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Vayeira, Vayera, or Va-yera (וַיֵּרָא — Hebrew for "and He appeared,” the first word in the parshah) is the fourth weekly Torah portion (parshah) in the annual Jewish cycle of Torah reading. It constitutes Genesis 18:1–22:24 Jews read it on the fourth Sabbath after Simchat Torah, generally in October or November.

Jews also read parts of the parshah as Torah readings for Rosh Hashanah. Genesis 21 is the Torah reading for the first day of Rosh Hashanah, and Genesis 22 is the Torah reading for the second day of Rosh Hashanah. In Reform Judaism, Genesis 22 is the Torah reading for the one day of Rosh Hashanah.

John Martin - Sodom and Gomorrah

The Destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah (painting by John Martin)


Abraham and the Three Angels

Abraham and the Three Angels (engraving by Gustave Doré)

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Abraham and the Three Angels (painting circa 1695 by Sebastiano Ricci)

Abraham’s three visitors

As Abraham was sitting at the entrance of his tent by the terebinths of Mamre at the heat of the day, he looked up and saw God in the form of three men, and he ran, bowed to the ground, and welcomed them. (Genesis 18:1–3) Abraham offered to wash their feet and fetch them a morsel of bread, and they assented. (Genesis 18:4–6) Abraham rushed to Sarah’s tent to order cakes made from choice flour, ran to select a choice calf for a servant-boy to prepare, set curds and milk and the calf before them, and waited on them under the tree as they ate. (Genesis 18:6–8)

One of the visitors told Abraham that he would return the next year, and Sarah would have a son, but Sarah laughed to herself at the prospect, with Abraham so old. (Genesis 18:10–12) God then questioned Abraham why Sarah had laughed at bearing a child at her age, noting that nothing was too wondrous for God. (Genesis 18:13–14) Frightened, Sarah denied laughing, but God insisted that she had. (Genesis 18:15)

Abraham bargains with God

The men set out toward Sodom and Abraham walked with them to see them off. (Genesis 18:16) God considered whether to confide in Abraham what God was about to do, since God had singled out Abraham to become a great nation and instruct his posterity to keep God’s way by doing what was just and right. (Genesis 18:17–19) God told Abraham that the outrage and sin of Sodom and Gomorrah was so great that God was going to see whether they had acted according to the outcry that had reached God. (Genesis 18:20–21) The men went on to Sodom, while Abraham remained standing before God. (Genesis 18:22) Abraham pressed God whether God would sweep away the innocent along with the guilty, asking successively if there were 50, or 45, or 40, or 30, or 20, or 10 innocent people in Sodom, would God not spare the city for the sake of the innocent ones, and each time God agreed to do so. (Genesis 18:23–32) When God had finished speaking to Abraham, God departed, and Abraham returned to his place. (Genesis 18:33)

Sodoma - Aldegrever

Lot prevents violence against the Angels, (1555 engraving by Heinrich Aldegrever)

Lot’s two visitors

As Lot was sitting at the gate of Sodom in the evening, the two angels arrived, and Lot greeted them and bowed low to the ground. (Genesis 19:1) Lot invited the angels to spend the night at his house and bathe their feet, but they said that they would spend the night in the square. (Genesis 19:2) Lot urged them strongly, so they went to his house, and he prepared a feast for them and baked unleavened bread, and they ate. (Genesis 19:3)

Flight of Lot

Flight of Lot (illustration by Gustave Doré)

Lot bargains with the Sodomites

Before they had retired for the night, all the people of Sodom gathered about the house shouting to Lot to bring his visitors out so that they might be intimate with them. (Genesis 19:4–5) Lot went outside the entrance, shutting the door behind him, and begged the men of Sodom not commit such a wrong. (Genesis 19:6–7) Lot offered the men his two virgin daughters for them to do with as they pleased, if they would not do anything to his guests, but they disparaged Lot as one who had come as an alien and now sought to rule them, and they pressed threateningly against him and the door. (Genesis 19:8–9) But the visitors stretched out their hands and pulled Lot back into the house and shut the door and struck the people with blinding light that made them unable to find the entrance. (Genesis 19:10–11)

