Friday, November 14, 2008

Parashat Vayera - It's all about following through..., and making that special time happen

Fourteen years after his death, Shlomo Carlebach's legacy has become virtually synonymous with his song, Ki Va Moed. Often when we sing this song, whether when celebrating a joyous occasion or using the tune to welcome in Shabbat with Psalm 96 (Shiru Lashem Shir Chadash), we fail to notice the beauty and significance of the words of the Psalmist to which Shlomo composed.

אַתָּה תָקוּם, תְּרַחֵם צִיּוֹן: כִּי-עֵת לְחֶנְנָהּ, כִּי-בָא מוֹעֵד
You shall arise, and comfort Zion - for it is her time of grace, for her appointed time has arrived. (Psalm 102:14)

This verse, along with the final phrase of the piyyut (liturgical poem) Yedid Nefesh, recited in most communities preceding kabbalat shabbat,
מהר אהוב כי בא מועד, וחנני כימי עולם
Soon, my Beloved, for the appointed time has come, and have mercy on me all of my days.
can be interpreted in many ways, including as a time of closeness between God and the Jewish people. In any interpretation, we must take into account the root of יעד, which implies have the quality of being predetermined or deliberate.

The reason I bring in these references to kabbalat shabbat, besides for being a big fan of Carlebach and Yedid Nefesh, is that the word moed - special, or appointed time- figures prominently in this week's parshah. The opening scene finds Avraham, just after his Brit Milah, and Sarah in their tent, when they are visited by three men (traditionally thought to be angels). The task of one of these men is to announce to the couple that Sarah will bear a son at the age of 90. As shocking as this would seem to us at first thought, it was to to Sarah, and she 'laughed in her heart.' God then responded to Avraham, and reiterated the promise given by the angel:
הֲיִפָּלֵא מֵיְהוָה, דָּבָר; לַמּוֹעֵד אָשׁוּב אֵלֶיךָ, כָּעֵת חַיָּה--וּלְשָׂרָה בֵן.
Is anything too great for God; at the appointed time I will return to you, at this season, and Sarah will have a son. (Bereshit 18:14).

Not only does Sarah have a son, Isaac, a year later, but the Torah makes the point of using the same language upon the fulfillment of God's promise to the couple as it did in the original promise a few chapters before:

וַתַּהַר וַתֵּלֶד שָׂרָה לְאַבְרָהָם בֵּן, לִזְקֻנָיו, לַמּוֹעֵד, אֲשֶׁר-דִּבֶּר אֹתוֹ אֱלֹהִים.
And Sarah concieved and bore a son for Avraham in his old age - at the appointed time, as God had spoken to him. (Bereshit 21:2)

In Bereshit Rabbah, as I learned with Yossi this week, the rabbis take note of this pattern of God promising and fulfilling, and create a beautiful midrash around it based on a verse in the book of Ezekiel.

וה' פקד את שרה כאשר אמר
זהו שאמר הכתוב (יחזקאל יז): וידעו כל עצי השדה כי אני ה' השפלתי עץ גבוה הגבהתי עץ שפל
אמר רבי יודן: לא כדין דאמרין ולא עבדין, אלא, אני ה' דברתי ועשיתי.

אמר רבי ברכיה: אני ה' דברתי ועשיתי.
והיכן דבר?

(שם כב) למועד אשוב אליך ולשרה בן. ועשה.

וידעו כל עצי השדה, אלו הבריות, היך מה דאת אמר: (דברים כ) כי האדם עץ השדה.
כי אני ה' השפלתי עץ גבוה, זה אבימלך.
הגבהתי עץ שפל, זה אברהם.
הובשתי עץ לח, אלו נשי אבימלך, דכתיב: כי עצור עצר ה'.
הפרחתי עץ יבש,
זו שרה.
"And God remembered Sarah as he had spoken" (Bereshit 21:1)
This is referred to in the verse "And all the trees of the field shall know that I am God, I have brought down the tall tree and raised up the lowly one, I have made dry a lush tree and made fruitful the dry one; I am God, I have spoken and fulfilled." (Ezekiel 17:24).
Rabbi Yudan said: He (God) is not like those say things and don't act on them, rather, "I am God, I have spoken and fulfilled."
Rabbi Berechiah said: "I am God, I have spoken and fulfilled."
Where did he speak?
" the appointed time I will return to you, at this season, and Sarah will have a son. (Bereshit 18:14). And thus he did.
"And all the trees of the field shall know" - This is as the Torah said "For is man like the tree of the field" (D'varim 20).
"I am God, I have brought down the tall tree" - This refers to Avimelech [who took Sarah into his house, after Avraham said that she was his sister].
"and raised up the lowly one" -this is Avraham.
"I have made a lush tree dry" These are the wives of Avimelech, as it is written "For the LORD had surely closed up all the wombs of the house of Avimelech" (Bereshit 21:18).
"and fruitful the dry one"- this is Sarah.
This midrash has a very beautiful lesson, if we choose to emulate God's attribute of following through with one's commitments. The language evokes the words of the first b'racha after the haftarah:
הָאֵל הַנֶּאֱמָן הָאומֵר וְעושה. הַמְדַבֵּר וּמְקַיֵּם שֶׁכָּל דְּבָרָיו אֱמֶת וָצֶדֶק:
The faithful God, who says and does, who speaks and fulfills, whose words are true and just.

Just as God promises a son to the childless Sarah, and Isaac is born the next year, lamoed - at that time, we can take this lesson in our lives and relationships, by setting aside time for the things that truly matter - whether it is friends and family, torah study, or gemilut chasadim, deeds of lovingkindness. We can also echo the faithfulness implicit in moed, by fulfilling our promises and obligations and showing the value of our words and the weight they carry. Thus, we can follow in God's paths and emulate His faithfulness, just as when He promised Sarah a son in her old age, a feat she could barely believe, and allowed her and Avraham to rejoice in the birth of Yitzhak, לַמּוֹעֵד, אֲשֶׁר-דִּבֶּר אֹתוֹ אֱלֹהִים - at the appointed time, as God had spoken.

No comments: