Beth Elohim Messianic Synagogue
Parashah #4 Vayera (He appeared) B’resheit (Genesis) 18:1-22:24
Haftarah: M’lakhim bet (2 Kings) 4:1-37; 4:1-23
B’rit Chadashah: Hebrews 6:13-20
This week we are introduced to the event of Isaac’s miraculous birth to an aging Sarah, the destruction of S’dom and ‘Amora, and the Akaida (Binding) of Isaac; this being the most difficult of Abraham’s testings. Let’s address the Akaida first.
Isaac is portrayed in Christianity as a young innocent boy, helpless to intervene on his own behalf. However, we can determine his age if we take the time to do a little research and math. Sarah gave birth to Isaac at age 90 and she died at the age of 127. If we subtract 90 from 127 we find Isaac was 37 years old. Now, if we take 37 and apply the principles of Gematria, we find that 3+7=10. The number 10 = judgment=a minyan. Isaac stands as the quintessential example of judgment. Abraham on the other hand, was considered the quintessential example of kindness/hospitality. The essence of these two men illustrate the duality of Gevurah (Justice/judgment) and Chesed (unmerited kindness) attributes of G-d. Take this a step further and we find G-d’s grace (Abraham) and law or judgment (Isaac) manifested in these two men, providing us living examples of the two concepts of grace and law that is consistent throughout the Bible.
At the age of 37, Isaac could have easily overtaken his father, but he obediently submitted to his father’s instructions and assurance of G-d’s provision of a sacrifice. This illustrates the fact that Isaac was observant to the precepts of G-d even tough the Torah had not been given at this time. Moreover, we can compare the entire drama of the Akaida as a foreshadow of Yahshua’s sacrifice. Even the age of Isaac and Yahshua are similar. The extra 4 years of Isaac may be attributed to the meaning of the number 4 in Gematria; earthly perfection, whereas the number 3 in 33 which was Yahshua’s age as representing that which is substantial and complete in its entirety in Gematria. Obviously, G-d decries any premeditated killing of a human. But G-d in the role of Yahshua gave up His own life, willingly becoming/representing both the two goats described in Leviticus Chapter 16 and the Paschal Lamb that atoned for our past sins and erased the spiritual death indictment imputed upon all men through Adam’s sin. Again, we see the duality of judgment and kindness represented in the two goats fulfilled by Yahshua’s sacrifice.
What was the purpose of Abraham’s test? G-d already knew that Abraham would sacrifice his only son if required of him. After all, G-d is all knowing, all seeing, and all present. Again, the number 3 comes into play. Knowing in advance how Abraham would act, it would seem G-d would have spared him such anguish. However, G-d shapes us and refines us for our ultimate good (Jer. 29:11; Rom. 8:28). This is not easy to understand in our beginning relationship with G-d. It takes time and experience to finally “get it” that this life is a wilderness journey fraught with physical and spiritual mountains and valleys. We must learn to negotiate our life’s journey with thanksgiving as G-d lovingly (sometimes through tough love) leads us and brings us closer to Him. Just as a tree cannot build a strong trunk without being blown by the wind and storms, we cannot grow in our relationship with G-d without being tested. In our parashah, the test was for Abraham and Isaac. G-d never allows us to be tested and tried beyond that which we can overcome, and we can overcome anything through G-d’s strength if we but ask (Rom. 5:4; James 1:3; Phil. 4:13). We are born with the potential to learn and discern right from wrong and the correct ways in which we are to deal with our fellow man and how we are to worship and obey G-d. This is why the Torah was given along with all the trials and tribulations suffered by G-d’s people. We repeatedly read of how the prophets, disciples (with the exception of Judas who chose wrongly), and others overcame horrible trials and tribulations and triumphed, even though they made mistakes along the way. Whenever we choose good over evil, we not only pass the immediate test, but we become closer to G-d and better equipped to bless others.
