|As I read through this week’s portion I couldn’t help but follow a seemingly common thread tying last week’s and this week’s portions together. The name of this week’s portion is “Vayera” which is generally translated as “And [He] Appeared.” The Hebrew root form of the word “Vayera” is the term “Ra’ah” and has to do with “sight, seeing and/or vision.” Reading through this Torah portion, I was continually struck by the amount of times the word “Ra’ah” was used and decided there must be some reason for this frequent usage. Now, to set the stage, I need to go back to last week’s portion in order for us to learn more about 2 (out of 3) different individuals, who could be viewed, for the sake of this observation, as our main actors.
The first character I want to introduce is a man by the name of Lot. Lot was the nephew of Abraham. He (Lot) traveled with Abraham all the way to the Land of Canaan. It was at this point that Lot and Abraham had to separate because their shepherds were quarreling over grazing rights (which is a common dispute between Cowboys/ Ranchers/and Herdsman in certain parts of the world, even to this day). Abraham tells Lot to choose for himself a part of the land, and this is where we begin our story. Abram said to Lot: “Please let there be no strife between you and me…Is not the whole land before you? Please separate from me. If you take the left, then I will go to the right; or, if you go to the right, then I will go to the left.” After this we read, “V’yisa Lot et-Einav Va’yar—And Lot lifted his eyes and saw…” What did Lot see? “…All the plain of Jordan…like the garden of the Lord…Lot chose for himself all the plain of Jordan…” Here is the first reference concerning “seeing” that I want to point out. Lot saw the well watered plain and decided, rather than staying with Abraham on the mountaintops, he would try his fortune in the land that was “K’Gan Hashem—Like the garden of the Lord.”
The next individual I want to bring in is a woman by the name of Hagar. We are first introduced to her in Genesis 16 as Sarah’s maidservant. Sarah, wife of Abraham (who is barren), recognizes the importance of being proactive in God’s plan of redemption. She tells her husband to take Hagar, her maidservant, as a “Surrogate Mother” of sorts, in order to perhaps have a son through Hagar through which God’s promises can be fulfilled.
|However, once Hagar becomes pregnant, she looks down on Sarai, as Sarai says in the text, “Shifchati…Terre Ki Harata Va’ekal Be’eineha…My maidservant… when she saw that she had conceived then I became despised in her eyes.” Sarai makes life difficult for Hagar until finally Hagar flees into the wilderness. While in the wilderness we read that the “Angel of the Lord” meets Hagar and instructs her to return to Sarai, her mistress. The Angel also promises her that her son will become an exceedingly large nation. After this encounter Hagar says of God, “Atah El Roi—You are the God who sees me.” She also states, “Halom Ra’iti Acharei Roi—Here I saw Him who looks after me.” This is the second reference about “seeing” which I wanted to mention before getting to this week’s portion.
The last person to complete our cast would be none other than our super-hero, “Honest Abe” himself! He is found at the beginning of this week’s portion (as tradition tells us) still recovering from his circumcision and it says “Vayera Elav Hashem—And to him the Lord appeared…” This is the last reference I wanted to bring up before getting into what all this means for us. You see, each of these characters, Lot, Hagar and Abraham appear in this portion, and once more, each of them is somehow connected to the word “Sight.” The first character was Lot. His “seeing” was in no way connected to spirituality; he “saw” the best of “Ha’aretz Canaan—The Land of Canaan,” and chose it for himself. He willingly put himself and his family into one of the most wicked cultures the world has ever known, and went after the “treasures on earth.” He lost everything. In this week’s parsha we read about the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah, the cities in which Lot was living. A Hebrew term connected to the word “Ra’ah—Sight” is found in this story when Lot’s wife, who was instructed to not look back at the city (by the angels who came to save them) did so anyway and turned into a pillar of salt. The Hebrew word used in this verse is the word “Navat—Gaze” which is obviously a different Hebrew word than “Ra’ah—Sight,” but it conveys the same idea, to “look” at something.
