Welcome to this week’s better know a parsha!! This week we’ll be visiting Vayeira: The fightin’… wait, you did what?!
This week is full of moments that you may not have learned about in sunday school that will leave you all:
We start off fairly low-key though. Abraham is chillin in front of his tent, just recuperating from his circumcision when three travelers show up.
Abraham is a righteous dude, so he gets up, runs to the men and invites them into his tent to have a bite to eat. The travelers accept the invitation and Abraham and Sarah present them with splendid feast:
After eating, the travelers reveal that they’re actually angels in disguise!
They tell Abraham and Sarah that because they were so nice, they’ll have a baby together in exactly one year. The 89-year-old Sarah is like:
Abraham sees the angels on their way to Sodom and Gomorra, which they have been sent to destroy because the populations of the cities are just terrible people. But they’re going to rescue Abraham’s nephew Lot because he’s alright.
God tells Abraham he’s about to wipe out these cities and Abraham is all like:
He bargains with God (which is in and of itself kinda crazy), making the argument that if there are a few righteous people, they shouldn’t be killed with all the sinners.
Eventually God agrees that if he can find 10 righteous people between the two cities, he won’t destroy them. Unfortunately, the search for 10 good people in the city came up empty. Sodom and Gomorra were doomed.
The two of the angels show up to town and Lot invites them into his home to eat and rest. See, I told you he was okay. The people of the town, however, hated people being nice to guests, so they surrounded Lot’s house and demanded he turn over the strangers to be sexually assaulted.
Here’s where things start to get weird—and why I only say Lot is okay. Lot comes outside and is all “please don’t assault my guests! Here, I have two virgin daughters. Let me bring them out to you and you can do whatever you want to them instead.”
So that’s weird, but then the Sodomites don’t go for the virgin daughters, they want the strangers so they try to break down the door. The angels at this point have had enough and they strike everyone blind.
The angels then tell Lot to get out of dodge along with his wife, kids, everybody. He leaves house with his wife and two of his daughters (the same ones he just offered up to the crowd). In a crucial bit of foreshadowing, the angels tell them that whatever they do, they should definitely not to look back at the city while it’s being destroyed.
So God rains fire down on Sodom and Gemorra and lays waste to the whole area
Lot’s wife falls victim to the foreshadowing, turns around and looks back at the destruction and turns into a pillar of salt. Legend has it, she is one of the salt pillars that make up the saltiness of the Dead Sea.
Here’s where things get weird again (Lot’s family is definitely a strange bunch). Lot decided he and his daughters should live in a cave, so they end up thinking that God has actually destroyed the whole world and they and their dad are the only ones left. So, naturally, they get him drunk and sleep with him in order to continue the human race.
Their kids end up becoming the Moabites and the Ammonites, long-time foes of the Israelites. Go figure.
Now Abraham and Sarah are living in in the south and Abraham decides to pull the whole “she’s not my wife, she’s my sister” thing again (you can look at Lech L’cha for how that worked out last time).
So as you can guess, another king decides he wants him some Sarah, and she is taken to him for what he thought would be a rockin adult sleepover.
However, before he can make the bang boom with Sarah, God comes to him in a dream and tells him Sarah is actually married.
So for some inexplicable reason, a second king decides that rather than kill Abraham for putting him in this position, he will shower him with gifts and send him on his way.
So Abraham and Sarah go on their merry way and lo and behold, Sarah gives birth to a son, just as the angels had promised!
Because she had laughed when they told her she would have a child, Sarah names the kid Itzchak (Isaac), which comes from the Hebrew root for laughter.
Okay, almost done, speed round for a bit: Sarah tells Abraham to kick Hagar and Ishmael out because he’s being a bad influence on Isaac, that happens. The king that had tried to take Sarah as a concubine wants to be besties with Abraham so they dig a well together.
The last bit really deserves a whole entry unto itself and is super interesting and if you’ve made it this far you’re kinda pot committed so pay attention.
God tells Abraham to take his son, his only son, whom he loves, Isaac, and sacrifice him as a burnt offering to God.
So Abraham takes Isaac and they set off for Mt. Moriah (site of the present day Temple Mount/Dome of the Rock/Al Aqsa/etc.) and Abraham builds an alter and prepares to sacrifice his son.
The rabbis are kinda split on this. Some believe this was a test that Abraham past by being willing to sacrifice his son. Others (including most modern commentators) believe Abraham failed this test by being willing to engage in human sacrifice, even when asked to do so by God.
Anyway, thankfully an angel shows up just as Abraham is about to kill Isaac, they find a ram stuck in the bushes and sacrifice that instead.
And that wraps up the Parsha! Thanks for sticking with it!
See you next week for the next episode of As the Torah Turns!
Have a shabbat shalom!!
Shalom y’all and welcome to this week’s edition of Better Know a Parsha!
This week we’re visiting Parshat Lech L’cha: The fightin’ skidaddle!
This is another long one, these early Parshas are heavy on narrative.
The parsha opens with God telling Abram to leave his homeland—Ur—and his father’s house to a land that he will show him—Canaan, modern day Israel/Palestine.
