Vayera: Healing Through Giving

Copyright 2010 Neal Joseph Loevinger

Torah Portion: Vayera

Good morning!

This week the Torah portion opens with Avraham in his tent:

“The Lord appeared to him by the terebinths of Mamre; he was sitting at the entrance of the tent as the day grew hot. Looking up, he saw three men standing near him. . . .” (Bereshit 18:1-2)

Many commentators assume that he’s sitting in the tent recovering from being circumcised, which happened at the end of last week’s parsha. (Cf. Bereshit 17.) Not only that, but since the three visitors appear to be divine messengers, the classic commentary is that the Holy One appears to Avraham to visit him in his recovery- doing the mitzvah of visiting the sick and setting the example for the rest of us.

Our friend Rashi says that Avraham sat in the opening of the tent to see if he might welcome any wanderers, and makes this point even stronger by quoting an earlier text which notices that the text says this happened “as the day grew hot.” According to this midrash , we learn about the heat of the day in order to teach that there was a special miracle to make the day especially hot so that Avraham would not encounter travelers, so he would not have to trouble himself with hospitality. The problem was that Avraham himself- according to the midrash– was troubled by not having guests, so God made the three angels appear in the likeness of men.

This interpretation is a bit complicated, but it gets to something important: sometimes the way out of pain- physical or spiritual- is by giving. Avraham might have been recovering from his circumcision, but according to this midrash he didn’t want his discomfort to prevent him from the hospitality, the hesed [lovingkindness], to which he was committed. In fact- if we go with this reading- not giving seems to have been more painful for him than surgery, since he was so troubled being all alone that God appointed the men to appear so Avraham would have the joy of generosity.

Seen this way, Avraham is not only an example of hesed- loving/giving- but also of healing, for his path of healing was not to withdraw from the world but to surpass his pain with a greater pleasure. This is not to say that we should never take time to rest and focus on our own healing, but giving to others can, under the right circumstances, lift us out of self-focus and provide a vital connection which itself is part of the healing process.

True story: many years ago I served as a chaplain intern at a large Jewish independent living complex for seniors. Some of the residents ran a tutoring program for local elementary and junior high school students, who came to the apartments for help with their schoolwork. I will never forget that one woman had a serious operation (more serious than circumcision!) and was bedridden for weeks- but as soon as she could, she invited her students to come to her bedside and she tutored them while lying flat on her back, with blankets covering the bandages.

That’s what it means to be a descendant of Avraham.

Shabbat Shalom,

RNJL

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