Vayeira 5763

June 23, 2009

5 min read


Vayeira (Genesis 18-22 )

GOOD MORNING!  At a Simcha (a religious celebration - for example, a wedding or Bar Mitzvah) a man asked me if I was a doctor. Feeling witty, I replied, "A doctor of the soul" to which he asked ... "Oh, a podiatrist?"

After I put last week's edition "to bed" I thought of another indication that we have a soul. If someone tells you that a person spilled a glass and asks you, "What are you going to do about it?" your reaction likely is, "Nothing. Let the person who spilled the milk clean it up!" However, if someone tells you that people are starving in Biafra and asks you, "What are you going to do about it?" your reaction likely is, "What can I do about it? I am only one person!" If you could, you would do something about it; you don't say it is someone else's problem. There is something wired in us that we are responsible for the whole world and that if we could do something, we must do something! This is the soul talking, not the body.

Last week I presented two approaches to how we know that we have eternal souls; below is the third explanation from Moshe Nachmanides, a brilliant Jewish philosopher, kabbalist, scholar who lived in the 13th century Spain and once defended the faith before the king of Spain in a debate against a Jewish apostate. The king of Spain awarded Nachmanides 300 coins of the realm and was quoted as saying, "Never have I heard anyone so wrong argue so well." (You can actually read his account of the debate in a readily available book called The Disputation, available from your local Jewish book store or by calling toll-free 877-758-3242). The following is adapted from Nachmanides' commentary to Leviticus 18:29:

(3)  Logic from the Torah - The Torah is an instruction book for life.

It sets out for us a structure for our lives, the do's and don'ts for us as individuals and for us as a people. It also tells us that there are consequences for our actions - both reward and punishment - in this world and the next. Some rewards are bountiful - peace in our land, rain in the proper time, warehouses full of produce. Some punishments are strong and harsh. Life is serious business; there are consequences.

Punishment ranges from corporal punishment (lashes) to the death penalty. For certain transgressions, the Torah states that the punishment is "Karet," that the soul is cut off - meaning that the soul will not enter the world to come. This punishment is specified for incest amongst other transgressions. For these transgressions, the Torah uses language such as "that soul will be cut off from before Me" (Leviticus 22:3).

Nachmanides' argument is that the eternality of the soul is derived from a logical inference from the verses regarding the punishment of being "cut off."

Writes Nachmanides, the punishment of being cut off can't refer to the death of the body since everybody's' body ultimately dies (is cut off). And it can't be referring to the premature death of those transgressors, since there have been many transgressors of these specific transgressions who have lived to be very old.

Therefore, the punishment of being cut off must only refer to the complete destruction of the soul.

Knowing that the soul can be destroyed compels us to make the following logical inference: one who transgresses these specific transgressions will have his soul destroyed. Therefore, one who doesn't transgress will not have his soul destroyed. In other words, the soul will continue living eternally.

What is the point of trying to demonstrate that we have souls? My goal is to show that we are not animals. We have a purpose above and beyond physical survival and the material world. Our essence is spiritual. Unless we come to grips with our essence, we can never find true happiness or meaning in this world. It is proverbial how unhappy even the rich can be; one cannot find happiness in physical things. A material item cannot fill a spiritual void. And what should we do to fill that spiritual need? Read the Torah (I recommend the Artscroll Stone edition), go to and investigate, study with a Torah teacher or rabbi with whom you can relate and chart a path of study.

Torah Portion of the Week

Avraham, on the third day after his brit mila, sits outside his tent looking for guests to extend his hospitality. While talking with the Almighty, he sees three visitors (actually angels of the Almighty). Avraham interrupts his conversation with the Almighty to invite them to a meal. One angel informs him that in a year's time, Sarah, his wife, will give birth to a son, Yitzhak (Isaac).

God tells Avraham that He is going to destroy Sodom because of its absolute evil (the city is the source of the word sodomy). Avraham argues with God to spare Sodom if there can be found ten righteous people in Sodom. Avraham loses for the lack of a quorum. Lot (Avraham's nephew) escapes the destruction with his two daughters.

Other incidents: Avimelech, King of the Philistines, wants to marry Sarah (Avraham's wife), the birth of Yitzhak, the eviction of Hagar (Avraham's concubine) and Ishmael. Avimelech and Avraham make a treaty at Beersheva. Avraham is commanded to take up his son, Isaac, to sacrifice him (Akeidat Yitzhak). Lastly, the announcement of the birth of Rivka (Rebecca), the future wife of Yitzhak.

Want to know the reward for listening to the command of the
Almighty? This is what the Almighty told Avraham:

"... I shall surely bless you and greatly increase your descendants like the stars of the heavens and like the sand on the seashore; and your offspring shall inherit the gate of its enemy. And all the nations of the earth shall bless themselves by your offspring, because you have listened to My voice."


Dvar Torah
based on Love Your Neighbor by Rabbi Zelig Pliskin

After inviting the three strangers to partake in a meal, the Torah states:

"And Avraham ran to the herd and fetched a tender and good
calf and gave it to the lad and he hurried to prepare it."

Who was the lad and why did Avraham give the calf to him?

Rashi cites Midrash Braishis Rabbah 48:13 which identifies the lad as Yishmael (Avraham's son from Sarah's handmaid, Hagar). Avraham gave him the calf in order to train him in fulfilling Mitzvot, commandments. Rabbi Yisrael Meir Kagan, the Chofetz Chaim, writes that we learn from here that a person should not only do "chesed", kindness, himself, but he should also educate and train his children to do acts of kindness.


"In a place where no one is taking responsibility, take responsibility!"
    -- Hillel

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Never attribute to malice
that which can be explained
by mere stupidity.
-- Mimbari proverb

In Honor of the Bat Mitzvah of
our beloved daughter,
Nestor and Maria Gorfinkel
and son, Luis

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