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Parashat Vayera

General Overview: In this week's Torah reading, Vayera, angels visit Abraham and Sarah, informing them that Sarah would give birth to a child despite her advanced age. The angels whisk Lot and his daughters out of Sodom, and overturn and destroy the entire region. Abimelech, king of the Philistines, attempts to make Sarah part of his harem, but through divine intervention she is released unharmed. Isaac is born and Ishmael is expelled from Abraham's household. Abraham makes a peace treaty with Abimelech. The story of the "Binding of Isaac" is recounted – Isaac's "near-sacrifice" experience.

First Aliyah: G‑d paid Abraham a visit, as he sat at the entrance of his tent. Abraham suddenly noticed three travelers passing by, and ran to invite them into his home. These passersby, who were actually angels in human disguise, accepted the invitation, and Abraham and Sarah prepared a sumptuous feast for them. The angels informed Abraham that Sarah would give birth to a child exactly one year later. Eighty-nine-year-old, post-menopausal Sarah, who was standing nearby, heard this assurance, and laughed. G‑d was displeased with Sarah's lack of faith.

Second Aliyah: The angels departed, with Abraham escorting them on their journey. Their destination: the Sodom region; their mission: to destroy the five cities of the region, and rescue Lot (Abraham's nephew) and his family, who resided there. G‑d informed Abraham of His intention to destroy Sodom because of the great evil of its inhabitants. Abraham attempted to save the region, asking that it be spared if it contains fifty righteous people. When it was apparent that this was not the case, Abraham "bargains" with G‑d – eventually asking Him to spare Sodom even if there are only ten righteous individuals there, but even ten were not to be found.

Third Aliyah: The angels arrived in Sodom, and Lot invited them to his home to eat and rest. Word of Lot's guests spread throughout the city – a city that abhorred all acts of kindness – and the incensed residents of Sodom surrounded Lot' house, with intent to assault the guests. Lot refused the demands that he surrender his guests, and – as the Sodomites prepared to break down the door – the angels struck all those surrounding the house with blindness. The angels informed Lot of their mission, and encouraged him to flee. Lot, his wife, and two of his daughters were escorted out of the city to safety, and were warned not to look back as the city was being destroyed.

Fourth Aliyah: G‑d rained fire and sulfur on Sodom, and then overturned the entire region. Lot's wife looked back, and was transformed into a pillar of salt. Lot and his daughters took shelter in a cave. Assuming that the entire world was destroyed, Lot's daughter's intoxicated their father with wine, and seduced him – in order to repopulate the world. They each gave birth to a son – the antecedents of the Ammonite and Moabite nations. Abraham relocated to the Philistine city of Gerar. Abimelech, the king of the Philistines, took Sarah – who was presented as Abraham's sister – to his palace. G‑d afflicted the members of Abimelech's palace with a disease, and appeared to Abimelech in a dream warning him to return Sarah to her husband, Abraham. Abimelech obeyed, and also showered Abraham and Sarah with gifts, and he and his household were healed. Sarah conceived, and at the age of ninety gave birth to a son, who was named Isaac. Abraham circumcised Isaac when he was eight days old.

Fifth Aliyah: Isaac grew, and Sarah noticed that Ishmael, Isaac's older half-brother, was a potentially negative influence on her young child. She demanded of Abraham to expel Ishmael, along with his mother Hagar, from the household. Despite Abraham's initial misgivings, G‑d tells him: "Whatever Sarah tells you, listen to her voice!" Hagar and Ishmael wandered in the desert and eventually ran out of water. Ishmael was about to perish from thirst when an angel "opened Hagar's eyes" and showed her a well of water. Ishmael grew up in the desert and became a skilled archer.

Sixth Aliyah: At that point, Abimelech approached Abraham and requested to enter into a treaty with him, whereby neither party will harm the other for three generations. Abraham agreed, but reprimanded Abimelech concerning a well of water which he had dug which was stolen by Abimelech's subjects. Abraham set apart seven ewes, telling Abimelech to take them as a testimony that he, Abraham, dug the well. Abraham planted an orchard and established an inn in Beer Sheba and proclaimed the name of G‑d to all passersby.

Seventh Aliyah: G‑d commanded Abraham to take Isaac and offer him as a sacrifice on a mountain. Abraham took along Isaac and necessary provisions, and set out for the mountain. They arrived and Abraham built the altar and bound Isaac. As Abraham stretched out his hand to take the slaughtering knife, an angel ordered him to desist. Abraham offered a ram, which was caught in a nearby thicket, in lieu of his son. G‑d promised Abraham great blessings as a reward for passing this difficult test. After these events, Abraham was notified that his sister-in-law had given birth to children. One of these children, Bethuel, was the father of Rebecca, Isaac's future wife.

