Parashat Vayeira--Genesis 18:1-22:24
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Questions for Young Children

  • What do you do to make your friends feel welcome when they visit you?  What do your friends do to welcome you to their house?
  • Avraham and Sarah's child is named Yitzhak which means laughter.  What's your Hebrew name?  Do you know what it means?  If you could pick your own name that fit who you are, what would you choose?
  • Lot and his family run away from the town before it's destroyed so they can be safe.  They are told not to look back at the destruction, but Lot's wife does look back and is punished for that. Do you think she should be punished for being curious?  Why didn't God want her to see the city being destroyed?  Do your parents ever not want you to look at something on the computer or TV screen? 

Questions for Older Children

  • When the angels announce that Sarah who is beyond the time when she should be pregnant will have a baby, she laughs.  What kind of a laugh is it?  You probably laugh at good jokes but are they other times you laugh? What are you feeling at those times?
  • God announces to Avraham that God will destroy Sodom and Gomorrah.  Then Avraham begins to bargain with God and persuades God to save the righteous people if Avraham can find even ten righteous.  Why do you think God even mentioned God's plan to Avraham?  Why not just do what God planned?
  • How is Lot's hospitality different than Avraham's?

 Questions for Teens and Adults

  •  There are three  encounters with angels (malakhim) or representatives from God in this parasha.  Notice how the number of malakhim shifts.  In chapter 18, three men arrive at Avraham and Sarah's tent, two angels show up in S'dom, and one angel stops Avraham from completing the Akedah.  Do you think there's any significance to this 3-2-1 phenomenon?  Can you create a midrash about this?  
  • After Sarah laughs, she backtracks and denies it to the angels (18:13).  Why would she do that?  Do you think people should restrain their honest emotions or deny them?
  • God says that God will fulfill the covenant with Avraham. The condition is that Avraham's descendants must follow the way of God and do tzedakah and mishpat.  (18:19) There are many different translations for the word.  In modern Hebrew, one might translate tzedakah as righteousness and mishpat as law.  How do you understand the terms tzedakah and mishpat?  What does it mean to you today to fulfill that promise?
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SInce this week's parasha opens with Avraham and Sarah's hospitality, any table decor that makes guests feel welcome fits.

  • Small children who can write enjoy making place cards for guests or simply write their names.  You can create a tree (Avraham was sitting under the trees as his guests arrived) with the names hanging from the branches.  
  • You can prepare small gift packages to take home--a tiny hallah roll for everyone.
  • A fruit bowl in the middle of the table always says "welcome."
  • Teach the Hebrew phrase for "welcome"--"b'rukhim ha-ba'im", blessed are those who come.

Sarah's laughter can lead you to create a joke centerpiece.

  • Download Jewish jokes, Yiddish jokes, or Israeli jokes from the internet.  Place them in a bowl as your centerpiece.  During the meal ask each guest to pull a joke from the pile and tell it to the others.
  • If you use electonics on Shabbat, the world of comedy video is open to you as well.
  • This can all lead to a discussion of Sarah's laughter and Yitzhak's name. 

Lot gets drunk after leaving S'dom and following the transformation of his wife into a pillar of salt.  I'm not suggesting a drunken orgy this Shabbat, but a slection of wines can be part of your centerpiece.

  • Select Israeli wines and search for the backstory of the brand or the backstory of the revitalization of the wine industry under Baron de Rothschild
  • Select a wine from HaGefen Cellars in Napa.  The winery is now closed due to the fire in Napa Valley but you can show your support for them by buying a bottle from your local wine store.
  • Discuss how ancient the winemaking tradition is in Israel.  You can find a winepress (gat) in many archaeological sites and even locate a city in Israel with "winepress" as part of its name.
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Guests are coming! This parasha opens with Avraham spying three strangers outside his tent. He hurries to greet them, tells Sarah to make bread and cake, and then butchers a calf and takes some milk and curds and offers the meal to the guests. After eating, the guests announce that Sarah will bear a child; she laughs and then tries to hide her amusement, but God is not fooled. The parasha continues with the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah, Avraham’s journey to Gerar, the birth of Isaac, the expulsion of Ishmael from Avraham’s household, and closes with the dramatic tale of the Binding of Isaac.

Find the food connection...

