PARASHAH: Vayera (He appeared)
ADDRESS: B'resheet (Genesis) 18:1-22:24
READING DATE: Shabbat
AUTHOR: Torah Teacher Ariel ben-Lyman HaNaviy
Let's begin with the opening blessing for the Torah:
"Baruch atah YHVH, Eloheynu, Melech ha-Olam,
asher bachar banu m'kol ha-amim,
v'natan lanu eht Torah-to.
Baruch atah YHVH, noteyn ha-Torah.
(Blessed are you, O' LORD, our God, King of the Universe,
you have selected us from among all the peoples,
and have given us your Torah.
Blessed are you, LORD, giver of the Torah.
Last week, I dealt extensively with Christian attitudes towards the offspring of our main parashah figure, Avraham. It is imperative that we approach Avraham and his physical offspring, the Jewish People from the right perspective. The Torah leaves no room for pride and arrogance on the part of the "grafted-in branches". I want you to read Romans chapter 11 carefully, and keep that portion "at hand" as we journey through the Torah, reading about "[y]our father Avraham.
By the way, the careful reader will notice that most of what was said concerning negative attitudes directed towards the progeny of Avraham extends equally unto the Torah-true Christian! You see, genuine believers are also legitimate heirs to salvation, via Yeshua, and via our common father. Anyone, Jew, Gentile, or otherwise, who carries a negative view of genuine [Christian] believers (remember the Hebrew word "kalal--from last week's study?) might just find themselves guilty of the same kind of anti-Jewish [here read as anti-Christian] hatred discussed earlier.
Let's face it folks... Historically, the world has had no profound love for the Jewish people. What is more, the world has expressed no great love for genuine Christians, all of whom are grafted into a Jewish Olive Tree. We true believers must stand together, united under the banner of Love, the banner of our Leader Yeshua, the Messiah of faithful Jews and Christians alike!
This week's portion, Parashat Vayera, like so many other portions, gains its name from the opening few Hebrew words. Our portion last week left off with HaShem changing our main figure's name from Avram (exalted father), to AvraHam (father of many nations). By adding the covenantal letter "H", one of God's sacred letters, he forever fixed his destiny to become the root (Romans 11:16, 18, 24) of the righteous heirs that would faithfully follow in his footsteps; heirs that obey God, and trust in him for the promise of blessing and inheritance. During this exchange, his wife Sarai also took on the covenantal letter "H", changing her name to SaraH. She is to be remembered as the mother who laughed when God promised her a child (the name Yitz'chak comes from the root word for laughter). This laughter can be interpreted in two ways: joyous laughter at the good news, and doubtful laughter at the thought of the impossible. The Torah records that it was likely the latter. For more on this subject read last week's parashah.
Sarah is like so many of us today. When we hear of the miraculous, we react in doubt. We want so much to experience the supernatural, that when it finally happens, we simply cannot believe it. I'm reminded of the story in the New Covenant (Acts 12:6-17) when the talmidim (disciples) were gathered together, presumably praying for the release of Kefa (Peter) from prison. The Angel of the LORD supernaturally did release him, and he made his way to the door of the place where they were praying. When he knocked on the door to be let in, the maid who answered was so excited, that she forgot to let him in, but instead immediately ran and told the other talmidim. Upon hearing her report, they just couldn't believe that it was really he! When they finally opened the door to find Kefa standing there, they were amazed! Why are we so amazed at the miraculous? We serve a miraculous God don't we? The Torah teaches us that there is nothing too hard for ADONAI. And so the promised son was born and the tests for Avraham and his family really had just begun. The opening dialogue picks up presumably right after Avraham had his entire male household circumcised (chapter 17). Over and against the supernatural signs, I would like to say something about a rather down to earth sign: circumcision.
The literal meaning of the term “b’rit milah” is “covenant [of] circumcision”. Why does Judaism refer to circumcision as a covenant? I believe that this act betrays the Torah’s intensions to speak to the male about his responsibilities in helping to bring about the truth that HaShem and HaShem alone can bring the previously mentioned promises of Avraham to come to pass. Let us examine the details.
Covenants usually involved at least two parties. Likewise, there was usually a sign of the covenant being established. This sign, according to ancient Middle Eastern writings, was usually something that either party could carry on their person, such as a stone or other object. This sign, when viewed by either individual, served as a reminder that the person was under obligation to fulfill his part of the covenant. It also assured him that the other party was under the same obligations. Removal of the foreskin of the male sex organ, was not exclusively Hebrew. The ancient Egyptians had been doing it for some time as well.
