This week’s Torah portion Vayeira has many themes to ponder. The difficulty comes with wrestling meaning from some of the more outrageous and seemingly heartless actions taken by Abraham, Sarah, and G-d. I am proud to note that WRJ represents the best of the human instincts displayed, and is working to remedy the basest ones, which unfortunately we are still combating.
Our story begins innocently enough with Abraham encountering three men outside of his tent. He does what any Jewish woman with breath in her body would do - invites them in for food and drink.
Seriously though, WRJ is built on a foundation of hospitality, and it is hospitality that will allow us to continue to exist. Over time, we have adapted to different women who seek to join us - speaking out on gay and transgender rights, welcoming non-Jewish partners in interfaith families, opening the flaps of our tent to international and individual members, working to make our synagogues physically accessible to all. While we know that WRJ is sending a welcoming message, each of us as representatives must also emulate Abraham, and be alert for all opportunities to be hospitable to those looking to join us. Leadership development events such as our Fried Leadership Conference (March 1-4 in Nashville- https://wrj.org/flc2018 ) and online information like our Strategies for Success articles can help insure that your sisterhood’s welcome mat is always out.
The portion continues with G-d’s promise to Sarah to give her a child, and then Abraham accompanies the three men to Sodom. Here things become more difficult. While we agree with G-d that the behavior exhibited in this city cannot be tolerated, like Abraham, we shirk from the idea of destroying a city. We are also appalled by the rape culture that allows Lot to believe he is doing a good thing by offering his virgin daughters to the mob to protect his guests.
After Abraham pleads with G-d to spare any good people found in the cities, Lot and his family escape and the cities are destroyed. Abraham and Sarah have further adventures and Sarah gives birth to Isaac. Now Sarah’s protective instincts go into overdrive and she banishes Abraham’s foreign wife Hagar and her son Ishmael to the desert. The selfishness of protecting our own at the expense of the Other is sadly still alive in society today.
I believe the lessons to be learned in these stories involve advocacy. In countless D’Vars Abraham is held up as a role model for his bravery in speaking up to G-d in defense of innocent people who may be destroyed in Sodom and Gomorrah. We too are continually presented with situations in which we can stand up for the rights of others. While emulating Abraham we can help fight against the violence of rape, and the banishment of strangers we are commanded to protect.
I was fortunate to attend the Religious Action Center’s Consultation of Conscience, including WRJ’s excellent supplemental programming, last spring. Among the activities I attended was a WRJ luncheon featuring Maya Weinstein, past Legislative Assistant to the RAC. Maya is an exceptional young woman whose year-long tenure as an L. A. was sponsored, as we do each year, by WRJ. Maya was a victim of campus rape and has devoted herself to advocating for rape victims and stopping the rape culture still prevalent in today’s society. She has written excellent blogs for WRJ and the RAC, which may be found on their websites. I also participated in several lectures and workshops concerning comprehensive immigration reform, culminating in a visit to Capitol Hill to advocate at the offices of our state representatives. The Religious Action Center’s work on immigration reform and many other urgent problems, is part of their Urgency of Now campaign which helps individuals and synagogues develop advocacy campaigns. If you or your temple are not yet involved, please visit the RAC for more information.
Women of Reform Judaism has a long history of advocacy. Our resolutions date back to 1915, before women had the right to vote. We also have a history of innovation and, in keeping with today’s need for advocacy programming and education, WRJ has unveiled our WRJ Women ACT advocacy campaign. Look for more information to follow on our 2019 Advocacy convention.
As our weekly portion shows, compassion for others, whether in the form of hospitality or advocacy is central to our existence as Reform Jews, and the work is never finished.
Which brings me to the last disturbing event in the parashah – the binding of Isaac. My friends, I am sorry, as a mother of sons myself, I have no words to defend either G-d’s request or Abraham’s acquiescence. The best I can do is to take a phrase from this section, and to ask you to join me, as I say “Hineni”- “here I am” - to WRJ and advocacy.
Madi Hoesten is a member of Congregation Kol Tikvah in Parkland, FL. After serving on the Southeast District Board as an Area Director, Vice President of Marketing and Communication, 1st Vice President, and then President, she is currently the Immediate Past President of her district. Madi is also a member of the Board of Women of Reform Judaism.