Politics & Parsha: Vayeira 5771

Posted on October 22, 2010 In Archives

Each week IPA Deputy Director of Public Policy Howie Beigelman takes a look at the weekly parsha and discusses it in a way you may never have seen. Any hashkafic, halachic or political opinions are personal and do not reflect the official psak or policy of the OU.

This week we go through a few P&P shorts:

Coalition of the useful

“If God doesn’t destroy Hollywood Boulevard, he owes Sodom and Gomorrah an apology.” — Jay Leno

Abraham was the very first Jewish lobbyist, and there’s a lot to learn from his effort.

Firstly, he makes the argument to G-d for justice. That is, he appeals to G-d’s desire for a just world.

Well, Abraham suggests, you then model such justice.

As well, Abraham loses to G-d. Sodom is utterly destroyed; a once lush plain becomes a desolate, sulfurous desert. Still, the very next day, Abraham is back at his prayers, speaking to G-d.

But most amazing of all, is that Abraham lobbies to save Sodom. If you are Abraham, there is no greater ringing endorsement of your life’s choices than divinely wrought destruction of those people who are your nemesis in deed and creed.

But to Abraham, it’s an issue of justice. The lesson is if the issue is one of importance, you can work to save those with whom you disagree. Thus was born coalition politics. Or, as Lord Palmerston said, regarding their majesty’s government: it has no permanent allies or enemies but only permanent interests.

A life, sacrificed

It has been remarked that it is easy to die for one’s principles (though we aren’t sure that’s actually the case; we suspect it’s rather harder than it looks) but it’s hard to live by them.

The commentaries debate whether the binding of Isaac was the final of Abraham’s ten tests. Rabbeinu Yonah sees it as the ninth, with the burial of Sarah as the final. All agree that G-d’s request for Abraham to sacrifice his son makes the cut (no pun intended). Most commentaries marvel at Abraham’s ability to both pass with flying colors and to go back to his life as it was beforehand.

Not as much thought is put into Isaac. He too passed this test, and contrary to popular culture’s depiction, the rabbinic tradition is that Isaac was 37 at the time. He gave his informed consent for his father to bind him and put a knife to his throat, all based on the word of his father’s G-d, a command Isaac himself never heard. And then, once saved by the angel’s word, Isaac returns from the akeidah with his relationship with Abraham intact, despite the attempted murder. As well, Isaac lives a life of commitment to the G-d who had ordered him killed. Having willingly – and literally – stuck his neck out, he also consciously spent the next decades living, and serving the same G-d.


The episode of Ishmael could take up several P&P’s, but we will focus on one area. The angel answers Hagar’s prayers (or Ishmael’s – it’s unclear who prayed & who got answered). She looks up to find a well of water. Nowhere does the Bible indicate this was a miracle. From the text of the Bible, it seems this well was always there, but neither Hagar – nor Ishmael – ever noticed it.

Sometimes the answer to our problems is right in front of us. We just need to look. That works in politics as much as in our personal lives. (Remember the movie Dave, where an ordinary accountant balances the federal budget?)

Sometimes a bipartisan compromise or a common sense solution to who gets to control the TV remote is right there. But we’re so busy bemoaning or praying for salvation that we don’t ever see it. What we all need is an angel – or a detached observer – to point it out.

Words to consider, ideas to ponder – politics & the parsha.