This week has been particularly difficult, and I am buoyed by the care and consideration, support of all kinds that I’ve received. I also received the d’var Torah from my sister, Rabbi Jan Salzman, of Ruach HaMaqom of Burlington VT. I’m sharing it with you; not only is it beautiful, but it comes at a time when I couldn’t find words myself. I am doubly blessed. Without knowing it, she saw me. Enjoy. (…and follow her, to read more of her insights, even if you’re not in Burlington!)
Our parasha is packed with an ever increasing complexity to this thing called Creation. We have angels appearing to Abraham in order to deliver a prophecy to Sarah, who will birth a child by the next year; there is the [in]famous scene at Mount Moriah, as Abraham is interrupted in his willingness to offer his son, Isaac; there is the iconic negotiation between GD and Abraham over the fate of Sodom and Gomorra. Oh, and there’s the little matter of Lot offering his virgin daughters to a mob that wants to rape his [angel] visitors because they are strangers in their town.
Breathless yet? How can we discern a singular point on which to land? One tangent is the play around the word, to see. It is repeated 3 times in the first 2 verses: GD appeared; Abraham looked up; Abraham saw [the angels] approaching; Mount Moriah is also from the same verb, translated as ‘the mountain of vision’. So there’s something deep in this thing called Creation around the act of seeing. “And GD saw that it was good…”
What is it, to see? To apprehend, to notice, yet not in a passive way. The only helpful way to see is to engage with. I can note you; or I can see you, witness you, be curious about what I see and what I might be projecting onto you that clouds my vision. Today, we are being called to see and be seen, erasing an inclination to look away, once you have encountered.
Abraham is sitting under the tree of Mamre (a word that is a form of ‘to speak’) and he sees 3 humans approaching. Running out into the heat of the day, he invites them into the cool of the shade of a tree and runs (there’s a lot of running in this scene) to prepare food and drink for them.
A Hasidic teaching offers the following riff on this scene: Pay no attention to the garments. Look to see what is underneath the tree…and, more, The Zohar teaches that one who has eyes looks at the inner nature of things; one who lacks such eyes sees only the [outer] garments (Zohar 3: 152:a)
From this that we can derive a deep meaning. Abraham was not distracted by the physical form. Rather, he had the ability to apprehend the inward meaning of that which he was presented. He invites his guest to sit ‘under’ (tachat) the tree, a word in Hebrew that can mean under, within, amongst. We are invited to look deeply past the physical and into theikar/essence, of the moment.
It is increasingly challenging to resist being swept away by the world that presents itself to us. Yet we are obligated by our tradition to look beneath the surface and discern the spark of light within the swirling. It is from that light that can bring hope to what might be filled with despair. “Do not get caught up in the externals. There is always something deeper to be found.”
(Rabbi Art Green).
Eyes wide open
I run out into the world
Ready to care for the traveler
And bring water to the thirsty
And coolness to the heat.