by Martin Rawlings-Fein
Shabbat Va-yera, Genesis 18:1-22:24
Two parallel and conflicting stories take place in Parsha Va-yera. In Chapter 18 Avraham welcomes the strangers to his tent, gives them food, brings them into his family and argues, essentially with G!d, over how many good people it takes to save a city. He does this thinking of the lives that could be potentially saved, including his nephew Lot. Avraham's argument, that G!d cares about people, good or bad, and if just ten good people can be found G!d shouldn't destroy a single person even in a wicked city. The parallel to this story in the Parshah is just a few chapters later, in Chapter 21, after the birth of Yitzchak. When Avraham sends away his first born son, and Hagar his mother, upon the advisement of his partner Sarah.
Expelling the mother and child into the wilderness that he so readily welcomed the strangers out of on that day so long ago. This time Avraham does not argue with G!d for their lives in such cunning ways, he is older, and not quite as able to bounce back from the news that the women he has journeyed with for the most of his one hundred years on earth are at odds over an inheritance. While he still thinks of saving lives, he is much more muted over his anguish. This isn't trying to save a city destined for destruction, this isn't just his kin, this is his son and Hagar. This time G!d doesn't want a negotiation, there is no working the numbers down, there is only compassion from G!d. G!d takes the situation is hand and tells Avraham not to worry, there will be a nation for his son, it just won't be Yitzchak's nation, but a great nation nonetheless.
From welcoming the stranger, to expelling the kin, these tales were told for a reason, they are our great literary gift to the world. The less loved fertile co-wife, the younger son getting the main blessing, or inheritance, the doublet of Hagar running off not once but twice because of the animus of Sarah. In this very long Parshah, we get a glimpse of the life of Avraham, from brash businessman, to a resigned older father weighing the options. One wonders if he brought Yitzchak to the altar in Chapter 22's Akedah (or binding of Issac), with the knowledge that if his older son were still out there, that there was still hope for the far off nation.
Where are your conflicting places in our own stories? Where do we send others away when we should be welcoming? Can we as humans try to emulate the earlier Avraham, rather than the later? I know I will be ruminating on these questions and more over this Shabbat. Shabbat Shalom, and have a meaningful weekend.