Important side note: Not trying to get political, which is why I referred to it as Israel/Palestine. Both Jews and Muslims view Abraham as a father of their faiths, and therefore both peoples have strong attachments to the historical land of Canaan. Wherever you fall on the political spectrum, let’s not belittle the attachment either faith feels towards the land.
In return, God promised to make Abram a great nation, telling him that all who blessed him would be bless and all who cursed him would be cursed. Abram was all like:
Now, one might be wondering why Abram was just down to pack up and scram without much of an intro or back story. In order to explain questions like this, the Rabbis developed what are known as “Midrash,” or non-canonical stories about the Torah’s characters.
So the story goes that before we ever meet Abram, he was working for his dad in an idol shop in Ur and everything was honkey dory:
Anyway, one day Abram realized this whole idol thing was kinda bogus (sorry if you’re into idol worship) and smashed all the idols!
He then put the stick he used to smash them in the hands of the largest idol, which he left standing. When his dad Tahor came back and asked what happened Abram said the big idol had smashed all the little ones:
When Tahor said that was ridiculous, that an idol couldn’t have possibly done it, Abram pointed out that it was then silly to believe that an idol could have power over our lives.
So, Abram believes in God, picks up everything and moves to Canaan. Once he’s there, God promises him the land will eventually belong to him and his descendants.
Unfortunately at that point there’s a famine, so Abram and his wife Sarai make moves.
Now some weird stuff happens. Sarai was a babe so Abram pretends to be her brother in order to not be killed by Pharaoh when he wants to take her as a wife.
Lo and behold, Pharaoh does want to get jiggy with Sarai and takes her to him and instead of killing Abram gives him all sorts of gifts.
Well God wasn’t so happy about this whole thing, so he struck Pharaoh’s whole house with a plague. So then Pharaoh was all:
For whatever reason, he very nicely let Sarai leave with Abram. They headed back to Canaan with all the cattle, silver and gold Pharaoh had given them.
When they get back, Abram and his nephew Lot have trouble living so close to each other because they have large herds. After their shepherds get into it, Abram takes the high road and tells Lot he can have whatever land he wants and Abram will go the other way.
In a departure from the main narrative, we now get a big war between a lot of different kings with names that are very difficult to pronounce. Imagine most of the Hobbit compressed into about 15 sentences.
Once the dust clears, Abram hears that Lot has been taken captive.
So he arms up his small band of men, attacks at night and rescues Lot!
At this point, Abram starts to worry about his legacy. He’s childless despite repeated assurances from God that his descendants will be as numerous as the stars in the sky and the sands on the beach.
And God’s all like:
So then for some reason Abraham takes a bunch of animals and cuts them in half. Once he did that, he fell into a deep sleep and God came at him with some serious foreshadowing, telling him that his descendants will go down to a land not their own and be enslaved for 400 years. But then they’ll come back and the land will be theirs!
Sarai has also realized that she and Abram haven’t had any children, so she offers her servant Hagar to Abram as a concubine.
So Hagar gets pregnant, which leads to plenty of bad feelings between her and Sarai. Abram is very hands off about the whole thing and Hagar ends up running away.
An angel comes to her and tells her to get her tushy back there and that her son will also be the father of a great people. So she goes back and bears Abram a son and they name him Ishmael. He is believed to be the father of the Muslim/Arab inhabitants of the Middle East.
The Parsha wraps up with some nice light circumcision.
Abram and Sarai get some new letters to their name making them Abraham and Sarah, Abraham circumcises himself at the age of 99, Ishmael undergoes the process at 13 and the precedent is set that all of Abraham’s decedents will be snipped at 8 days old.
Wow, that was a lot of information. Hope you enjoyed!
Tune in next week on As The Torah Turns for Vayeira!
Shalom y’all and welcome to this week’s episode of Better Know a Parsha.
This week we’ll be visiting Noah: The fightin’ boat builder!!
Like Bereshit, this is an action-packed Parsha, so hold on to your hats!
If you want to fully experience this episode, press play and then read while listening to the glory of my preschool days:
Noah, in Hebrew: Noach (with a good kh on the end), comes along 10 generations after Adam and Eve, and much like the Millenials, his generation sucked.
However, Noah is described as being “righteous in his generation.” The rabbis disagree as to whether Noah was really a great person or simply not as terrible as everyone else around him.
So God comes to Noah and tells him that because everyone is awful he’s got some major plans brewing.
Noah’s first task is to try to get everyone on board with the whole “God’s going to destroy the world” thing. This goes poorly:
So under God’s orders, Noah starts a major construction project:
As I learned in preschool, Noah built an Arky Arky as instructed by God and then brings one pair of every unkosher animal and seven pairs of each kosher animal on board. In case you were wondering, they went on by two-sy two-sies.
Once Noah and all the animals were on board, God really let it rip with the rain.
It rained for 40 days and 40 nights, washing away everything on earth
But Noah and all his animals were just straight chillin:
Once it stopped raining, Noah was still stuck on this floating zoo until the earth air dried (about 150 more days). He would periodically send out birds to see if they could find any signs of life.
