VAYEIRA (Genesis, 18:1‑22:24) — “Under the Influence of Dregs”

To those of us in the field of Torah Outreach, Abraham and Sarah stand out as the perfect role models. Their home was open to visitors of all backgrounds, and no one ever left the Abrahamic tent hungry for food or spiritual inspiration. Guests at the “Hotel Abraham” were fed for free, with only Grace after Meals requested as payment.

Abraham and Sarah worked as a team to teach the world that there is one G-d who created us all, and wants us to treat each other with kindness and charity. As a young boy, Abraham had demonstrated his absolute faith in G-d by allowing himself to be thrown into a fiery furnace rather than compromise his belief in G-d. Miraculously, Abraham was protected from the flames. Anyone who spoke to Abraham was taken by his piety, his compassion, and his integrity. Is it any wonder that his “Yeshiva” was packed with devoted followers?

However, all was not well in the Jewish outreach business. Abraham had taken Sarah’s Egyptian maid, Hagar, as a second wife, and she had given birth to a son, Ishmael. Influenced by his mother’s Egyptian background, Ishmael was making Sarah very nervous.

Sarah saw that her stepson Ishmael was pursuing a life of idolatry and promiscuity. She was afraid that he would exert a negative influence over her son Isaac, whom G-d had designated as Abraham’s successor. “Send this maid and her son away, because this maid’s son will NOT share the inheritance with my son Isaac!” (Genesis 21:10)

Sarah was not concerned about a FINANCIAL inheritance. Indeed, Abraham gave generously to all EIGHT of his sons. (See Genesis 25:1-5)  Her concern was with Abraham’s spiritual legacy that Isaac was to pass down to Jacob and the Nation of Israel.  Sarah insisted that Ishmael be separated from Isaac so that Isaac’s Torah education would remain unsullied by his older brother’s cynical attitude.

Abraham was distressed by his wife’s suggestion. “My son Ishmael?” he must have asked. “How can I send him away? Who will teach him the right way to live if not I?”

Abraham lost the argument. G-d endorsed Sarah’s request, and Ishmael and his mother were sent away.

I have always been amazed by this passage. What was Sarah so worried about? Sarah was a righteous woman and Abraham was a righteous man. Certainly after all of their experience in Kiruv Rechokim, — Jewish outreach, they would succeed in raising Isaac to become a paragon of Torah values. After all, Abraham had hundreds of followers who had given up their idolatrous ways and embraced the G-d of Abraham; surely Isaac would follow suit!

The answer, I believe, is that had Ishmael remained, Isaac would not have reached his full potential. He would, no doubt, have become a wonderful Torah Jew with all of the proper philosophies and priorities. But Ishmael’s wickedness would have made at least a subtle, perhaps undetectable impact on Isaac. To Sarah, (and to G-d!) this eventuality was simply unthinkable.

A person is the sum total of his life’s experiences. Every ingredient in a recipe affects the outcome. You can’t add “just a little” poison into your favorite challah dough and assume that the final product will be unaffected. All of the positive ingredients in the challah will not undo the adverse affects of the poison.

When you speak to a Holocaust survivor about the World Series, you may think that the atrocities he experienced are irrelevant to the conversation. Not so. Every occurrence, every episode in one’s life does its part in creating the individual’s outlook and attitude.

Had Isaac spent 20 hours a day learning Chumash, Mishnah, and Gemorrah in his father’s Yeshiva, only to come home to find his brother “surfing the web,” he might have remained a Torah scholar, but he would not have been the same Isaac. Exposure to the sins of Ishmael would have tainted Isaac’s spiritual existence.   Therefore, there was no choice but to send Ishmael away,

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Do we carefully monitor our own exposure to the experiences of the world? To be sure, G-d put us here to “fill the world and conquer it.” (Genesis 1:28) We are not supposed to run away from the world. But we ARE supposed to maintain a proper perspective.

Do we really think that when our children watch violence on television that it doesn’t teach them, at least subconsciously, that it’s okay to hurt people? Do we think that when we expose our children (and ourselves!) to offensive language and objectionable episodes that we are impervious to their subliminal imprint? If we are not yet ready to get rid of our televisions, shouldn’t we at least make sure that we scrutinize what we allow them to bring into our homes? (One famous rabbinic author wonders if we would be so quick to allow a sewer to empty its contents into our living rooms!)

And what about the Internet? If you are receiving this message, you obviously have Internet access. There are many wonderful things we can do with the Internet. For example, you can check out some wonderful websites such as ou.org, torah.org, aish.com, and, of course TORAHTALK!!!  But cyberspace is a dangerous place for “children of ALL ages” to explore. There’s one Torah website out there, (I forget which one) which, at the conclusion of its weekly Torah message, warns the reader of the potential pitfalls of Internet. It advises great discretion in Internet exposure, and concludes, “if you are near a Yeshiva where you can study Torah, go there right now!”

We are very careful about the spiritual quality of the foods that we take into our mouths. Let us make sure that whatever we allow to enter our eyes and ears is equally Kosher.

Have a great Shabbos.

Rabbi Yerachmiel Seplowitz

To leave a comment about this article, or to read other readers’ comments on this article, scroll down past the archive links.

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FROM THE ARCHIVES

“Sodom & Gomorrah… and Sandy” (2012)

It is easy to look at the pictures of the devastation and be reminded of this week’s Torah Portion’s story of the overturning of Sodom and Gomorrah.  After G-d was finished raining destruction on those cities, there was nothing left.  The Torah tells us that before the destruction, Sodom was a green and lush paradise.  After the destruction, it was a barren desert.

