A short D’var Torah for Parshat Vayera by R. Seth Wax
How reliable is our vision? How much do we really see? When we open our eyes, what is revealed to us? What do we have the capacity to take in and apprehend, and are we capable of seeing what is before us? What is revealed and what is hidden?
I’ve been thinking our ability to see since reading a fascinating observation by my friend and colleague Rabbi Lila Veissid. She notes that in this week’s parasha, Parshat Vayera (Genesis 18:1 – 22:24), which opens with the words, “and he appeared,” the theme of vision (re’iyah in Hebrew) is central. How so? In the parasha, 1) God is seen by Abraham as the latter sits by the terebinths of Mamre. 2) Abraham sees three angels walking past his tent on their way to Sodom and Gomorrah. 3) Lot’s wife looks behind her as her family flees the city as it is being destroyed and is turned into a pillar of salt. 4) Hagar does not want to look upon her son Yishma’el as he is about to die of thirst until an angel causes her to see a nearby well of water. And 5) just as Abraham is about to slaughter his son Isaac on top of Mount Moriah, as the angel calls out to him, he sees a ram whose horns are caught in a bush.
So many characters in the biblical narrative this week are challenged, destroyed, brought to tears, shaken out of their torpor, and literally saved because of the power of seeing. This parasha challenges us to bring our attention and awareness to what we see, what we think we see, and what we fail to apprehend. Will we be like Abraham who merits to see the divine presence? Will we turn toward the suffering of those closest to us, like Lot’s wife, or will we turn away from it, like Hagar, because the pain we feel is too great? Or will we, like Abraham, engage in misguided efforts to please a religious authority and endanger the life of someone we hold most dear until we are shocked by a heavenly voice that calls on us to see another way right under our nose?