The flight of Lot

The visitors directed Lot to bring what family he had out of the city, for they were about to destroy the place, because the outcry against its inhabitants had become so great. (Genesis 19:12–13) So Lot told his sons-in-law that they needed to get out of the place because God was about to destroy it, but Lot’s sons-in-law thought that he was joking. (Genesis 19:14)

Anonymous artist - Lot and his daughters - Louvre RF 1185 - 001

Lot and His Daughters (painting by Lucas van Leyden)

As dawn broke, the angels urged Lot to flee with his wife and two remaining daughters, but still he delayed. (Genesis 19:15–16) So out of God’s mercy, the men seized Lot, his wife, and daughters by the hand and brought them out of the city, telling them to flee for their lives and not to stop or look back anywhere in the plain. (Genesis 19:16–17) But Lot asked them whether he might flee to a little village nearby, and the angel replied that he would grant Lot this favor too, and spare that town. (Genesis 19:18–21) The angel urged Lot to hurry there, for the angel could not do anything until he arrived there, and thus the town came to be called Zoar. (Genesis 19:22)

As the sun rose and Lot entered Zoar, God rained sulfurous fire from heaven on Sodom and Gomorrah and annihilated the entire plain. (Genesis 19:23–25) Lot’s wife looked back, and she turned into a pillar of salt. (Genesis 19:26) Next morning, Abraham hurried to the place where he had stood before God and looked down toward Sodom and Gomorrah and saw the smoke rising like at a kiln. (Genesis 19:27–28)

Lot and his Daughters

Lot and his Daughters (painting by Hendrik Goltzius)

Lot was afraid to dwell in Zoar, so he settled in a cave in the hill country with his two daughters. (Genesis 19:30) The older daughter told the younger that their father was old, and there was not a man on earth with whom to have children, so she proposed that they get Lot drunk and lie with him so that they might maintain life through their father. (Genesis 19:31–32) That night they made their father drink wine, and the older one lay with her father without his being aware. (Genesis 19:33) And the next day the older one persuaded the younger to do the same. (Genesis 19:34–35) The two daughters thus had children by their father, the older one bore a son named Moab who became the father of the Moabites, and the younger bore a son named Ben-ammi who became the father of the Ammonites. (Genesis 19:36–38)

Wife as sister

Abraham settled between Kadesh and Shur. (Genesis 20:1) While he was sojourning in Gerar, Abraham said that Sarah was his sister, so King Abimelech had her brought to him, but God came to Abimelech in a dream and told him that taking her would cause him to die, for she was a married woman. (Genesis 20:1–3) Abimelech had not approached her, so he asked God whether God would slay an innocent, as Abraham and Sarah had told him that they were brother and sister. (Genesis 20:4–5) God told Abimelech in the dream that God knew that Abimelech had a blameless heart, and so God had kept him from touching her. (Genesis 20:6) God told Abimelech to restore Abraham’s wife, since he was a prophet, and he would intercede for Abimelech to save his life, which he and his household would lose if he failed to restore her. (Genesis 20:7)

Early next morning, Abimelech told his servants what had happened, asked Abraham what he had done and why he had brought so great a guilt upon Abimelech and his kingdom. (Genesis 20:8–10) Abraham replied that he had thought that Gerar had no fear of God and would kill him because of his wife, and that she was in fact his father’s daughter though not his mother’s, so he had asked of her the kindness of identifying him as her brother. (Genesis 20:11–13) Abimelech restored Sarah to Abraham, gave him sheep, oxen, and slaves, and invited him to settle wherever he pleased in Abimelech’s lands. (Genesis 20:14–15) And Abimelech told Sarah that he was giving Abraham a thousand pieces of silver to serve her as vindication before all. (Genesis 20:16) Abraham then prayed to God, and God healed Abimelech and the women in his household, so that they bore children, for God had stricken the women with infertility because of Sarah. (Genesis 20:17–18)

The birth of Isaac

God took note of Sarah, and she bore Abraham a son as God had predicted, and Abraham named him Isaac. (Genesis 21:1–3) Abraham circumcised Isaac when he was eight days old. (Genesis 21:4) Abraham was 100 years old when Isaac was born, and Sarah remarked that God had brought her laughter and everyone would laugh with her about her bearing Abraham a child in his old age. (Genesis 21:5–7) Abraham held a great feast on the day that Sarah weaned Isaac. (Genesis 21:8)