Eventually, a dove he sent out came back with an olive branch, and then the following day didn’t come back at all, signifying that he had found a place to stay and the earth would be dry and inhabitable soon, which is a good thing, because you know by that point everyone had to be all.
So Noah gets off the boat and God makes a rainbow, which to this day serves as a covenant with man meaning that we’ll never be totally wiped off the face of the earth again:
Side note: this is also the part in the Torah where God tells us to be fruitful and multiply. So enjoy this rabbit attempting to follow God’s commandment:
Once off the boat, Noah has his priorities clearly in order. First, make sacrifices to God and get the whole rainbow thing sealed. Second: Plant a vineyard and get wicked drunk.
Here’s where the parsha turns a little dark. One of Noah’s sons, Ham, saw his father sleeping after a little too much wine and in biblical terms “uncovers his nakedness.” It’s unclear exactly what happened, but safe to assume that Ham assaulted his father in some way.
His other two sons, Shem and Yaphet, approach with their backs turned and cover their dad up so he can sleep it off. When he wakes up, Noah curses Ham and blesses Shem and Yaphet, especially Shem.
According to tradition, Jews, Arabs and other Middle Eastern peoples are all decedents of Shem, which is where the term “Semite” comes from. This week, with everything happening in the Middle East, it’s especially important that we remember we’re all one family. I’m not going to get political here, but I hope you can all join me in praying/hoping/wishing for an end to the senseless violence that is taking the lives of Israelis, Palestinians, Syrians, Iraqis, Turks and others in the region.
Okay, so now we’ve arrived at the end of the parsha where we get a bonus totally non-sequitur story: The Tower of Babel!!
So the people of Earth decide they’re super cool and they want to build a tower up to heaven to battle God.
But God was all:
So while previously everyone had spoken one language… he switched them all up, so it sounded like they were babbling at each other. GET IT???
Without a common language, the building didn’t go so well:
And that’s where we end our parsha!
Tune in next week for the next episode of… As the Torah Turns: Lech L’cha!
Shalom y’all and welcome to the first ever Better Know a Parsha!!
This week’s parsha is Bereshit: The fightin story of creation! Twice! And Adam and Eve! And Cain and Able!
Now, I know what you might be thinking:
But we can do this together.
Thankfully God—like anyone with good taste—is a fan of The Sound of Music, and knows where to start.
Bereshit (b’-ray-SHEET) literally means “In the beginning” and the portion starts with the well-known line: “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.”
I know, so I’m not going to bore you with a recitation of the things God created over the next six days. There are two tellings of the week of creation, but they both involve God fashioning the land, seas, sky, sun, moon, stars, and various animals that fill the earth.
On the sixth day, God created man.
Here’s where we get a little confusion because the Torah first says that God crated man in his image and then goes on to say “male and female he created them.”
But wait! What about that whole rib thing??
No, not those ribs Shaq. The story of God taking one of Adam’s ribs and using it to make Eve, the first woman! Turns out that comes in the next chapter, a retelling of the creation that focuses on day six and includes God’s miraculous surgical abilities.
Before we move on, I want to take a second to focus on what God did on the seventh day after he was done creating the world and everything in it. You see, God realized something.
So on the seventh day, he rested. This was the first shabbat, which Jews continue to celebrate to this day every Saturday. No matter what religion (or lack thereof) you subscribe to, this practice of taking one day every week to step back, reflect and rest can be incredibly powerful.
In addition to being a great individual practice, the observance of Shabbat is a communal one for Jews who traditionally eat festive meals on Friday night and gather to pray on Saturdays. Modern Jewish thinker Echad Ha’Am famously said “More than the Jews have kept the Shabbat, the Shabbat has kept the Jews.”
Okay, so we now have a man and a woman and God is well-rested. Back to the narrative.
God had told Adam he could eat from any tree in the garden of Eden, EXCEPT the tree of knowledge.
Adam was all, “okay, cool, I gotcha.” But then the snake started talking to Eve like “oooo baby don’t them apples look good.”
And Eve goes all:
And then both Adam and even Eve…
Needless to say, God was not happy about Adam and Eve breaking the one rule set for them in the garden. There’s a fascinating scene where the two of them hide from God when he calls out to them.
When God asks why they’re hiding, Adam says it’s because they are naked, to which God basically responds:
Realizing the jig is up, Adam confesses to God that he and Eve ate from the tree, but he places the blame squarely on his lady friend.
The punishments for Adam and Eve were both pretty rough, but Eve definitely got the raw end of the deal. For Adam, he would no longer be able to easily coax produce from the earth and would have to toil and sweat to feed himself and his family.
Eve got childbirth.
So life kinda sucks now for Adam and Eve, but then they have two sons, Cain and Abel who can be the light of their lives and comfort them and…
Oh right, that. Turns out both sons offered some sacrifices to God. Abel gave the best of his flock, while Cain gave the scraps from his field. Needless to say God liked Abels sacrifice more, which made Cain very jealous.
The last bits of the parsha focus on lineage, which is it’s own little fascinating story and will perhaps be the focus of next year’s Better Know Bereshit. For now, just know that 10 generations after Adam we get to the main character in next week’s Parsha:
Tune in next week for a new episode of As the Torah Turns.