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Shabbat Parashat Vayeira 5783

Parashat Hashavua: On Strict Law and Mercy; On Fatherhood and Motherhood

Harav Yosef Carmel

The word tzchok (laughter) is similar to the words tzei chok (rules are out). Therefore, it is not surprising that the central word in the context of the miraculous birth of Yitzchak, with parents of 100 and 90, is tzchok.  

The news that Yitzchak would be born is found in two nearby sections (Bereishit 17:3-27 and ibid. 18:1-15). In certain matters, though, the two sections are very far apart. For one, in the first section, the Torah uses only the Name of Elokim (the Name of din (strict law)), whereas in the second one, the main Name (Havaya – the Name of mercy) is exclusively used. The first section puts the stress on Sarah providing a child for Avraham (see ibid. 17:19), whereas the second one focuses on the birth of a child for Sarah (ibid. 18:10), which puts things in a different light even when describing the exact same event.

The timing of the birth also shows some small but significant differences. The first section says it would happen “at this time in a different year” (ibid. 17:21). The second time it says “ka’et chaya” (at this live time). Et is a word for time which is not necessarily linked to a time of year and chaya is related to the process of birth. In fact it recalls the mother of motherhood, Chava, who was called the “mother of all chay.” She and her female descendants ensure the continuation of life and pregnancy, which is the use of the rechem (uterus), which shares a root with rachamim (mercy); these are two special domains of women. Brit mila, a mitzva which is connected to males, is a mitzva connected to the attribute, not of mercy, but of din.

The Torah’s description of Yitzchak’s birth itself is also somewhat repeated (ibid. 21:1&2). The first time, the Name of Havaya is used, and the second time Elokim is used, even though, of course, it was one event being described in two differently nuanced ways. The Name used in the creation of man in the original Creation is also that of din (see Bereishit 5:1-2).

We can summarize as follows. Hashem created the world and leads it with din to which He brings mercy to accompany it. Avraham and Sarah were granted a son to continue their legacy. Word of this upcoming great event reached them both in terms of din and in terms of rachamim. It works out perfectly that the section that stresses the father, Avraham, talks in terms of din, and the section that speaks in terms of the mother, Sarah, uses terms of rachamim. It also is appropriate that when we pray in order to arouse Hashem’s characteristic of rachamim, we invoke the person’s mother’s name.

We pray to Hashem that His characteristic of mercy will overpower the characteristic of strict judgment and that Hashem will only accelerate the process of our redemption. We must remember, from our perspective, that the more we employ mercy toward our fellow person the more Hashem will employ His mercy toward us.   

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