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עשה תורתך קבע – אמור מעט ועשה הרבה

Let’s see what we see for ourselves

Posted by rabbiart on November 10, 2008

Our tradition is incredibly rich with layers of interpretation of the Torah, indeed the entire Tanach. Mostly the midrash helps open up the text to our modern eyes and ears (and hearts), but it can also get in the way. In our day, it is difficult to read the opening section of our parshah without layering the midrashic interpretation that HaShem visits Avraham as an act of בקור חולים  (bikkur holim aka visiting the sick) in the aftermath of his self-circumcision.  This is in spite of the fact that we have a phrase – אַחַר הַדְּבָרִים הָאֵלֶּה – (akhar hadevarim ha-aleh aka after these things) that is understood to signal the proximity of two episodes.  This phrase is conspicuous by its absence at the opening of our parshah.

Let’s strip out all of our midrashic knowledge, all the stories and therefore the pre-conceptions about the text of our parshah.  Let’s see what we can see for ourselves. What is happening in this story?

It is hot.  Avraham sits by the edge of his tent.  The phrase כְּחֹם הַיּוֹם (k’khom hayom “hot the day”) may mean that it was a hot day, or it may mean that he sat at the edge of his tent as the day grew hotter.  The first verse may be an “introductory summary” of the story (one interpretation). Or it may signal that when an individual (according to the grammar, as for example in verse 10) speaks to Avraham, it is HaShem and not an angel.

The text itself offers no suggestion that Avraham is still recovering from circumcision. Quite the opposite. Avraham runs to greet his potential visitors.  He hurries into the tent to tell Sarah to bring on the food. He runs to the herd to get a calf.  Does this sound like someone who circumcised himself only three days earlier?

As many commentaries have pointed out (see how hard it is to read only the text as if seeing it unmediated by the tradition), this parshah is about seeing… and looking… and looking for (something?).

In verse two we read  וַיִּשָּׂא עֵינָיו, וַיַּרְא  (he lifted his eyes, and looked).  Is Avraham simply looking around, or is he looking for something in particular?  Perhaps the classic text for this phrase is Psalm 121. The writer lifts up his eyes to the hills, asking, from where will come his help.

We already know that Avraham is a looker and a see-er.  He is looking, watching, observing.  He is seeing what he will see.  When he looks, he sees three men standing there, and again he sees. The word for “see” is repeated, the second time without any object, direct or indirect.  The verse would read perfectly fine without the second וַיַּרְא (he saw).

What did Avraham see? What do you see in the Parshah?  This post is deliberately incomplete!. look at the Parshah, in particular the opening chapter and see what you see. You’re invited to comment, I hope you will. If you haven’t done it before, look for the link below the post.  If you’re the first, it will say “No comments”, otherwise it will have the number of comments made. Click the link, a comment box will appear; the rest is easy!

Shabbat Shalom


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