This week’s Torah portion, Vayera, tells the story of two very different Abrahams. In the first part of the portion, we see Abraham argue with G-d regarding the fate of the people of Sodom (Genesis 18:22). Not long after that, Abraham is asked by G-d to sacrifice Isaac, his favorite son (Genesis 22:2). Abraham at no point during the Akeda, the Binding of Isaac, argues or questions G-d’s request. Even if Abraham didn’t believe he would actually have to sacrifice Isaac (Genesis 22:5), he still misled his son and led him to Mount Moriah (Genesis 22:8). After Isaac was spared, Abraham is described descending the mountain but Isaac is not (Genesis 22:19), leaving Isaac’s narrative unheard and the apparent schism between father and son extremely present.
We find ourselves many times zooming too far out, too large scale, in how we can fix the world. In a society where “making a difference” is so vital in creating a meaningful life, the desire to help many people as possible is a draw for most people. We often times act like Abraham speaking on behalf of entire populations to help them or defend them, sometimes at the expense of what is right in front of us.
The Talmud teaches us that if “whoever saves a life from Israel, it is considered as if he has saved an entire world” (Jerusalem Talmud, tractate Sanhedrin 37a). Vayera is our reminder to not get lost in the larger picture. To remember to listen to one another on a personal level. That while faith is important in Abraham’s narrative, that it is our duty to seek out the individual stories that we look at and dismiss every single day. The metaphorical “binding” of our friends, our colleagues, even our mothers, fathers, siblings, daughters, and sons. How do we personally “bind” them? How can we unbind them, to both keep us from being Abraham, sacrificing his “only son,” but also so that we can be the angel who saves Isaac?
This article is part of Ha’Am’s Friday Taste of Torah column. Each week, a different UCLA community member will contribute some words of Jewish wisdom in preparation for Shabbat.