Parshat Vayera by Rabbi Ed Gelb
All things sight related are discussed in parshat Vayera this week. If you read the narrative there are many incidents of people seeing things, not seeing things, seeing different things, and having things unseen revealed. In Torah study, the repetition of a word or root is a signal of something important.
Here are three parts of the parsha that are interesting.
The Torah portion begins with Abraham convalescing at the entrance of his tent after his circumcision. God appears to Abraham and we learn the mitzvah of visiting the sick. In terms of seeing, God takes the action of appearing to Abraham. Abraham seems passive. However, recognizing God in one’s life takes an openness to see. Next, Abraham “lifts up his eyes” and sees the messengers upon him. Here, Abraham is looking to do the mitzvah of Hachnasat Orchim (welcoming guests). He is very active in the process. We have the ability to seek out opportunities to do good in the world.
After Isaac is born, Sarah “sees” Ishmael behaving in a way that prompts her to tell Abraham to kick out Hagar and Ishmael. Abraham does not “see” this behavior and is upset. God tells him to listen to Sarah and not to worry because things will work out for Ishmael as well. One could give a different d’var Torah on the importance of listening to one’s wife, but I’ll leave that for a different day.
Hagar and Ishmael are stranded in the desert and have run out of water. Hagar places Ishmael apart from her so she does not have to “see” him die. She is in denial and refuses to see the truth. God takes note (sees) Ishmael where he is and causes Hagar to “lift up her eyes and see” a well. They are saved. Here, it is important to think about why Hagar was unable to see the well. Was it because God had just made it or because she was blinded to see the path to her own salvation? Are we blinded in similar ways?
The Akedah comes next. Abraham and Isaac are walking up the mountain together when Isaac comments on what he doesn’t see. He says that he sees the fire and the wood but asks where is the burnt offering? Isaac has put two and two together and sees that it is him. Do children see things clearer than adults?
On the mountain God stays Abraham’s hand. Then, Abraham “lifts up his eyes and sees” the ram caught in the thicket. Abraham, eerily like Hagar, did not see a path other than the sacrifice of his own son when maybe it was there all along.
Sight is tricky. Everyone tends to see what they want to see, fail to see other directions when immersed in tough situations, and often miss that God appears in our lives. Remedies to this begin with acknowledging that things aren’t always what they appear and to keep an open mind. Additionally, we need to rely on others to help us see. One key theme that applies to us is that we need to actively seek to see. Abraham looked for opportunities to be hospitable, and then they came.
This Shabbat read through the portion and see how many times some variant of the word “see” appears. There are many lessons waiting to be seen.