniquely blessed. If we bless the Jewish people, we too are blessed by Israel and by Messiah. Of course, there is the converse.

Good Shabbos.

Vayera: Miraculous

abrahams visitorsThe Lord appeared to him by the terebinths of Mamre; he was sitting at the entrance of the tent as the day grew hot.

Genesis 18:1 (JPS Tanakh)

When Rabbi Sholom DovBer of Lubavitch was a child of four or five, he entered into the room of his grandfather, Rabbi Menachem Mendel, and burst into tears. His teacher in cheder had taught the verse “And G-d revealed himself to Abraham…” “Why,” wept the child, “doesn’t G-d reveal Himself to me?!”

Rabbi Menachem Mendel replied: “When a Jew, a tzaddik, realizes at the age of 99 that he must circumcise himself, that he must continue to perfect himself, he is worthy that G-d should reveal Himself to him.”

-Rabbi Yanki Tauber
“The Tears of a Child”

This is a well-known commentary on this week’s Torah Portion, Vayera and I’m hardly in a position to add to what a great many sages and spiritual luminaries have already stated regarding this portion of the Torah. But in studying the Torah Club commentary (volume 6) for this week on Acts 4:32-5:42, I discovered what could be a tangentially related issue.

Now many signs and wonders were regularly done among the people by the hands of the apostles. And they were all together in Solomon’s Portico. None of the rest dared join them, but the people held them in high esteem. And more than ever believers were added to the Lord, multitudes of both men and women, so that they even carried out the sick into the streets and laid them on cots and mats, that as Peter came by at least his shadow might fall on some of them. The people also gathered from the towns around Jerusalem, bringing the sick and those afflicted with unclean spirits, and they were all healed.

Acts 5:12-16 (ESV)

D. Thomas Lancaster’s lesson on these verses, both in the written text of his commentary and in the Torah Club audio teaching, speaks about “the age of miracles” and whether or not we have miracles today. As we read passages such as the one I quoted above, we Christians may be hard pressed to explain why 2,000 years ago, severely ill and disabled people could be cured simply by having Peter’s shadow fall across them, while today our most fervent prayers and petitions to God fail to prevent a loved one from dying of cancer. Why don’t we see miraculous signs, wonders, and healings in today’s church?

Some say that we do, but because we live in the 21st century, many events that a person 2,000 years ago would have called a miracle, today might be explained as some other phenomena. Even in the church, we are sometimes hesitant to say something is a miracle for fear of appearing foolish. On other occasions, the claims of miraculous events from some seem to be so common that the credibility of witnesses is brought into question.

While I do believe that sometimes miracles do happen today, they don’t seem to be “predictable,” which I guess stands to reason, but they also don’t seem to be predictably produced by an identifiable individual or group of individuals, such as the apostles. When we read about Peter, John, and the other apostles in the early chapters of Acts, it’s as if they’re doing miracles all the time.

One explanation, as Lancaster points out, is that the book of Acts compresses 35 years of history into about two hours worth of reading. It’s easy to get the impression that Peter was healing the sick through miracles every day and several times a day. This is probably untrue and only the “highlights” of the “Acts of the Apostles” were recorded by Luke. All of the other more mundane occurrences in their lives over three and a half decades went unchronicled and passed away into the shadows of history.

But there’s another reason we may not see miracles today the way we see them in Acts.

When the day of Pentecost arrived, they were all together in one place. And suddenly there came from heaven a sound like a mighty rushing wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. And divided tongues as of fire appeared to them and rested on each one of them. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit gave them utterance.

Acts 2:1-4 (ESV)

This is the day when the apostles of Christ (and only the apostles of Christ) received the Holy Spirit. Most Christians think this event is identical to what happens to all people everywhere when they receive Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord (although I’ve yet to hear a modern Christian tell me that they received the Spirit on tongues of fire). But what if this isn’t exactly true?

We know that in Acts 10:44-45 the Roman Centurion Cornelius and his entire household also received the Holy Spirit, but to the best of our knowledge, none of them went on, after the initial event, to perform miraculous healings, signs, and wonders. What’s the difference between Cornelius and Peter? Were the Jews the only ones with the Spirit able to perform miracles, or was something else going on?