.וַתַּבֵּט אִשְׁתּוֹ, מֵאַחֲרָיו; וַתְּהִי, נְצִיב מֶלַח

Lot’s wife, behind him, looked back, and she thereupon turned unto a pillar of salt.
--Genesis 19:26

Salty food!  Chicken with Capers and Artichokes

The Side Dish
Being in Israel is glorious, but I can’t escape the issues that still plague women here.  Most of you have probably read about the struggle being waged by the Women of the Wall. It seems like a never ending saga. When I was here in March 2016, it looked as though there was a breakthrough with the rabbinate, but the struggle endures. Of course there are strides being made in egalitarianism in individual batei k'nesset and schools, but the official rabbinate is unbending.  In the secular Israeli world there are issues as well.  I learned during Shabbat lunch that the wage differential between men and women is one of the highest among developed nations.  Israeli men earn 22% more than women.  I heard an anecdote that a Tel Aviv restaurant offers women a 30% discount on their menu.  Aprocryphal--perhaps, but the point is clear.  If a woman earns less than her male counterpart, she can afford less. 

With these thoughts on my mind as I read Parashat Vayeira, I wondered how the parasha would read were  it were rewritten from a female point of view. Sarah, Hagar, Lot’s wife and daughters all have roles to play in this parasha but compared to Avraham, Lot, and even the two boys—Ishmael and Yitzhak, they seem like bit players. Next week we'll read a parasha named for a woman, but it's about her death.  Particularly during the Akedah (binding of Yitzhak), Sarah's absence is striking.  What would she think of this test?  What did she know of this journey Avraham and Yitzhak took without her? What can we read into the juxtaposition of chapter 22 (the Akedah) and chapter 23--the death of Sarah?

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A Dash of Rashi

When the angels tell Avraham and Sarah that a son will be born to them even at their advanced ages, they promise to return k'ayt haya (Gen. 18:10), often translated as "when the season comes round." Literally, ayt means "time" and haya means "living."  What does "living time" mean? It's a strange combination.   Rashi translates the phrase to mean "at this time" and dates this as next Pesah when Yithak will be born and when all three family members will be alive and well.  Childbirth at any age in ancient times was dicey for women, but considering Sarah's age, surviving the birth of her son was as much a miracle as delivering the child. How would you translate the phrase and how do you interpret it?

 

A Dash of Talmud and Botany


ג' עזין הן ישראל באומות כלב בחיות תרנגול בעופות וי"א אף עז בבהמה דקה וי"א אף צלף באילנות

--Beitza 25b

...There are three distinguished in strength [fierceness]: Israel among the nations, the dog among animals, [and] the cock among birds. Some say: Also the
goat among small cattle. And some say: Also the caper-bush among shrubs. 

What's so special about the caper (צלף)?  According to the book Siah v'Aytz b'Moreshet Yisrael by Noga Hareuveni, the caper bush can take root in a wide variety of places from mountains to the plain to the desert. It's probably the plant you've seen that sprouts from the Kotel or between rocks. It's the first plant to flower and produce its berries after a fire. What do your guests think of this analogy?

 

A Dash of Feminist Commentary

In The Women's Torah Commentary edited by Rabbi Elyse Goldstein, Rabbi Cynthia A. Culpeper addesses one of my questions this week, what happens if we take a look at events from the perspective of one of the unnamed women?  Her focus is Mrs. Lot.  Before reading her article, I hadn't considered that Mrs. Lot was a native of S'dom and although she escaped with her husband and two daughters, she probably left behind family and friends to perish in the brimstone and hail. Rabbi Culpeper cites Targum Yerushalmi as the source for understanding why Lot's wife looked back. Rabbi Culpeper urges us to consider the idea that Lot's unnamed wife "radically chose to become such a pillar, both of memorial and of direction." (p. 65). She is sending a message to her unnamed daughters and to future generations to remember to turn back, remember your heritage even as you move forward. The commentary takes into account that the Hebrew for a pillar of salt is n'tziv melah , not amud melah. N'tziv comes from the same root as matzevah which also means memorial.

 

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Chicken with Capers and Artichokes
Serves 8

Ingredients

  • 8 chicken boneless chicken breasts and/or thighsrsz artichoke chicken copy
  • olive oil
  •  pepper
  • 1 tsp. thyme or zataar
  • 3 cups quartered, marinated artichoke hearts, drained
  • 2/3 cup capers, drained
  • ½ cup white wine
  • 2 lemons juiced or sliced thin
  • Parsley for garnish

Directions

  1. Place all the capers, artichoke hearts, wine, and lemon juice or lemon slices in a casserole or roaster.
  2. Top with chicken fillets.
  3. Brush chicken with olive oil.
  4. Season with pepper and thyme or zataar.
  5. Cover with foil and bake @ 375º 40 min. or until chicken is thoroughly cooked.
  6. Garnish with parsley.

This recipe also works well with fish fillets, but cut the cooking time to 20 min.

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