But when HaShem asked Avraham to participate in this rather “lopsided” covenant (remember Avraham did not earn his position before God, it was graciously granted unto him; read Romans 11:6), our father Avraham did not hesitate to become obedient to the command.
Why did God have Avraham circumcised (remove the foreskin from his penis) in the first place? Have you ever stopped to ponder this enigmatic question? After all, God is not capricious. He could have easily had our father remove skin from his ear, or his finger, or other part of his body. Why the male sex organ?
Tim Hegg of FFOZ notoriety has been, in my opinion, spearheading the movement to bring about a more accurate view of Paul and the Judaisms that he has to confront in the 1st century by publishing essential books and papers for Christians to carefully examine. I wish to quote from one of his works to show the messianic implications of God asking him to circumcise himself exactly where he eventually ended up circumcising himself.
As of 11-15-05 Hegg’s entire online article was available at his web site here (http://www.torahresource.com/English%20Articles/CircumcisionETS.pdf)
Referring to our Genesis text Tim Hegg writes:
In reference to the circumcision in the Apostolic Scriptures, Hegg makes these pertinent remarks:
What are Hegg’s conclusions?
Amazing to me is that even at such an old age, Avraham did not question God’s reasons behind this somewhat strange covenantal sign!
To neglect circumcision (b’rit milah) is to neglect the chosen sign of the covenant, and consequently, it is rejection of the covenant itself.
It was to become a unique marker, outwardly identifying those males of the offspring of Avraham, as inheritors of the magnificent promises that HaShem was making with this man. It does not serve to secure those promises through personal effort. What is more, the sign of circumcision was to be an indicator that the participant was adopting the same faith that Avraham possessed! The promises were of faith (read Romans chapter 4 carefully). To be 100% sure, the Torah says that the promises were given to him before he was circumcised (Ibid. 10, 11)! This is why, after HaShem promised that his seed would be as numerous as the stars (15:5, 6), Avraham was credited with being righteous—because he believed the unbelievable!
Proselyte Conversion and Works of the Law
Today (as well as 2000 years ago), Christianity has developed an unnecessary amount of paranoia surrounding circumcision. In some way I cannot blame them for taking this stance. Mark Nanos has demonstrated most creditably that the Judaisms of the 1st century functioned with a serious theologically flaw in regards to their view of circumcision. Let us pick up his discussion from a paper he wrote entitled “The Local Contexts of the Galatians: Toward Resolving a Catch-22”, which, at the time I downloaded it on 5-15-05, was available for reading at his site here (http://mywebpages.comcast.net/nanosmd/index.html)
I understand that the prevailing Judaisms that existed in the first century initially upset the biblical balance by teaching that circumcision was the vehicle by which a non-Jew could and must enter the covenant made with Isra'el. Shame on them! To be sure, a whole theological counsel was formulated to deal with the problem in the first century. Both in Acts 15:1-35, as well as 21:17-26, the Yerushalayim Counsel had to address the issue of “returning to the works of the law” as opposed to “living in the freedom of Messiah”. And what is the meaning of works of the law? Surely it does NOT refer to observance of Torah commands! No, what this technical phrase is referring to is a set of halakhic rules that an individual must ally himself with in order to be receive into the selective community. Again we turn to Hegg for insights on the phrase “works of the law”:
In essence, works of the law refer to those “group requirements” as outlined and delegated by the prevailing Judaisms of Paul’s day. Rav Sha’ul (Apostle Paul), missionary to the Gentiles, had to defend the correct Torah viewpoint in his letters addressed to the Church at Galatia (specifically chapter 5), as well as to the one in Ephesus. Circumcision, a shorthand way for Paul to say "conversion to Judaism", was historically misused, but there is no reason for us to continue in such a misunderstanding. Nor is there any reason for the emerging Torah communities to shrink back from that which God clearly gave, provided we maintain our primary identity as that of one firmly grounded in Mashiach.
A “Christian” attempt at disproving the validity of this important covenantal sign of the Jewish people has caused much strife and division among the body of believing Jews and Gentiles. The matter is made clear when we understand that HaShem never meant for this sign to secure the promises for the believer! This was to be the sign that he was connected via covenant to a larger family. Is it valid for the Jews today? Yes! In this way, we forever identify physically and spiritually with the unending covenant made with our father Avraham. Is it practical for non-Jewish believers? Unfortunately at this juncture in history, it is not. Until the Church gets right its view of the Torah and the trappings of legalism, it is somewhat discouraged by us Messianic Jewish rabbis. I am not saying that Gentiles cannot undergo this ritual. I am delighted to find those few who truly understand its meaning enough to “go under the knife”. Is it necessary for the salvation of an individual? No! It never was! That is all I want to say on the matter in this format.
