Vayeira 5771

October 17, 2010

8 min read


Vayeira (Genesis 18-22 )

GOOD MORNING! Did you ever wonder if there is more to life than just your physical self - whether or not you have a soul? Ever wonder what made us different from the lower animals? Consider the following:

Imagine that you woke up this morning, looked into the mirror and instead of seeing yourself, you saw someone else? Would you ask, "Who am I?" or would you ask, "What happened to my body?"

Why do people sacrifice themselves to help or save others, to put their lives in danger for complete strangers?

Why do we human beings tend to see whatever we do as justified, that we are right and the other person is wrong - whether we cut off someone in traffic or commit genocide? (Adolf Hitler, may his name and memory be obliterated, once gave a speech that the German people are the only truly moral people. His "proof"? While the Germans were sending millions to death camps [which was justified ethnic cleansing, not murder in their minds], they were setting up societies to take care of their pets.)

Why if someone asks, "What are you going to do about people starving in Africa?" people don't say, "It's not my problem." Instead we respond, "What can I do about it? I am only one person!"

Your essence is something other than your physical self. There is something in the makeup of every human being that goes far beyond "survival of the fittest" - giving up one's life is not the way for either an individual or a species to survive. Why do we need to see ourselves as righteous? If you could, you would do something about the world's problems; 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!

That special something is the soul. The answer to all of the above questions is that the soul is talking, not the body.

The Torah teaches that we have a soul, that it is eternal and that is the essence of a human being. In the portion dealing with the creation of man the Torah says, "And the Almighty formed the man of dust from the ground, and He blew into his nostrils the soul of life" (Genesis 2:7). On this verse, the Zohar states that "one who blows, blows from within himself," indicating that the soul is actually part of God's essence. Since the soul is part of "God's essence" it is impossible that it should die.

Maimonides writes in the Mishneh Torah, Foundations of the Torah 4:9, "The soul is not made of physical matter, which will decompose. It is from God. Therefore, when the body dies, the soul is not cut off (except in the cases specified) from God. It exists forever. This is what King Solomon was referring to when he wrote, "The dust will return to the ground as it was, and the spirit will return to God who gave it" (Ecclesiastes 3:20). The dust refers to man, who was made out of dust, and thus "will return" to dust. Likewise, the spirit (soul) which was from God, will also "return" to Him."

The body is the vessel that houses the soul and allows the soul to have expression and development in the physical world. The soul is eternal and is subject to the consequences of our actions and receives reward and punishment.

Rabbi Moshe Chaim Luzatto, the great kabbalist and Jewish philosopher, explains the purpose of life and the soul in his books The Way of God and Path of the Righteous (available at your local Jewish bookstore, at or by calling toll-free to 877-758-3242). The Almighty is good. It is the nature of good to bestow good. Therefore, the Almighty created us in order to bestow good upon us.

As an additional kindness, He allows us to earn this good rather than receive it for free. One who receives for free, like a beggar, experiences embarrassment for not having earned his keep while one who works and receives reward experiences pleasure. The Almighty spared us that embarrassment by setting up a system of allowing us to earn that goodness through fulfilling His mitzvot, commandments, as the means to receive this reward. This world is the place to earn it. While the Almighty gives us what we need for this world, ultimately it is the World to Come where our soul experiences the reward.

If we realize that our essence is our soul and not our body, then we can live our lives on a higher level, a soul level. If we realize that this world is about pleasure and that the ultimate pleasure is connecting with the Almighty, then it changes how we act and we respond to people and difficulties in our life. It is our challenge and our goal to live life as a soul and not a body.

For more on "The Soul" go to!


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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, as an offering "on one of the mountains" (Akeidat Yitzhak). Lastly, the announcement of the birth of Rivka (Rebecca), the future wife of Yitzhak.

Do you 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."

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Dvar Torah
based on Growth Through Torah by Rabbi Zelig Pliskin

The Torah states:

"And (Avraham) lifted up his eyes and he saw. And behold three men were standing near him and he saw and he ran to greet them from the entrance of the tent" (Genesis 18:2).

From verse 2 until verse 8, the Torah details each specific act of Avraham's hospitality towards his guests - "he lifted up his eyes," "he saw," "he ran to greet them." Why does the Torah spend seven verses describing the details of Avraham's kindness?

Rabbi Yeruchem Levovitz commented on this with an analogy. When a person inherits a house, he will usually just say, "I have a house." He will not elaborate on all of the details since he received everything at one time. However, a person who builds a house for himself will talk about every detail from the beginning until the end. He will describe how he purchased the land for the site of the house, how he bought the material that went into building the house, and so on. Each aspect is very dear to him. The more effort he put into the house, the more he will talk about it.

Similarly, said Rav Yeruchem, the actions and behavior of the righteous are like a building. With each action, a righteous person is building a great edifice. For this reason, the Torah tells us about each detail of Avraham's chesed (kindness). Every movement was another stage in the building of a righteous person.

When you view yourself as building a great person (you!), every detail of what you do is invested with meaning and importance. Every positive action you do is creating a great human being. Keep this in mind when you do an act of kindness for others. Every movement you make is a necessary part of the entire construction. Don't wait for the end to appreciate what you are doing. Rather, feel the joy of growth in even the smallest act of kindness that you do.


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--  Mahatma Ghandi


With Deep Appreciation to

Brad Glassman

Livingston, NJ


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