Weekly Torah Portion – Of Birth, Age, Hope, Fear
Parshat Vayera: Genesis 18:1-22:24; II Kings 4:1-37.
Now Abraham and Sarah were old, well on in years” … Genesis 18:11.
“God had remembered Sarah as He had said; and God did for Sarah as He had spoken. Sarah conceived and bore a son to Abraham in his old age, at the appointed time which God had spoken … Abraham circumcised his son at the age of eight days as God commanded him.” Genesis 24:1-4
Last month, Lori and I met our grandson Teddy Stanley Lasday for the first time.
We were fortunate to have arrived in Israel just in time to be there to hold him on the day he was born.
Driving home from the hospital that night, we excitedly shared the news of becoming grandparents with our taxi driver, a man about my age. The driver responded with a surprising, very solemn shake of his head, repeating over and over again, “Saba (grandfather), that word frightens me.”
Rather than anticipation, joy and hope for the future, for him, the idea of becoming a grandfather represented a fear of growing old.
In this week’s portion, Sarah, like my taxi driver, is presented with news about a birth. While entertaining messengers from God, Sarah and Abraham are told that Sarah will give birth to a son within the year. Though Sarah and Abraham are described as “old, well on in years,” Sarah’s reaction to hearing about a birth was very different from our taxi driver’s. Rather than reacting in fear to becoming a mother at such an old age, she laughed with delight (and a little disbelief). She beheld the future possibilities of raising a son.
Our parshah begins with the words, “And God appeared (Vayera) to him (Abraham).” Vayera in Hebrew is spelled, vav – yud – resh – aleph. Depending on the context, these four letters can either mean “and he appeared, to see or behold” or could mean “and he feared, to be frightened.” Depending on the context, the word Vayera can either point to an exciting new opportunity or a time to turn inward in fear. The four letters remain the same; however, the meaning that we layer on them is very different.
Similarly, in life, through our mindset we can encounter the same situation and either have a positive mindset and “excitedly behold future possibilities” or “fear what the future will hold.” The choice is ours.
In Neve Tzedek in Tel Aviv, 31 days after his birth, Teddy Stanley Lasday brought our family tremendous pride and delight as he flawlessly participated in his Pidyon Haben, the ceremony in which a firstborn son is redeemed by a Cohen, in order to release him from his obligation from serving in the temple. The ceremony is an opportunity to give meaningful thanks to God for the birth of a child and is a symbol of tradition and ties to the past. (Reformjudaism.org)
Similarly, when he was only eight days old, he managed to captivate a crowd of family and friends at his brit milah. I really hope that in future years he doesn’t hold it against me that it was me, his zaydie, who held him down for the deed.
Jeffrey Lasday serves as the Chief Operating Officer of the Jewish Community Center of Metropolitan Detroit