So how can we know if we have the potential to pass a test? In “Ethics of the Fathers” (3:18), Rabbi Akiva says that man is loved by G-d because G-d made man in His image, but the fact that G-d let man know he was created in His image shows even greater love for man. By letting us know who we are, G-d shows us our potential. Recall that we are told emphatically that the Torah can be obeyed in its entirety (Deut. 30:12-13). We have the potential. One who is created in G-d’s image can reach unbelievable heights. By testing us, G-d helps us to realize our potential so we can become better people and be a light that shines forward for all mankind in a dark world (Matt. 5:16). We have to be tested in ways that will develop our weakest character traits. If we don’t pass the first time, if G-d should preserve us for another round, we will certainly have another opportunity!
To those who feel alienated or estranged from G-d, we may find an explanation for this feeling in the writing of Rabbi Moshe Luzzato, that we are required “to believe and know” that there is a G-d. This statement is initially difficult to understand on the surface, especially if we try to understand it from the English. It would seem that if I know there is a G-d, then belief is extraneous. But the explanation is that knowing does not refer to empirical knowledge for even the demons know G-d, but must become inseparable from who we are and how we view the world. If when we think about G-d we forget the world and when we think about the world we forget G-d, then our trust is theoretical at best. We must internalize G-d and integrate Him into every aspect of our lives. This level of knowing can only be attained through experiencing G-d. This is accomplished through the process of trials and tribulations; initially feeling as if we have been abandoned and are spiritually hopeless, only to discover that through our prayers and supplication; tears and despair; hope and trust, that G-d is with us through the entire process; through the storm, reaching His hand out to pull us from the depths of despair just as He did with Peter on the water (Matt. 14:22-33) and in providing the ram for the sacrifice at the last minute before Avraham was to slay his son. This narrative is written for us; to prepare us and show us that IF we follow G-d and His Torah; IF we seek to learn His ways, He will be ever present and the Ruach HaKodesh will remain alongside us. When the sea has returned to calm, our trust and love for G-d will be deeper than ever before and we will ascend another step in our relationship with Him. Moreover, we will be available to assist someone else as they go through their trials because we have been there. Now we know. Sarah and Avraham grew in their relationship to G-d through their incredible experiences even though there was doubt. G-d instilled Sarah with wisdom that was manifest through her jealousy for her son’s position (Gen.21:8-12) and through His direct communication and fulfillment of His word throughout Avraham’s and Sarah’s lives. Avraham’s name for Mount Moriyah says it all; “Adonai Yir-eh” meaning [Adonai will see (to it), Adonai provides]” (Gen. 22:14)
Haftarah: 2 Kings 4:1
In our parashah, the angels tell Abraham, “Just like you are alive today, you will be alive next year…” In the Haftarah, we read the same phrase used by the prophet Elisha. As he passed through Shunam, a woman saw him and invited him into her house. This woman, although meager of means, convinced her husband to build Elisha a room in their attic to make the holy man more comfortable. Elisha wanted to pay her for her kindness. He discovered that the woman wanted only one thing in life, a child. He told the woman, “Just like you are alive today, you will be alive next year, and you will embrace a child.” This story connects well with our parashah. Not only is the prophecy similar, but the same phrase is used in both cases!
B’rit Chadashah: Hebrews 6:13-20
These passages and the ones prior to our sidra (the portion of the Torah reading) warn us that when people who have experienced reconciliation to G-d through Yahshua’s sacrifice and then fall away from faith by trusting not in Yahshua’s own sacrificial death and high-priestly office, but in animal sacrifices and the system of the Cohanim which the Torah set up to administer them- then it is impossible to renew them so that they turn from their sin, as long as for themselves they keep executing the Son of G-d on the stake all over again. The reason is that they ignore what His death on the stake means, as proven by their trusting in animal sacrifices instead of His sacrifice. Thus, they keep holding Him up to public contempt by not glorifying his death as an atoning death, seeing it as having no special significance, so that His execution as a criminal becomes the dominant theme.
