Image: It is said that the tent of Abraham was open on all four sides. This is the tent of a modern bedouin household, also open on four sides to the desert around. (Pixabay)
A candidate for conversion once said to me, “I am glad that my name will be ‘bat Avraham v’Sarah,’ because my family of origin was so dysfunctional. It’s like I get a new family.” We had an interesting discussion.
That comment comes to mind every time I read Parashat Vayera, because it is difficult to imagine a family story more troubling than that of the extended family of Abraham. In this parashah alone, Lot offers his young daughters for rape, Abraham offers Sarah to Abimelech as a concubine, Sarah demands that Hagar and Ishmael be tossed out to die, and Abraham acquiesces to her demand. For a finale, Abraham meekly accepts the command to take a knife to his son Isaac. Next to this stuff, the soaps are tame.
As Judith Plaskow points out in The Torah, a Women’s Commentary, God is implicated in the violence in the text, commanding it, supporting it, or failing to comment. She asks, can we read these stories to strengthen our resolve to hold both ourselves and God accountable?
The lone voice against violence in this portion is that of Abraham, who advocates for hypothetical good people in Sodom. Abraham is abundantly imperfect – he did not choose to advocate for Sarah, or Hagar, or Ishmael, or even Isaac. Abraham could and did speak up for strangers, even though his track record at home wasn’t very good.
Abraham was imperfect. We’re all imperfect. Some of us come from wonderful families, and some of us don’t. However, we don’t have to come from perfectly happy backgrounds to speak up for those who are suffering or under attack.
Each of us faces choices about what we will allow to go unchallenged, and when we will speak up. May we be inspired by our imperfect ancestor to stand up for what is right and good when our time of testing comes.
This d’var Torah appeared in the CCAR Newsletter in a slightly different form.