The primacy of hope

The following d’var torah formed the lead-in to a climate change forum at Temple Shir Tikvah in Winchester, Mass. on Nov. 13, five days following the 2016 presidential election.

I was asked to present a d’var torah at this gathering based on this week’s torah portion, and it turned out that the portion (Vayera) is quite relevant. It deals with hope and hopelessness—people who lose hope, and people who maintain hope when hope seems to be impossible.

This portion starts with God promising Abraham a son by his wife Sarah. Sarah laughs, suggesting she has lost hope, but Abraham apparently accepts the promise.

Next comes the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah. When escaping, Lot’s wife cannot look forward—which is one definition of hope—but looks back and becomes a victim. Lot’s two daughters lose hope even more. Hiding in a cave near the terrible devastation, they despair of every finding husbands to continue the race, and descend into debauchery by getting their father drunk and seducing him.

But there’s more in this Torah portion. Hagar and Ishmael get thrown into the desert, and Hagar loses hope completely, abandoning Ishmael to die. But the child cries out, God hears, and God shows them where there is a well to keep them alive.

Finally, Abraham is told to sacrifice Isaac—the very son promised to him by God at the beginning of the portion. This seems to be a situation without hope, but both of them hold on to hope and are rewarded.

Vayera, therefore, shows us the many facets of hopelessness and hope. We never know what is in store for us. Losing hope is the crucial turning point, because then we cannot escape the burning plain, cannot find the well in the desert, cannot reap the benefits of following God’s plan. So Vayera tells us first and foremost to maintain hope.

More Biblical commentaries

Andy Oram

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