07 Nov 2014

Vayera 5775: Covenantal Creation

It is in this parasha that we find one of the most important elements of Judaism’s approach to creating a relationship with G-d. While there is no question that obeying G-d’s commandments is a major part of the Jewish programme, there is something else that begins here with our forefather Abraham. Abraham is brought behind the scenes to discuss G-d’s management of world events. G-d tells him that the city of Sedom has reached its breaking point and that His divine plan is to shut down Sedom.

“And G-d Said: ‘The outcry in Sedom and Amora — how great it is! And their sin — how exceedingly heavy it weighs!…If they have done according to this cry that has come to me — destruction!’” (18:20-21)

Abraham hears this and instead of simply thanking G-d for letting him know, he comments on the decision. He spends several verses discussing the circumstances that brought G-d to the conclusion, and actually questions its appropriateness and whether or not G-d has indeed chosen the best plan of action.

“Abraham came close and said: ‘Will You really sweep away the innocent along with the guilty? Perhaps there are fifty innocent within the city…’” (18:23-24)

What made Abraham think he could or should respond this way? Abraham knew that G-d was not just being courteous, but rather, this was an invitation to get involved with G-d on a whole new level. The impetus comes from G-d, not Abraham. It is G-d who, in His only soliloquy in the Bible, asks Himself a rhetorical question: “Am I concealing from Abraham what I’m about to do?!”[1] After all, He continues, “I know Abraham!” These extraordinary lines give us a powerful sense of G-d’s intent in creating, and interacting with, humanity.

G-d “knows” Abraham, and although He knows all things, “knowing” means something more here. Abraham has aligned himself with, and has become part of, G-d’s vision for creation. Abraham understands that G-d looks to humanity — the only beings on planet Earth who have the capacity for creativity — to become His partners in His endeavour of creativity and shared existence. Abraham entered into covenant with G-d to do just that.

 “I set my covenant between me and you.” (17:2)

 “As for me, here, my covenant is with you.” (17:4)

 “I establish my covenant between me and you and your seed after you throughout their generations as a covenant for the ages.” (17:6)

Abraham now needs to be privy to the plans, and involved in the decisions, as he has shown himself to be an active and faithful participant. He is not simply a subject of G-d’s kingdom, he is a partner[2]. It is because G-d “knows him!” that he decides that it is no longer appropriate to act in the world alone.

With this development, we, the descendants of Abraham, gain an understanding of the covenant that not only Abraham but all our forbears made with G-d at Mount Sinai. At the heart of this covenant is a commitment to Hesed  the cultivation of life in a manner that is most viable. In our study of Torah and the world, we search to understand how we might best know G-d and engage in Creation so that He might know us as he did Abraham our forefather, and become His partners.

Abraham’s movement grew and grew and developed into a great nation. Its greatest king, David, gave his son and successor, Solomon, the very same teaching with which Abraham began: “My son, know the G-d of your father and serve him with a whole heart…if you search for Him, He will be there for you.” (Divrei Hayamim I, 28:9)

Abraham Abinu taught us that we can inhabit a mutual space with G-d in which He is not only with us but we are with Him in His plans and endeavours.

Shabbat Shalom

Rabbi Joseph Dweck

[1] 18:17

[2] cf. Mo’ed Katan 16b – [G-d says:] “I decree and the tsadik nullifies it.”