The purpose of the author of Hebrews who I believe was Apollos, a Torah observant Jew from Alexandria, was not to provide fuel for the Calvinist-Arminian controversy of 1500 years later, but to turn his readers’ concern away from the animal sacrifices and toward the significance of Yahshua’s final sacrifice. This is clear from the context of the following four chapters, that deal with precisely this question and which constitute the heart of the book. Keep in mind, the sacrificial system that will be re-instituted in the future according to Ezekiel will be established because Yahshua will be ruling with an iron hand at that time, and all who are living will be required to follow it.
It is helpful to know something about Apollos as the scriptures describe him in Acts 18:24-28. He was an eloquent man and mighty in the scriptures. It is written that he was instructed by Aquilla and Priscilla (a woman) after they heard him, taking him unto themselves and expounding unto him the way of G-d more perfectly.
It is possible to make a Midrash on these verses that does not address the Calvinist- Arminian controversy. Calvinism teaches the eternal security of the believer. It is possible to define “believer” tautologically, in such a way that no one so defined as “believer” ever falls away; but then no one could be certain he/she is a “believer” until his/her life has ended. For it is manifestly possible for a person to trust the Messiah as fully as he/she knows how, by any imaginable subjective or objective measure of his ability to trust, and to experience subjectively all the benefits of faith, and still fall away at a later point in time. If that happens, it is impossible, so long as he/she remains In that state, to renew him/her again to that he/she turns from his/her sin. Why? Because G-d has given us everything He can give, yet now he/she refuses to accept his/her status as righteous with G-d, along with the responsibility of living a holy life within the Torah. In vv. 7-8 these good gift of G-d are compared to rain, intended to make a good crop grow. But if an evil crop comes, it is in due course burned- a reminder of the fate of the wicked on the Day of Judgment. But the New Testament (Refreshed, renewed Covenant) way of dealing with the security of the believer is different. Yochanan (John) articulates it well: “The way we can be sure we know Him is if we are obeying His commands” (1 Jn. 2:3-6).
Some, insisting on the eternal security of one who has confessed the Messiah, understand this passage to say that carnal believers will be deprived of rewards ( 1 Cor. 3:8-15), or that they will spend the Millennial Age (Rev. 20:2-7…) in Outer Darkness (see Matt. 22:13-14) instead of ruling with Messiah. There is no hint of “justification by works”; rather the work and service to his people constitute “good actions already prepared by G-d,” that is the Torah having been delivered, which those “delivered by grace through trusting” should do (Eph. 2:8-10).
Such action-oriented urging to persevere is also found in 1 Cor. 9:25-27; Rom. 8:11-13 and 12:1-2. The point is reinforced by being expressed negatively in the advice not to be sluggish – a word found in the B’rit Chadashah (New Testament) only at the beginning and end of this exhortation in 6:11, 12 and at 5:11). Believers will surely realize their hope and receive what has been promised. This is the reason for the demonstration in vv.13-19 of how sure G-d’s promises are to those exhibiting trust and patience.
The verses from 13-20 demonstrate that Avraham was a man of great trust (11:8-19; compare to Rom 4:1-22; Gal. 3:6-18). The double security of oath and promise that G-d offered him should encourage us to whom a hope has been set before us of going right on through… the curtain of the Holy Place in heaven to G-d himself (10:22).We are able to do this because we are united with Yahshua who has entered ahead of us as our forerunner just as He was the Column of Cloud by day in the desert for the Israelite’s. He was and is able to enter because he became a Cohen Gadol (High Priest) forever, to be compared to Malki-Tzedek. Malki-Tzedek was the King/Priest of Salem (Jerusalem). Abraham paid tithes to him which makes him a higher order than the Levitical priesthood. Yahshua was of this order and not a Levite. The author thus returns to the line of thinking from which he had shifted at 5:10 in order to exhort his readers to diligence and to lay the groundwork for his argument (7:20-21).
May we draw on the strength of YHVH/Yahshua as we endure our refining experiences. May we persevere and overcome, continually seek wisdom, grace, peace beyond all human understanding, and the opportunity to uplift and encourage others as they are tried and tested as did those of G-d’s people described in and behind the scenes of the written Torah.
Rabbi Tamah Davis-Hart