Parashat Lech Lecha

General Overview: Abram and Sarai travel to Canaan. Due to a famine in the land they temporarily relocate to Egypt, where Pharaoh unsuccessfully attempts to add Sarai to his harem. They return to Canaan with great wealth and Abram parts with his nephew Lot. Abram defeats the armies of the four kings who had taken his nephew Lot hostage. G‑d seals a pact with Abram, bequeathing the lands of Canaan to his descendants. Childless Abram marries Hagar and she gives birth to Ishmael. G‑d changes Abram's name to Abraham, and Sarai becomes Sarah. Abraham is circumcised at the age of 99.

First Aliyah: G‑d commanded Abram to leave his father's house and homeland, and travel to the land that He will show him. As reward for doing so, G‑d promised to make Abram the patriarch of a great nation. Abram obeyed, taking along his wife Sarai and his nephew Lot. Once Abram arrived in Canaan, G‑d informed him that He will eventually give that land to his descendents. Abram traverses the length of the land until a famine forces him to travel to Egypt. Fearing that the Egyptians would kill him in order to take Sarai, Abram asked her to allege that he was her brother.

Second Aliyah: And indeed because of her beauty, Sarai was taken captive and brought to Pharaoh. G‑d struck the members of Pharaoh's palace with a plague, causing Pharaoh to hastily release Sarai. Pharaoh loaded Abram and Sarai with gifts and riches, and had them escorted out of his land. Abram returned triumphantly to Canaan.

Third Aliyah: Lot, who had accompanied Abram and Sarai, was independently wealthy. When Lot's shepherds quarreled with Abram's shepherds, the two parted ways, with Lot settling in the province of Sodom, which was renowned for its evil inhabitants. After Lot departed, G‑d spoke to Abram again, reiterating His promise to bequeath the land to his descendents, and promising to make his descendents numerous as the soil of the earth.

Fourth Aliyah: The southern region of Canaan was embroiled in a major war involving many kings. When the dust settled, the victorious kings took captive all the inhabitants of the Sodom region — Lot included. When Abram was informed of Lot's plight he rushed to the rescue along with a handful of men, engaged the victorious kings in battle, soundly defeated them, released all the captives and returned all the spoils.

Fifth Aliyah: Abram rebuffed the king of Sodom's wish to award him with all the war's spoils. When G‑d reassured Abram that he would be greatly rewarded for his righteousness, Abram broaches his childlessness. "What is the point of all the reward and wealth," Abram cried, "if I have no heir to inherit it?!" G‑d assured Abram that he will indeed have a child, and promised that Abram's descendents will be as numerous as the stars of the heaven.

Sixth Aliyah: Abram requested a sign from G‑d that his descendents would inherit the land of Canaan. G‑d responded in the famous "Covenant Between the Parts." Abram and the Divine Presence passed between an assortment of halved animals, and G‑d told Abram that his descendants would be exiled and in bondage for four hundred years. At the conclusion of this period, Abram's descendents would leave with great wealth, G‑d would punish the nations which enslaved them, and Abram's children would inherit the lands of Canaan. Following this pact, Sarai — seeing that she and Abram were still childless — suggested that Abram father a child with her Egyptian maid, Hagar. Hagar conceived and began to mistreat her mistress Sarai, who responded with a heavy hand, prompting Hagar to flee. Hagar encountered an angel who encouraged her to return to Sarai, promising her that the child she will bear will become a great nation. She obeyed, and gave birth to Ishmael. At the very end of this section, G‑d added the letter hey to Abram's name, making it "Abraham."

Seventh Aliyah: G‑d sealed a covenant with Abraham and his descendants; the sign of the covenant is the circumcision of all males when they are eight days old. Sarai's name is changed to Sarah, and G‑d promises a delighted Abraham that he will father another son, this time from Sarah. At the age of 99, Abraham circumcised himself, his son Ishmael, and all the members of his household.

Parashat Noach

General Overview: In this week's reading, Noach, Noah and his family, along with at least one pair of each living creature, survive the Flood by taking refuge in an Ark. The erection of the Tower of Babel angers G‑d, and leads to the dispersal of Noah's descendants. Abraham and Sarah are born.

First Aliyah: While society as a whole descended into a state of anarchy and utter corruption, only Noah remained righteous and faithful to G‑d's ways. Noah was informed by G‑d that a mabul ("flood") will soon destroy all of civilization, and only Noah and his immediate family would survive in a teivah ("ark," boat) that he was to build. G‑d gave Noah the exact dimensions of the teivah he was to build, and commanded Noah to bring along into the teivah specimens of every species of animal and bird to repopulate the world after the mabul, and to stock the boat with food to feed all its inhabitants.

Second Aliyah: Of kosher animals and birds, Noah was commanded to take seven pairs of each species (as opposed to one pair of all other species). Noah, his family, and the required animals boarded the teivah and the mabul began: "The springs of the great depths burst forth and the windows of the heavens opened."