It was declared at first by the Lord, and it was attested to us by those who heard, while God also bore witness by signs and wonders and various miracles and by gifts of the Holy Spirit distributed according to his will.

Hebrews 2:3-4 (ESV)

Take a closer look at this verse. According to Lancaster, “those who heard”, that is, those who were direct witnesses of the Messiah, were the apostles. Only the apostles were able to be witnesses of the validity of Jesus “by signs and wonders and various miracles and by gifts of the Holy Spirit distributed according to his (God’s) will.”

The idea, in this particular explanation, is that during the so-called “age of miracles,” God did not use everyone to perform miracles, and miracles did not occur for just any old reason at all. The miracles were a witness that occurred through those who actually walked and talked with the Master, that he is the Messiah, the Son of God.

The apostles could be compared to Abraham as we re-examine the brief Chasidic tale recorded by Rabbi Tauber above. They were “tzaddikim” (Righteous Ones) who were assigned by God to fulfill a specific mission and purpose; to witness to the Messiahship of Jesus of Nazareth. Their tools for doing so, in addition to what they taught, were signs and wonders.

I know this viewpoint could be questioned and disbelieved, but I think we should at least consider the possibility. It doesn’t mean that God doesn’t do miracles today, and it doesn’t mean that God doesn’t use “ordinary Christians” to perform said-miracles today. It does mean however, that God does miracles “according to His will” and not our will. It also may mean, as we see in Rabbi Tauber’s tale, that when someone, a tzaddik, realizes he must perform the equivalent of “circumcising himself at the age of 99 years, he is worthy that G-d should reveal Himself to him.”

It’s an imperfect theory and it certainly could be wrong, but we’re an imperfect people and God, and His reasons for doing anything, are perfect. Whether we understand the nature of miracles happening in the past as opposed to happening the present or not, we can certainly acknowledge that miracles seem to occur in the world from time to time, at the will of God and for His own purposes, but we must not depend on them. Should God choose to intervene in our lives with a miracle, it is good, but if He chooses not to, it is good as well.

We depend, not on miracles to sustain us or to be a witness to the Messiah, but on our faith and trust in God. These are the stones with which God builds the path we walk upon as we journey each day, as we follow Him, reaching out to touch the hem of his garment, flourishing in the glow of His holiness, and then reflecting that light into the world. Perhaps that is miracle enough, for the light of God is His healing of the world.

It is a Divine kindness that His mercies are endless.

Lamentations 3:22

Another way to translate this verse is, “It is a Divine kindness that we are never finished.”

The Maggid of Koznitz was extremely frail and sickly as a child. It was not thought that he would survive to adulthood. Much of his life was spent sick in bed, and he was so weak that he was often unable to sit up to meet visitors. Still, he lived to an advanced age.

The Maggid once revealed the secret of his longevity. “I never allowed myself to be without an assignment or a task to perform,” he said. “People are taken from this world only when their missions here are completed. Whenever I was just about to finish one task, I would start another; hence, I could not be removed from this world if my assignment was not completed.”

Even from a purely physiological aspect, the Maggid’s concept is valid. Some think that the healthiest thing for us is rest and relaxation. Not so. In reality, unused muscles tend to atrophy, while muscles that are exercised and stimulated are strengthened.

The same principle applies to the entire person. If we constantly stimulate ourselves to achieve new goals, we avoid the apathy that leads to atrophy.

Today I shall…

try to take on a new spiritual goal, and stimulate myself to greater achievement in serving God and being of help to other people.

-Rabbi Abraham J. Twerski
“Growing Each Day, Cheshvan 16”

I’ll be away from the computer for the day and won’t be available to respond to or approve comments. If I am unable to attend to them before Shabbat begins, then I will do so on Saturday after sundown.

Good Shabbos.

Vayeira: Healing by the Trees of Mamre

terebintheThe Lord appeared to him by the terebinths of Mamre; he was sitting at the entrance of the tent as the day grew hot.Genesis 18:1 (JPS Tanakh)

When Rabbi Sholem Dov Ber, the fifth of the Lubavitcher Rebbeim, was a young child, he was taken to his grandfather the Tzemach Tzedek for a birthday blessing. When he entered his grandfather’s room, he began to cry.

