This week’s Torah portion brings much controversy and family drama!
Vayeira, in which Abraham attempts to sacrifice Isaac, our authors threaten their fathers with a knife and feel crushed in the synagogue. Hagar, however, gets to see G-d.
As usual, we provide you three handpicked tidbits from books we published, to enrich your weekly Torah portion experience… …or feel like you are not the only one about to run screaming from the synagogue.
Also, we are glad to showcase this week not only one, but two bilingual poets who write both in English and in Hebrew! (We are going to share the English.)
We’re going to start with the poems, because they are more tension-filled, and then the discussion of Hagar speaking to G-d will bring a bit of an emotional resolution.
(FAMILY STRIFE INCOMING)
The first poem is by Herbert J. Levine, from his English/Hebrew poetry collection An Added Soul: Poems for a New Old Religion. This book explores through poetry how one can relate to Judaism while still having a non-theist perspective. This is a longstanding enterprise of Herb Levine’s – there are two volumes so far that we published, and they can even be bought in a bundle:
From Generation to Generation by Herbert J. Levine
How can I forget
that my son threatened me with a shovel,
swore he had been falsely accused over money
his sister had stolen?
How could my father forget
that I once raised a knife
to his face when he stood behind me
showing me how to carve the Thanksgiving turkey?
After the ram was slaughtered,
how could Abraham forget
the devouring knife that Isaac seized
and held against his trembling throat?
The second poem is about Sarah – to have something to match a poem about Abraham (I feel there’s always more about Abraham, though that’s changing!). Technically it is set on the second day of Rosh Hashanah, but there is no earlier or later in the Torah 😉
It is also a poem about going to synagogue and feeling that it is DIFFICULT. Which is a legitimate feeling to have! But often underdiscussed too. I think this Torah portion especially provides material to struggle with / feel uncomfortable about.
It’s from NOKADDISH: Prayers in the Void by Hanoch Guy-Kaner. (This book is in English, but he also writes in Hebrew.)
“[A] startlingly honest exploration of what it means to be a person living with the Absence and Presence of God.”
Wings by Hanoch Guy-Kaner
Let us magnify his holiness,
lovingkindness and compassion.
How lovely his tents are.
Beloved Sarah is under the divine wings.
Let her be bound in the garland of lives.
How fortunate is Sarah,
Born on the first day of Passover
Died on the second day of Rosh Hashanah,
When the gates of heaven are wide open as on Yom Kippur.
Angels chant soft hymns,
Ascending and descending ladders of light.
Mourners bathe in compassion, memory,
winter’s soft light coming through
stained glass windows.
The more Rabbi Linda piles up thanks to god,
recites his compassion and kindness,
The harder I am smothered by wings,
Crushed by the closing gate.
I just really like this – beauty, compassion, repentance, and the poet goes I CAN’T TAKE IT ANYMORE. (Relatable content.)
And now for Hagar – This short excerpt is going to be from Torah Journeys by Rabbi Shefa Gold, a book that explores the spiritual challenges of every weekly Torah portion (+ gives exercises to focus on them). It shows the journey to the Promised Land in the Torah as a journey you take within yourself (so you don’t have to physically go anywhere!) and how the events of the Torah illustrate personal spiritual growth.
The name Hagar means “the stranger.” She represents the stranger in our midst. When we cast Hagar out into the wilderness, her offspring becomes our enemy. When the stranger is banished, our opportunity for seeing God is squandered. The ability to see God passes instead to the stranger, to Hagar. “At the moment of deepest despair, God opened her eyes.” She is blessed with a vision of God who appears at the living waters of life.
In receiving the blessing of Vayera, we are both the one who banishes the stranger, and the stranger herself. In finding the compassion to welcome the guest, to open our heart to the one who is different, the best tool we have is our memory of being the stranger ourselves.
I skip ahead a bit, because the next part is going to be especially interesting – and it’ll also show the power of midrash as fix-it fic 😉
Much later in the story, Abraham takes another wife named Keturah, which means “spice.” The midrash says that this new wife is Hagar, returning, the-stranger-welcomed-home. She is transformed from a bitter, desperate stranger into a source of sweet fragrance.
Welcoming Hagar back into our hearts bestows on us the blessing of seeing God once more.
By the way, we have a whole book that explores midrash as fix-it fic, and we suspect it predates the term “fix-it fic”. It’s from 1977! The new & updated reprint edition of Tales of Tikkun – New Jewish Stories to Heal the Wounded World:
It retells classic Bible & Talmudic stories, and it also has a (different) story about Hagar & Sarah. (I feel this story just makes people feel “that CAN’T be it, right? RIGHT?”) That story is long, so I chose not to include it here, but you can get the book.
Which classic Bible stories would you fix? This Torah portion has more than one tempting stories, I feel. But we can always go beyond that… (C’mon, Avraham! C’mon, Sarah!!! C’mon, THE ENTIRE CITY OF SODOM!!)
Thank you for following along, and make sure to check out our entire series of Torah portions!