Third Aliyah: The torrential rains lasted for forty days and nights. The waters rose to great heights and covered even the highest mountains, killing all humans and animals; everything died aside for Noah and the other occupants of the teivah. After the waters raged on the earth another 150 days, G‑d caused the waters to subside. The teivah eventually rested on the Ararat Mountains, and shortly thereafter the mountain peaks came into view. Noah opened the window of the teivah and dispatched birds to see whether it was time to leave the teivah. First he sent a raven, which refused to execute its mission and just circled the ark. He then sent out a dove. On its third attempt the dove went and did not return, signaling that the earth was once again habitable. After one full year in the teivah, the earth had dried.

Fourth Aliyah: G‑d commanded Noah to leave the teivah, along with all his fellow teivah-mates. Noah built an altar and offered sacrifices. This pleased G‑d, who then promised to never again curse the earth as He had just done. Instead, the regular seasons (which had not functioned during the year of the mabul) would continue perpetually. G‑d then blessed Noah and his sons: "Be fruitful and multiply upon the earth." G‑d allowed mankind to eat meat, but prohibited murder, suicide, and the consumption of a limb ripped from a living animal.

Fifth Aliyah: G‑d told Noah that he is establishing a covenant to never again bring a flood to destroy the world. G‑d designated the rainbow as the sign of this covenant: "And it shall come to pass, when I cause clouds to come upon the earth, that the rainbow will appear in the cloud. And I will remember My covenant..."

Sixth Aliyah: Noah planted a vineyard, made wine, became drunk and fell into a deep drunken slumber — while naked. Noah's son, Ham, saw his father naked, assaulted him, and informed his two brothers of their father's state. The brothers, Shem and Japeth, modestly approached their father and covered him. When Noah awakened, he cursed Ham's son, Canaan, and blessed Shem and Japeth. This section then names Noah's seventy grandsons and great-grandsons, the antecedents of the "seventy nations," and their adopted homelands.

Seventh Aliyah: This section recounts the story of the Tower of Babel. Noah's descendents gathered in the Babylonian valley and started building a tower, in an attempt to reach the heavens and battle G‑d. G‑d disrupted their "plan" by causing them each to speak a different language, thus destroying their communications. This caused them to disperse and settle in different lands. The Torah then lists the ten generations of Shem's descendents. The tenth generation is Abram (later to be known as Abraham), who married Sarai (later to be known as Sarah).

Parashat Bereshit

General Overview: In the Torah's opening reading, Bereshit, G‑d creates the world in six days and rests on the seventh. Adam and Eve eat from the Tree of Knowledge and are expelled from the Garden of Eden. Cain slays Abel and is punished accordingly. Enumeration of the ten generations between Adam and Noah, the birth of Noah, and the degeneration of mankind.

First Aliyah: This section recounts the story of creation in six days. On the first day G‑d made darkness and light. On the second day He formed the heavens, dividing the "upper waters" from the "lower waters." On the third day He set the boundaries of land and sea and called forth trees and greenery from the earth. On the fourth day He fixed the position of the sun, moon and stars. Fish, birds and reptiles were created on the fifth day; land-animals, and then the human being, Adam, on the sixth. G‑d ceased work on the seventh day, and sanctified it as a day of rest.

Second Aliyah: This section discusses the events of the sixth day of creation in greater detail. After Adam was formed from the earth, G‑d placed him in a garden just east of Eden. G‑d permitted Adam to eat from any tree in the garden, with the exception of the Tree of Knowledge. Adam named all the animals and birds, and G‑d decided that Adam needed a mate.

Third Aliyah: G‑d caused Adam to fall into a deep slumber and formed a woman, Eve, from one of his sides. Adam was delighted with his new mate. The serpent, at the time the wisest of all animals, sweet-talked Eve into eating from the fruit of the forbidden Tree of Knowledge. Eve shared the fruit with Adam, and imbued with a new sense of knowledge and awareness, they were ashamed of their nakedness and clothed themselves. The fallout was quick to come: G‑d cursed the serpent, Eve, and Adam too, with various maledictions.

Fourth Aliyah: Adam and Eve were then expelled from the idyllic Garden of Eden. Eve gave birth to two sons, Cain and Abel. When Abel's offering to G‑d was accepted, while Cain's was rejected, Cain murdered his brother in a jealous rage. G‑d punished Cain, designating him to be a lifelong wanderer, but postponing his ultimate punishment for seven generations.

Fifth Aliyah: The sixth generation descendent of Cain was Lemech, who fathered several children — seventh generation descendents of Cain.

Sixth Aliyah: Lemech accidentally killed his great-great-great-great-grandfather Cain in a hunting accident; the blood of Abel was finally avenged. Adam and Eve gave birth to a third son, Seth. This section then chronicles the first seven generations of mankind, from Adam to the righteous Enoch.

Seventh Aliyah: The next three generations are chronicled in this section — concluding with Noah, the tenth generation from Adam. At this point in time, the wickedness and immorality of the people on earth reached such proportions that G‑d regretted creating man. G‑d gave the world 120 years to clean up their act or be destroyed. Noah, on the other hand, was an exception. He was righteous and found favor in G‑d's eyes.

Thu, November 14 2019 16 Cheshvan 5780