The Torah portion, or parasha, this week is Vayera and is found in Genesis 18:1-22:24.In this parasha, Abraham is visited by three guests. They tell Abraham that God plans to destroy the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah. Abraham bargains with God pleading for Him to save the cities if there are at least 50 righteous people, reducing the number until God promises not to destroy the cities if there are 10 righteous people there. The cities are destroyed but the angels come to rescue Lot’s family. Lot’s wife looks back and is turned to a pillar of salt but Lot and his daughters escape safely. God fulfills His promise to Abraham and Sarah and Sarah has a son, Isaac. At Sarah’s insistence, Abraham sends Hagar, the servant who had a child by Abraham, to the desert where Ishmael nearly dies. God promises to bless Hagar and her son, Ishmael, and that he will become a great nation. In the final story in this section, God commands Abraham to take Isaac on a journey, and to sacrifice his son. Abraham shows his willingness follow God’s command, an angel intervenes, and Isaac’s life is spared.
This parasha has some unique events which are difficult to wrestle with, but all show some similarities– there is a challenge to decide how to best balance justice and mercy. In the first story, the challenge is whether two wicked cities should be destroyed, and even though the cities are destroyed, righteous people are spared. In the next two stories, Abraham’s two sons both nearly lose their lives–one by abandonment, the other by sacrifice–and God spares them both. We certainly can debate many of the details and motives in these these stories; however, the challenge is still with us because it is universal. In our daily lives and in our society, we encounter situations that require us to make decisions about what is just, what is merciful, and how to balance the two. The challenge is often difficult and there are no easy answers. The passage does not provide a solution to help us make those decisions. What it does do, is point us to the value in continuing to stay sensitive to issues of justice and mercy and to persevere to keep these balanced.