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The Expulsion of Hagar (painting by Giovanni Battista Tiepolo)

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Hagar and Ishmael (painting by Giovanni Battista Tiepolo)

The expulsion of Hagar

Sarah saw Hagar’s son Ishmael playing, and Sarah told Abraham to cast Hagar and Ishmael out, saying that Ishmael would not share in Abraham’s inheritance with Isaac. (Genesis 21:9–10) Sarah’s words greatly distressed Abraham, but God told Abraham not to be distressed but to do whatever Sarah told him, for Isaac would carry on Abraham’s line, and God would make a nation of Ishmael, too. (Genesis 21:11–13) Early the next morning, Abraham placed some bread and water on Hagar’s shoulder, together with Ishmael, and sent them away. (Genesis 21:14)

Hagar and Ishmael wandered in the wilderness of Beersheba, and when the water ran out, she left the child under a bush, sat down a bowshot away so as not to see the child die, and burst into tears. (Genesis 21:14–16) God heard the cry of the boy, and an angel called to Hagar, saying not to fear, for God had heeded the boy’s cry, and would make of him a great nation. (Genesis 21:17–18) Then God opened her eyes to a well of water, and she and the boy drank. (Genesis 21:19) God was with Ishmael and he grew up in the wilderness and became a bowman. (Genesis 21:20) Ishmael lived in the wilderness of Paran, and Hagar got him an Egyptian wife. (Genesis 21:21)


Abimelech and Phicol the chief of his troops asked Abraham to swear not to deal falsely with them. (Genesis 21:22–24) Abraham reproached Abimelech because Abimelech’s servants had seized Abraham’s well, but Abimelech protested ignorance. (Genesis 21:25–26) Abraham gave Abimelech sheep and oxen and two men made a pact. (Genesis 21:27) Abraham then offered Abimelech seven ewes as proof that Abraham had dug the well. (Genesis 21:28–30) They called the place Beersheba, for the two of them swore an oath there. (Genesis 21:31) After they concluded their pact, Abimelech and Phicol returned to Philistia, and Abraham planted a tamarisk and invoked God’s name. (Genesis 21:32–33) Abraham lived in Philistia a long time. (Genesis 21:34)

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The Angel Hinders the Offering of Isaac (painting by Rembrandt)

Trial of Abraham's faith

Trial of Abraham's Faith (engraving by Gustave Doré)

The binding of Isaac

Some time later, God tested Abraham, directing him to take Isaac to the land of Moriah and offer him there as a burnt offering. (Genesis 22:1–2) Early the next morning, Abraham saddled his donkey and split wood for the burnt offering, and then he, two of his servants, and Isaac set out for the place that God had named. (Genesis 22:3) On the third day, Abraham saw the place from afar, and directed his servants to wait with the donkey, while Isaac and he went up to worship and then return. (Genesis 22:4–5) Abraham took the firestone and the knife, put the wood on Isaac, and the two walked off together. (Genesis 22:6) When Isaac asked Abraham where the sheep was for the burnt offering, Abraham replied that God would see to the sheep for the burnt offering. (Genesis 22:7–8)

They arrived at the place that God had named, and Abraham built an altar, laid out the wood, bound Isaac, laid him on the altar, and picked up the knife to slay him. (Genesis 22:9–10) Then an angel called to Abraham, telling him not to raise his hand against the boy, for now God knew that Abraham feared God, since he had not withheld his son. (Genesis 22:11–12) Abraham looked up and saw a ram caught in a thicket by its horns, so he offered it as a burnt offering in place of his son. (Genesis 22:13) Abraham named the site Adonai-yireh. (Genesis 22:14)

The angel called to Abraham a second time, saying that because Abraham had not withheld his son, God would bless him and make his descendants as numerous as the stars of heaven and the sands on the seashore, and victorious over their foes. (Genesis 22:15–17) All the nations of the earth would bless themselves by Abraham’s descendants, because he obeyed God’s command. (Genesis 22:18) Abraham returned to his servants, and they departed for Beersheba; where Abraham stayed. (Genesis 22:19)