In this portion, Hagar is sent from Abraham’s house because Ishmael (her son) was mocking Isaac (son of Sarah). Abraham sends them out into the wilderness with bread and water. However the water runs out and Hagar leaves her son, the “young lad,” saying “Let me not see the death of the boy.” Suddenly God appears to Hagar repeating the same promise He had made to her some 17 years earlier, “I will make him (Ishmael) a great nation.” Next it says, “V’Yif’kach Elokim Et-Eineha VaTerre Baer Mayim…And God opened her eyes, and she saw a well of water.” God opens Hagar’s eyes and she sees a well of water, confirming something she had spoken 17 years earlier, “Atah El Roi—You are the God who sees me.”
Lastly, we read three times that Abraham “lifted his eyes.” Genesis 18:2 says, “So he lifted his eyes and looked…” Genesis 22:4 says, “…Abraham lifted his eyes and saw…” and Genesis 22:13 says, “Then Abraham lifted his eyes and looked…” Abraham had the habit of lifting his eyes!
Now that we have read all three accounts from our different characters we must ask the question, what distinguishes these “various, versions of visions?”
Lot, when we look at his life, seems to be attempting to attain the unattainable = the world and all it has to offer. It would have been well for him to have known the words of Yeshua, our Master, who said,“For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world, and loses his own soul?” Lot lifted his eyes and saw the wealth of the world. Not only did he see it and desire it, his wife could not keep her gaze away from it, causing her to be turned her into a pillar of salt. The life of Lot is comparable to many today who are living the life of the world; all they see is the world before them and so they pursue the passing pleasures because it all they know. The world has been caught up into the state of Lot’s wife = the state of “Navat—Gaze.” A fixed focus on things that really don’t matter, things that will in the end, burn up and pass away. This is the Lot version of “Sight and Vision.”
Hagar knew God from a distance. She knew Him as “Atah El Roi—You are the God who sees me.” I believe this is the next rung of “seeing” in our reality. Most religious people have some idea of a God that interacts with His creation. These people would relate to God with titles such as “Top Gun,” “Big Chief,” “Macho-Man,” “The Man Upstairs,” and perhaps “The Big Cheese.” God is the one who runs the universe according to His design and He relates to us as His underlings. He’s there for us and provides for us. But relationship with Him is impossible unless He wants it and only when He wants it. This is the Hagar version of “Sight and Vision.”
As for Abraham, his reality was one that broke all the norms of his time period. When Abraham “lifted his eyes” it was never done in order to see what he could gain, and it was never done with the view that God was some mystical being to whom the world cannot relate. Whenever, Abraham looked up it was to accomplish and bring God’s will into the world. Abraham looked up and saw his descendants as numerous as the stars, he looked up and took care of 3 strangers who were really angels, he looked up and saw the mountain of God from afar, and he looked up and saw an acceptable sacrifice to offer to God. I believe if we would learn to look up we could change the world!
The world and its ways have turned us into myopic, busy, blind hamsters running the rat race of life. The world is obviously running, but has anyone ever stopped to ask the question, “Where are we running to?” or “Why are we running?” Abraham was quick when preparing food for his unexpected guests, he was swift in saddling his donkey and heading to the mountain of God, and several times we read that Abraham“rose early in the morning.”
|But Abraham was a man with a commission on a mission for God. Truly, where is the world headed so fast?
The relationship Abraham had with God is the relationship we should all desire and strive for. Abraham’s “Sight and Vision” is revealed in Genesis 22 after the binding of Isaac. It says Abraham offered the ram in place of his son and declared in that place “In the Mount of the LORD it shall be provided.” However, where is the connection to the word “sight” in this verse? In Hebrew this phrase is, “B’Har Hashem Yeraeh.” This saying can literally be translated as “In the Mountain, the Lord will be seen.” When Abraham finished the last and hardest of his tests he declared, “The Lord will be seen.” You see, the difference between Abraham and the nations was Abraham didn’t just approach God as the “God who sees,” Abraham desired to be one who had seen God.
He recognized God, not as some outside “force” who is sometimes involved and other times not. Rather, Abraham knew that God desires relationship with humanity; he not only realized this truth, he shared this truth and pursued a relationship with God that was as close to “face to face” as is humanly possible. As it says in Psalm 34, “They looked to [God] and were radiant, and their faces were not ashamed.” This is my encouragement to us all. Look up! Help the stranger, work toward the mountain of God, offer sacrifices of thanksgiving, and shoot for the stars, knowing that the God beyond the stars is the one “who has begun a good work in you [and] will complete it until the day of Yeshua Messiah.”
Grace and peace from God’s bondservant,