Vayera by Rabbi David Hartley Mark

Vayera (וירא)
Torah: Genesis 18:1 – 22:24
Haftarah (S): II Kings 4:1 – 4:23
Haftarah (A): II Kings 4:1 – 4:37

All have heard, I am sure, of the Sacrifice of Isaac, how the Lord God demanded that Abraham take and sacrifice his son, his only son, whom he loved, that is, Isaac. Abraham was commanded to take his son—the younger, not the elder; Ishmael was, by this time, bending his bow in the wilderness of Paran, and seeking a bride from Egypt—and sacrifice him upon Mount Moriah, which may or may not have been the Temple Mount, in centuries to come.

Of course, this was only a test. Why God chose to do this is shrouded in mystery. At the last minute, God changed His mind, sent an angel to clear things up with poor, deluded old Abraham—the various Jewish commentaries have given reasons enough for this—and conveniently planted a ram in the thicket, there for Abraham, His good and faithful servant, to snare, slay, and sacrifice. Well and good, except for the ram, whose selfless donation to the drama the Jewish People memorialize each year, by sounding the shofar, or ram’s horn, on their High Holy Days. It does not return my Brother Ram to life, but I am certain that he appreciates being thought of.

The shofar is, of course, the supreme symbol of the High Holies. It has given rise to a belief that, just as Isaac was willing to make the supreme sacrifice—I am personally uncertain of this; after all, his father never formally asked him—so should all Jews be similarly willing. Well, I have my doubts, but I do believe in the power of Tradition.

You may ask, how do I know so much about this and various other traditions? I am no angel, Seraph of flaming fire, or emissary of the Lord God Almighty; no. I am a far humbler messenger. I am none other than the donkey who bore both Master Abraham and Son Isaac to the Place of Sacrifice, Mount Moriah. Today, it serves as the possible foundation of the Temple, which Jews believe will be rebuilt when Messiah arrives.

A donkey, you say? And you, perhaps, laugh up your sleeve. But Gentle Reader, I am no ordinary Jack, or male donkey. No, indeed: I am a creature of legend and Midrash, of story and myth. I was created at twilight on the Eve of the First Sabbath. I am pure white in color. I rode with Noah on the Ark; I carried both King David and King Solomon into the Holy City of Jerusalem, on their respective Coronation Days, and it will be my holy task to bear the blessed weight of none other than Messiah into that noble city, when the End of Days arrives—what we call Eschatology. The Temple will be rebuilt, and Universal Peace will reign.

Do you laugh, Reader? Well, I can counsel you: stranger things have happened. I myself speak only of bearing the ruler or holy leader—that is, Abraham, David, Solomon, and the like. There are instances I could name where people have chosen such as me—a donkey, that is—as a political leader, and borne the consequences.

Well, I will keep silent. Abraham did what he felt best: that is, to follow the Lord’s instructions blindly, and not argue with Him. There are self-styled godly people such as that in the world today, I understand. Still, it baffles me how these same people can pick and choose what verses they prefer to enforce from the Bible, using them as cudgels to beat their neighbors over the head with. Even more strangely, they choose to ignore other verses which one might consider fundamental to the proper ordering of society—when Abraham and Abimelech settled their disagreement over sharing a well, for example. Abimelech saw that Abraham was a stranger, but he struck an agreement which gave both of them access to the well and its benefits (Gen. 21:25-34). They might not have loved one another, but they did respect each other. Though Abimelech was a pagan, he showed a great deal of good judgment in dealing with Abraham, a stranger in his land.

Don’t misunderstand me, Reader—I myself pick and choose—not from the Bible, of course, but when I eat my provender. There are grains I prefer, and I eat them first, such as sweet oats, while bitter sorghum is not my favorite, but I do get around to nibbling at it, sooner or later. Yet I wonder at human leaders who sin and brag about their mistreatment of—of—women, for example, and then play the saint, once they enter office. I have never mistreated a jenny—that is, a female donkey—in my entire life.

Well, enough of this. I am a donkey, and my task is to bear my burdens patiently, and not complain. I bore my masters Abraham and Isaac to the mountain and back again, even when I knew their mission was pointless, though noble in intent.

I have seen leaders, prophets, and kings come and go, and, unlike your human leaders, I exist forever. I will therefore keep silent, munch at my hay, and stand ready to admire the superior wisdom of you humans. We donkeys have small brains and are easily impressed, but never fear: we are always able to smell donkey-like behavior on the part of self-serving, big-headed, sanctimonious humans, especially those whom you have chosen to be leaders.

My dear Abraham made mistakes, but he learned from the Torah of God, and his love of humanity. I can only hope and pray that your leaders will humble themselves sufficiently to do the same.


Rabbi David Hartley Mark is from New York City’s Lower East Side. He attended Yeshiva University, the City University of NY Graduate Center for English Literature, and received semicha at the Academy for Jewish Religion. He currently teaches English at Everglades University in Boca Raton, FL, and has a Shabbat pulpit at Temple Sholom of Pompano Beach. His literary tastes run to Isaac Bashevis Singer, Stephen King, King David, Kohelet, Christopher Marlowe, and the Harlem Renaissance.

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