On Being a Jew
October 22, 2021
As is true with many of the Genesis Torah portions, this week’s parshah, Vayera, is so jam packed with content that selecting only one aspect for a column like this seems to do the overall parshah an injustice. However, if we consider the parshah in its totality, one could claim that if it had a general theme, it might be “on being a Jew.” There is a little of everything in this week’s reading; birth, death, laughter, sadness, revelation, mitzvot, miracles, fear, conflict, and much more.
The parshah opens with Gd’s revelation following Abraham’s circumcision, which teaches us about the mitzvah of visiting the sick. This is immediately followed by a masterful lesson in the art of hospitality that leads into the announcement of the impending miracle birth of Isaac. This is followed by the destruction of the “evil cities” of Sodom and Gomorrah, which is followed by the story of Lot and his wife’s transformation into a pillar of salt. From here we are reminded of Abraham and his “wandering Jew” status as he settles in Gerar. Lastly, we are introduced to the concluding story, which begins with the banishment of Isaac’s half-brother Ishmael and his mother Hagar and closes with the story of the Akedah (binding of Isaac).
The emotional roller coaster that the reader travels in this week’s parshah, supplemented with the tremendous content covered, provides a taste of what the Jewish people’s story will be for generations to follow. We are a people who, although few in number, have experienced disproportionate highs and lows over the years.
One particular rabbi, who has been a tremendous influence to me in trying to grapple with this during my career, was Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks z”l. Along with being a great 20th-21st century scholar, Rabbi Sacks, z”l was the former Chief Rabbi of the United Hebrew Congregations of the British Commonwealth from 1991 to 2013. His role in ensuring the safety, survival, and education of millions of Jews around the world highlighted his greatness as a builder of bridges, role model for the masses, and genuine light unto the nations.
Next Monday, October 25 and Tuesday, October 26 (Cheshvan 20), is the first yahrzeit (anniversary of a person’s passing) of Rabbi Sacks, z”l. In honor of this upcoming anniversary, and given the content of this week’s Torah portion, we share the following 5-minute video titled, “Why I am a Jew” by Rabbi Sacks, z”l.
“Why I am a Jew” by Rabbi Jonathan Sacks, z”l.
Each of us is on our own personal journey, with memories and moments unique to us. In this video Rabbi Sacks, z”l touches on many of our common experiences and what they mean to him. I encourage each of us to reflect on our own journeys and what they mean for the legacy we will leave behind for our children, and the generations that follow. However, no matter how unique our journey might be, the Jewish people have always united as a community (a minyan of 10 or more, which is also a topic of this week’s parshah) because we are…