No doubt, there will be some who will glibly attribute the hurricane to …

Read more.

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 “A Prayer and an Opportunity” (2010)

… We, the People of Israel are a compassionate People.  We try to take care of our own.  And there they are, at synagogues and cemeteries, jingling change in their hands, and calling out, “Tzedokah, Tzedokah.” (Loosely – and incorrectly – translated as “Charity, Charity.”)

… It can be very disturbing.  It can even be annoying.  And this is what led to my dilemma two years ago.

I was praying at Rachel’s Tomb.  I had many things to pray for.  I was standing there, at that holy site, pouring out my heart to G-d.  I was reciting Psalms with a fervor that is difficult to match in other places.  I felt close to our Father in Heaven.

Then it happened.  A hand was thrust into my face, with a quick description of a difficult situation of an impoverished family… taking advantage of the opportunity to pray in this holy place.  I was inspired.  I was uplifted.  And this charity collector burst into my conversation with G-d and totally destroyed my concentration.  How dare he?!!

…Who was right, I pondered; the collector or me?… 

Read more.

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“Immaculate Deception?” (2009)

The world was a desolate place. Sodom  and Gomorrah had just been destroyed.  They were such dens of iniquity that G-d would no longer tolerate their existence.

But He didn’t destroy everyone…

Lot  and his two surviving daughters hid in a cave… They assumed, after the massive destruction they had just survived, that the entire human race had been wiped out… Lot’s daughters had to make a difficult decision…

Lot  now had two illegitimate sons/grandsons, who were the fathers of two nations who would, some day, be a source of problems to their cousins the Israelites.

They were illegitimate.  But why advertise it? …

Read more.

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 “Girl Talk?” (2007) 

Yose ben Yochanan says: “… don’t engage in too much conversation with the woman.” This was said about one’s own wife; all the more so does it apply to another’s wife.… the Sages said: “anyone who engages in too much conversation with women causes evil to himself, neglects Torah study, and will eventually inherit Gehinnom.  (The Hebrew term for … a very hot place!!)”

Not very politically correct!

This is, to say the very least, very difficult to understand.  The part about overdoing conversation with someone else’s wife is understandable.  Human nature being what it is, it is certainly wise for men and women who are not married to each other to set parameters as to how much friendly conversation is appropriate.  But what’s wrong with talking to your wife?…

Read more.

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 “What’s So Funny?”  (2006) 

… Two people hear the same prophecy.  Abraham laughs, and G-d says nothing.  Sarah laughs, and is criticized by G-d.  What’s the difference?  If Sarah is criticized for doubting the truth of the prediction, why isn’t Abraham?…

Read more.

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 “Would Abraham Give Candy to Trick-or-Treaters?” (2005) 

… You are a Sabbath-observing Jew.  You are taking a Shabbos afternoon stroll when a car pulls up next to you.  The driver, also Jewish, asks you for directions.  What do you do?…

What do you do?  Good manners would dictate that you politely tell the driver how to reach his destination.  Jewish Law, however, dictates that you may not assist another Jew in violating Jewish Law.   Should you say you don’t know how to get there?  You’re not allowed to lie.  What do you do??!!! …

Read more.

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“The Most Powerful Force on Earth” (2003) 

…Lot… moved to Sodom  to get away from his uncle Abraham.  He didn’t want to live near his uncle; Abraham was too . . . “religious.” …Lot …seems to have preferred the decadent lifestyle of his neighbors over the restrictive morals of his uncle’s home.  Given the choice of Jerusalem  vs. San Francisco, Lot  chose ‘Frisco! …

Read more.

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“Not Now, G-d, I’m Busy . . . I’ll Talk to You Later!” (2002) 

… You have been selected for a visit from the President of the United States…

“Forgive me, Mr. President. I have something to take care of.  Make yourself at home.  I’ll be back soon.”

You then proceed to run to your itinerant guests, waiting on them hand and foot while the President cools his heels and leafs through your wedding album.

You give them your best food to eat and your finest cigars to smoke.  All the while, the President stands there incredulously, flabbergasted by your audacious and outrageous behavior…

Read more.

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“Could the Twin Towers Have Been Saved?” (2001)

… At the risk of being controversial (who, me?) and politically incorrect, I would like to suggest that there seems to be Biblical precedent for the profiling of Arabs, expecting the worst.  After all, our cousins the Ishmaelites have been at war with us for thousands of years…

Read more .

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“Under the Influence of Dregs” (2000) 

… Sarah … was afraid that he would exert a negative influence over her son Isaac, whom G-d had designated as Abraham’s successor. “Send this maid and her son away, because this maid’s son will NOT share the inheritance with my son Isaac!”

Abraham was distressed by his wife’s suggestion. “My son Ishmael?” he must have asked. “How can I send him away? Who will teach him the right way to live if not I?”

Abraham lost the argument…

Read more.

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This is the weekly message at TorahTalk.org. Copyright © 2000-2012 by Rabbi Yerachmiel Seplowitz.  May be reprinted. Please include copyright information.

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Rabbi Yerachmiel Seplowitz is a Mohel (Brisrabbi.com) and chaplain in Monsey, New York. For information about scheduling a Bris or a lecture, or just to say hello, call (800) 83MOHEL.

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Published in: on November 16, 2000 at 12:05 pm  Leave a Comment  

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