I had a very weird experience this Shabbat- while listening to the Torah and Haftorah reading, all I wanted to do was cry.
I have read Vayera many times. It is the one with Sedom getting destroyed and Lot’s daughters sleeping with him; it’s the one where Sarah get’s pregnant and has Yitzchak; it’s the one where Hagar gets sent out this time for real because Yishmael was “playing” with Yitzchak; It’s where Avraham tells Sara to be his sister, yet again, and of course they get caught and there is confusion and anger; it is the one where Abraham both prays to not destroy Sedom and goes down the numbers; it is the one where Abraham and Yitzchak go for a “walk” and where he ties up his own son to give over to God.
So it’s pretty famous. Parts are read on Rosh Hashana. It is one of the parshiot that has all the “good” stories for when you are teaching. But this year I just sat in shul with tears forming in my eyes.
I tried to figure out why, and really I don’t even have a good answer.
I do think that it is a parsha where there are a lot of female characters and they are trying to have power, but it always seems weird. Like Lot’s daughters think that the world has ended, so they decide to get their father drunk and then sleep with him to repopulate the world. So yes, in some ways they are the ones in control – it is their decision, not their father’s to try to repopulate; they come up with a plan; for all they know they are actually the only humans left on earth, and so they will be the mothers of the new world. But then again – the world they knew was utterly destroyed; they almost were sent out to an angry mob to calm the mob down, but allowing an entire community to just rape them; and here they are and the “only” option they can think of is to have sex with their father!!
Or we can go with Sara. She finally has a child. After the years of being infertile and all the stress that means, especially is such a society, so conceives and then gives birth. She also is still married to what seems like a very important person, that still is hanging out with the greatest leaders of the time, and she gets to tag along. But what happens – well, her maidservant’s child (who she thought would be a good idea to try and repopulate their family) is doing weird things with her son that she just had – her choices are to either send that woman and boy away or to watch her son be hurt, so she has to then throw them out. Yes, there is power in that- Avraham is told to listen to everything she says. By throwing them out, she is now the woman in control of the household and her son is the only son to think about, there is no in person competition. But it will make a scene, she is throwing someone into the desert, there is no way to know if they can or will survive. And she has to throw them out because there is abuse going on in her household!
And then there is the time that she is going along with Avraham, and once again says yes to go along with his plan to “be his sister” when they go to Canaan. Ok, so maybe it would save him – but they did this plan already and it did not go the way they wanted it to. And why would it be better, to once again be brought to the kings palace and try to push off his seductions – really, because what I have learned is if you say no to the king, it’s basically off with your head. So better her head than her husband?
And then there is Avraham. He seems like he is fighting for the good of the people. He doesn’t think that a nation should just be destroyed. He believes that there MUST be some good, there can’t be complete evil in the world. Well, he learns the hard way that there were not even 10 good and decent people in Sedom (what does that say about our world today?!) and so he had to watch a nation get destroyed. In some ways he prayers failed, all of his fighting and thinking were just pushed away and thought of as nothing.
And then there is the end of the Parsha, where he is asked to go and sacrifice his son. The one that he was praying for and begging for, he now has to be the hand that will kill him. Again it seems like God is taking away the gifts that He has given, but Avraham must be a witness to the loss and destruction. It seems clear that Avraham didn’t kill Yitzchak (ok, maybe he did but then Yitzchak was revived), but he still lost him. Yitzchak goes away. They have no more conversations. They have no more in person interactions. So he might have not killed his person, but he did kill his relationship.
And then the Haftorah, was a woman who had no children – Elisha performed a miricle and she had oil (so she could then sell it for money) and she conceived. But soon after the son was born, he fell sick and died, and so she calls out to Elisha to help her once again. He is able to bring him back from the dead, but there was still that bit where her life was given and then taken away. She had to go through that craziness twice.
I am not sure what my actual conclusion is – but I do know that this Parsha made me think a lot about loss. Loss of blessings, loss of power, loss of independence, loss of control, loss of connection…