What makes Avraham such a great role model of faith is that, not only did he trust in the Word of HaShem, but the LORD saw into his future and predicted that his offspring would also be taught how to trust in the Almighty. Let’s look at 18:17-19,
“ADONAI said, “Should I hide from Avraham what I am about to do, inasmuch as Avraham is sure to become a great and strong nation, and all the nations of the earth will be blessed by him? For I have made myself known to him, so that he will give orders to his children and to his household after him to keep the way of ADONAI and to do what is right and just, so that ADONAI may bring about for Avraham what he has promised him.”
This is a fantastic statement from the mouth of the One who sees every human possibility! Would that we might have HaShem pronounce this blessing over our families today! What must we do? We must, like faithful Avraham, trust in the LORD against all unbelievable odds, to perform in our lives, the promise that he has given us through Yeshua our Messiah! What is that promise?
“Furthermore, we know that God causes everything to work together for the good of those who love God and are called in accordance with his purpose; because those whom he knew in advance, he also determined in advance would be conformed to the pattern of his Son, so that he might be the firstborn among many brothers; and those whom he thus determined in advance, he also called; and those whom he called, he also caused to be considered righteous; and those whom he caused to be considered righteous he also glorified!” (Romans 8:28-30)
We usually stop at the first verse, but reading further informs us of our true identity in Messiah: righteous heirs according to trusting faithfulness, causing us to be called, as faithful Avraham was called, “righteous”!
Moving past the details surrounding the fall of the wicked cities of S’dom and Amorrah (chapter 19), the incident with Avimelekh (chapter 20), and Hagar (chapter 21), I want to focus on the binding of Yitz’chak in chapter 22. The rabbis refer to this story as “The Akedah”, meaning “The Binding”. A couple of interesting details stand out in this story. First, when Avraham began to make his journey to Mount Moriah to offer his ONLY son for a burnt offering unto HaShem, his dialogue with his servants is very significant. He told the young men in verse 5, to abide with the donkeys, while he and Yitz’chak went to the mount to worship. He went on to say that both of them would return! This was after he had clearly been commanded to offer his son as a sacrifice! Do you see the significance of this statement? It demonstrated the incredible faith that this man Avraham had in trusting HaShem for the promises. Avraham had been told that his seed would number the stars of the sky, innumerable. If he were to have to kill his son, his only son according to promise, in obedience to the Word of the LORD, then the LORD would have to somehow miraculously “resurrect” him! This is shown in his statement “I and the boy…will return ”!
Here is the pinnacle of God’s demonstrative power—resurrection from the dead! We know from further reading that Avraham did not actually kill his son, but the Torah figuratively teaches that he did! The book of Hebrew says,
“By faith Abraham, when God tested him, offered Yitz’chak as a sacrifice. He who had received the promises was about to sacrifice his one and only son, even though God had said to him, "It is through Yitz’chak that your offspring will be reckoned." Abraham reasoned that God could raise the dead, and figuratively speaking, he did receive Yitz’chak back from death.” (11:17-19, NIV)
Bringing forth life from lifelessness is a power that no other created being posses. This is why it is the highlight of the miracle-working power of the Almighty. Resurrection serves as the proof of God’s choice of election.
Yeshua, therefore, demonstrated his position as HaShem’s chosen messiah, by being raised from the dead!
To be sure, I imagine this was one of the issues that got Rav Sha’ul in so much hot water during his missionary travels, and perhaps even led to his sentencing, at least from one said passage (Acts 24:19-21). Today, it is the single most important fact that differentiates false messiahs from the One and True Living Messiah, Yeshua. History records that many men have received revelations from God and many of these men lay claims to messiah-ship. But all of these men have lived and died. Not a one has risen from the grave to testify of God’s amazing power over death! All of their bones are rotting in graves somewhere. But the man from Natzeret is no longer in the grave!
He has been raised from the dead, by the Power of HaShem, never to die again, and now he sits at the Right Hand of the Majesty on High!
The closing blessing is as follows:
"Baruch atah YHVH, Eloheynu, Melech ha-Olam,
asher natan lanu Toraht-emet,
v'chay-yeh o'lam nata-b'tochenu.
Baruch atah YHVH, noteyn ha-Torah.
(Blessed are you O' LORD, our God, King of the Universe,
you have given us your Torah of truth,
and have planted everlasting life within our midst.
Blessed are you, LORD, giver of the Torah.