Monday, October 14, 2013

Doing for Its Own Sake

Parshat Vayera
Bereshit 18:1 – 23:24
15 Cheshvan 5774 / Oct. 18-19, 2013

Doing for Its Own Sake
by Daniel Susser, MH London

Whilst complex and esoteric explanations of the Torah can be interesting, satisfying and creative, often a close look at nothing more than the precise wording of a piece of text can yield deep insight into the intention of the text.

A passage of Torah can be notable by the repeated phrases, words or sequences of letters present therein. The first passage of Parashat Vayeira reads as follows:

And God appeared (vaYeRA) to him (Abraham) on the plains of Mamre and he was sitting at the entrance to the tent in the heat of the day. And he lifted his eyes and saw (vaYaRe), and behold, there were three men standing over him! And he saw (vaYaRE) and he ran to greet them from the entrance to the tent and he bowed to the ground and he said ''My lord, if now I have found favour in your sight, pass (tAVoR) not away, I pray thee, from your servant. Let now a little water be fetched, and wash your feet, and recline yourselves under the tree. And I will fetch a morsel of bread, and satisfy your heart; after that you shall pass on (tAVoRu); for this have you come to your servant.' And they said: 'So do, as you have said'.

I have placed in brackets the Hebrew transliteration of some of the words with the root letters capitalised. The root 'YRA' meaning 'to see' appears three times in quick succession and in fact that parasha takes its name from the first instance. The root 'to pass' - 'AVR' appears twice in quick succession and is not the most obvious choice for the meaning of the sentences. The Torah is hinting to us.

This famous episode is more than an instance of spontaneous hospitality and an announcement of a future pregnancy. Abraham sees an opportunity to do kindness and though fleeting and temporary it may have been, he responds. He reflects on the temporal nature of this opportunity in his emphasis of 'pass on'. He knows that the good he will do will not last, it will not create anything permanent and it will not benefit him but for Abraham doing good does not need to result in any of these things. The difference you can make in doing a small action is its own justification and Abraham responds - count the instances of the root 'MHR' and 'RTz' meaning to hurry and to run in the story!
Shabbat Shalom


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