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Parashas Vayera

In this parsha, G-d determines that the city of Sodom must be destroyed. But first G-d decides to inform Avraham of His decision. Why does G-d need to tell this to Avraham? Why does He, so
to speak, “clear it” first with Avraham? Rashi, quoting the Midrash Tanchumah, explains
G-d’s reasoning: “I called Avraham ‘Av hamon goyim – the father of many nations.’ How can I
destroy the children without first telling their father?”

This powerful and moving Midrash reveals to us the role assigned to Avraham. G-d changes his
name from Avram to Avraham to better define who he is and what his responsibilities are. He
is “Av hamon goyim” – not just the father of the Jewish people, but the father of many nations.
G-d tells Avraham about the plight of Sodom because Avraham’s responsibility is not only to
his own people, but to all people. Avraham’s commitment to this mandate is evident at the end
of Parshas Vayera. Avraham is commanded by G-d to bring his son to an undisclosed place and
offer him as a sacrifice.

The Torah relates that Avraham and Yitzchok are accompanied by two young men on their
journey. Once the place of the Akeidah comes into Avraham’s view, he tells the young men to stay behind, and he and Yitzchok continue on. The experience of the Akeidah was to be an exclusive encounter with G-d that only Avraham and Yitzchok could share. The young men who had accompanied Avraham and Yitzchok would not share the destiny of the Jewish people forged at the Akeidah. Yet the Torah records that “Avraham returned to the young men and they got up (vayakumu) and walked together to Be’er Sheva.” Of course Avraham went home after the Akeidah. Why does the Torah need to record this? Obviously, there must be some special
significance to this pasuk.

Rav Matti Alon suggests another translation for this term, “vayakumu”: “and he lifted them up.”
That pasuk would then be read, “And Avraham returned to the young men and he lifted them
up, and they walked together.” Avraham’s experience at the Akeidah was a pivotal moment in
history. Avraham demonstrates his total devotion to G-d, and he is promised that his
descendants will be blessed and will become a great nation. Avraham then returns from this
encounter to the young men he left behind. He shares his experience with them. Avraham “lifts
them up.” He inspires them.

Though only Avraham and Yitzchok could experience the Akeidah, they could nonetheless
convey the inspiration to those who were not present. Avraham fulfills his responsibility
by reaching out beyond himself, Rav Alon explains. In this way he fulfills his mission as
“Av hamon goyim.” Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchikz”l, emphasizes this aspect of Avraham’s
mission. He asks why our Patriarchs and Matriarchs are buried along with Adam and Chava
in the Tomb of the Patriarchs. It would seem more appropriate for them to have a separate burial
place befitting their role as the forebears of the Jewish people. This placement, the Ravz”l
suggests, teaches that although the Jew has a unique history and a unique destiny, the Jew must be intimately connected and involved with the history and destiny of all humankind. Our role and mission as Jews goes beyond concern for our own people. The first Jews, Avraham Aveinu and Sarah Imeinu, accepted the responsibility to be teachers for all people. This mission of Avraham and Sarah is the goal we declare three times each day in the prayer of “Aleinu,” when we state our commitment “lesakein olam beMalchut Shakai – to repair the world in the Kingdom of G-d.”

Rabbi Aaron Goldscheider
Rabbi Goldscheider is rabbi of Etz Chaim Synagogue in Jacksonville, FL

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