After calming him, his grandfather asked him the reason for his tears. The child replied: “In cheder, we learned that G-d revealed Himself to Avraham. Why doesn’t He reveal Himself to me?”

The Tzemach Tzedek replied: “When a Jew who is 99 years old recognizes that he must circumcise himself, he deserves that G-d reveal Himself to him.”

-Rabbi Eli Touger
“Seeing Truth: The Nature of the Revelation to Avraham”
Adapted from Likkutei Sic hos, Vol. X, p. 49ff;
Sichos Shabbos Parshas Vayeira 5749, 5750, 5751, 5752

We have a tremendous need to hear from God. On Facebook, my friends Joe and Heidi Hendricks often express their love of God, their enormous faith, and their need to hear from God, as they describe the battle with cancer they must both endure. Recently Joe wrote:

Cancer crazy thinking..

Maybe if I make the coffee a little stronger, Heidi’s white blood cell counts will be better today at SCCA. Maybe if I get her to laugh harder the scan won’t show any new tumors. Maybe if I workout a little longer I can force her cancer away.

Then I think.. No, that’s crazy thinking – we’re doing OK, we’re doing the best we can, shut up and let God & the medical team handle it.


In the face of the battles we wage in the world round us and sometimes within our own bodies, we don’t just want to hear from God, we need to hear from God. As a child, Rabbi Sholem Dov Ber needed to hear from God. At some point, we all do. Rabbi Touger continues to comment on this.

The desire for a direct bond with G-d is a fundamental element of every person’s makeup. When the Rebbe Rashab came to his grandfather for a birthday blessing, he merely expressed this longing.

The moral of the story is universal. Within every one of us there is a simple, childlike dimension that yearns to cleave to G-d. Without ceasing to function as mature individuals, each of us can share an all-encompassing relationship with G-d.

The above is particularly relevant in the present age, brief moments before Mashiach’s coming. For the essence of the Era of the Redemption will be the direct revelation of G-d; “Your Master will conceal Himself no longer, and your eyes will perceive your Master.” As we stand on the threshold of this era, the inner thirst can be felt more powerfully.

Moreover, the potential exists to experience a foretaste of the Redemption in the present age. We can develop an awareness of G-d and recognize Him as an actual force pervading every aspect of our lives.

teaching-childrenAlthough Rabbi Touger doesn’t say so explicitly, there seems to be some sort of connection between our need to have a connection with God as a childlike quality and the nearness of the Messiah as redeemer. Certainly, the Master expressed the same thing “in a nutshell”.

But Jesus said, “Let the children alone, and do not hinder them from coming to Me; for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these.” –Matthew 19:14 (NASB)

Rabbi Touger quotes Amos 8:11 when he says:

“Days are coming…, [when people will be] hungry, but not for bread; thirsty, but not for water, but to hear the word of G-d.” Only at times, as in the story of the Rebbe Rashab, is this thirst consciously expressed. In most instances, a person will be unaware of his own thirst. Nevertheless, when we emulate Avraham’s example and extend ourselves to others, we will discover an eager readiness to respond that reflects their inner need.

We are all hungry for the “bread” of God.

Jesus answered, “It is written: ‘Man does not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.'” –Matthew 4:4

Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled. –Matthew 5:6

According to the midrash for Torah Portion Vayeira, when Abraham was “sitting at the entrance of the tent” in the heat of the day, he was waiting for something. He probably didn’t know the three “travelers” were going to appear when they did, but Rabbinic commentary says he was waiting to perform deeds of kindness to bring others closer to God. In response, God showed Abraham kindness, fed him with “the bread of life” (John 6:35), and drew nearer to Abraham than He had before. It is also believed that God, in appearing to Abraham three days after the prophet’s circumcision, lived out the commandment to visit the sick and that He healed Abraham.

May God draw nearer to all of us, may He feed us, and may He heal us.

But he was pierced for our transgressions,
he was crushed for our iniquities;
the punishment that brought us peace was on him,
and by his wounds we are healed. –Isaiah 53:5

As we learned before, “Your Master will conceal Himself no longer, and your eyes will perceive your Master.” We also have a lesson for this.

The throne of God and of the Lamb will be in the city, and his servants will serve him.  They will see his face, and his name will be on their foreheads. –Revelation 22:3-4

Good Shabbos.