Later, Abraham learned that Milcah had borne eight children to his brother Nahor, among whom was Bethuel, who became the father of Rebekah. (Genesis 22:20–23) Nahor’s concubine Reumah also bore him four children. (Genesis 22:24)

In inner-biblical interpretation

Genesis chapter 18

Ezekiel 16:49–50 explains what the “grievous” sin was that Genesis 18:20 reported in Sodom. Ezekiel 16:49–50 says that Sodom’s iniquity was pride. Sodom had plenty of bread and careless ease, but Sodom did not help the poor and the needy. Thus the people of Sodom were haughty and committed abomination before God. And for that reason, God removed them.

In classical rabbinic interpretation

Abraham Entertaining the Angels

Abraham Entertaining the Angels (etching by Rembrandt)

Genesis chapter 18

The Mishnah taught that Abraham suffered ten trials (several in this parshah), and withstood them all. (Avot 5:3.)

A Baraita taught that in Genesis 18:1, “in the heat of the day” meant the sixth hour, or exactly midday. (Babylonian Talmud Berakhot 27a.)

Rab Judah said in Rab’s name that Genesis 18:1–3 showed that hospitality to wayfarers is greater than welcoming the Divine Presence. Rab Judah read the words “And he said, ‘My Lord, if now I have found favor in Your sight, pass not away’” in Genesis 18:3 to reflect Abraham’s request of God to wait for Abraham while Abraham saw to his guests. And Rabbi Eleazar said that God’s acceptance of this request demonstrated how God’s conduct is not like that of mortals, for among mortals, an inferior person cannot ask a greater person to wait, while in Genesis 18:3, God allowed it. (Babylonian Talmud Shabbat 127a.)

Abraham Entertaining the Angels, 1610-1620

Abraham Entertaining the Angels (drawing circa 1610–1620 by Jan Tengnagel)

The Tosefta taught that God rewarded measure for measure Abraham’s good deeds of hospitality in Genesis 18:2–16 with benefits for Abraham’s descendants the Israelites. (Tosefta Sotah 4:1–6.)

The Gemara identified the “three men” in Genesis 18:2 as the angels Michael, Gabriel, and Raphael. Michael came to tell Sarah of Isaac’s birth, Raphael came to heal Abraham, and Gabriel came to destroy Sodom. Noting that Genesis 19:1 reports that “the two angels came to Sodom,” the Gemara explained that Michael accompanied Gabriel to rescue Lot. The Gemara cited the use of the singular “He” in Genesis 19:25, where it says, “He overthrew those cities,” instead of “they overthrew” to demonstrate that a single angel (Gabriel) destroyed the cities. (Babylonian Talmud Bava Metzia 86b.)

The Gemara reported that sages in the Land of Israel (and some said Rabbi Isaac) deduced from Sarah’s practice as shown in Genesis 18:9 that while it was customary for a man to meet wayfarers, it was not customary for a woman to do so. And the Gemara cited this deduction to support the ruling of Mishnah Yevamot 8:3 that while a male Ammonite or Moabite was forbidden from entering the congregation of Israel, a Ammonite or Moabite woman was permitted. (Babylonian Talmud Yevamot 77a.)

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Three angels with Abraham, announcing the birth of Isaac (woodcut by Julius Schnorr von Carolsfeld from the 1860 Bible in Pictures)

At the School of Rabbi Ishmael, it was taught that Genesis 18:12–13 demonstrated how great is the cause of peace, for Sarah said of Abraham in Genesis 18:12, “My lord [Abraham] being old,” but when God reported Sarah’s statement to Abraham, God reported Sarah to have said, “And I [Sarah] am old,” so as to preserve peace between Abraham and Sarah. (Babylonian Talmud Yevamot 65b.)

Reading “set time” in Genesis 18:14 to mean the next “holy day” (as in Leviticus 23:4), the Gemara deduced that God spoke to Abraham on Sukkot to promise that Isaac would be born on Passover, and that there must have been a leap year that year, as those deductions allow the maximum 7 months between any two holy days. (Babylonian Talmud Rosh Hashanah 11a.)

Rabina asked one of the Rabbis who expounded Aggadah before him for the origin of the Rabbinic saying, “The memory of the righteous shall be for a blessing.” The Rabbi replied that Proverbs 10:7 says, “The memory of the righteous shall be for a blessing.” Rabina asked from where in the Torah one might derive that teaching. The Rabbi answered that Genesis 18:17 says, “Shall I hide from Abraham that which I am doing?” And right after that mention of Abraham’s name, God blessed Abraham in Genesis 18:18, saying, “Abraham shall surely become a great and mighty nation.” (Babylonian Talmud Yoma 38b.)

The Gemara taught that Genesis 18:19 sets forth one of the three most distinguishing virtues of the Jewish People. The Gemara taught that David told the Gibeonites that the Israelites are distinguished by three characteristics: They are merciful, bashful, and benevolent. They are merciful, for Deuteronomy 13:18 says that God would “show you (the Israelites) mercy, and have compassion upon you, and multiply you.” They are bashful, for Exodus 20:16 (20:17 in NJPS) says “that God’s fear may be before you (the Israelites).” And they are benevolent, for Genesis 18:19 says of Abraham “that he may command his children and his household after him, that they may keep the way of the Lord, to do righteousness and justice.” The Gemara taught that David told the Gibeonites that only one who cultivates these three characteristics is fit to join the Jewish People. (Babylonian Talmud Yevamot 79a.)

Figures The Sodomites are smitten with blindness

The Sodomites are smitten with blindness (illustration from the 1728 Figures de la Bible)

Rabbi Eleazar taught that from the blessing of the righteous one may infer a curse for the wicked. The Gemara explained that one may see the principle at play in the juxtaposition of Genesis 18:19 and 18:20. For Genesis 18:19 speaks of the blessing of the righteous Abraham, saying, “For I have known him, to the end that he may command.” And soon thereafter Genesis 18:20 speaks of the curse of the wicked people of Sodom and Gomorrah, saying, “Truly the cry of Sodom and Gomorrah is great.” (Babylonian Talmud Yoma 38b.)

The Mishnah taught that some viewed the people of Sodom as embracing a philosophy of “what’s mine is mine.” The Mishnah taught that there are four types of people: (1) One who says: “What’s mine is mine, and what’s yours is yours”; this is a neutral type, some say this was the type of Sodom. (2) One who says: “What’s mine is yours, and what’s yours is mine”; this is an unlearned person. (3) One who says: “What’s mine is yours, and what’s yours is yours”; this is a pious person. And (4) one who says: “What’s mine is mine, and what’s yours is mine;” this is a wicked person. (Mishnah Avot 5:10.)

The Tosefta employed verses from the book of Job to teach that the people of Sodom acted arrogantly before God because of the good that God had lavished on them. As Job 28:5–8 says, “As for the land, out of it comes bread . . . . Its stones are the place of sapphires, and it has dust of gold. That path, no bird of prey knows . . . . The proud beasts have not trodden it.” The people of Sodom reasoned that since bread, silver, gold, precious stones, and pearls came forth from their land, they did not need immigrants to come to Sodom. They reasoned that immigrants came only to take things away from Sodom and thus resolved to forget the traditional ways of hospitality. (Tosefta Sotah 3:11–12; Babylonian Talmud Sanhedrin 109a.) God told the people of Sodom that because of the goodness that God had lavished upon them, they had deliberately forgotten how things were customarily done in the world, and thus God would make them be forgotten from the world. As Job 28:4 says, “They open shafts in a valley from where men live. They are forgotten by travelers. They hang afar from men, they swing to and fro.” As Job 12:5–6 says, “In the thought of one who is at ease, there is contempt for misfortune; it is ready for those whose feet slip. The tents of robbers are at peace, and those who provoke God are secure, who bring their god in their Hand.” And so as Ezekiel 16:48–50 says, “As I live, says the Lord God, Sodom your sister has not done, she nor her daughters, as you and your daughters have done. Behold, this was the iniquity of your sister Sodom: pride, plenty of bread, and careless ease was in her and in her daughters; neither did she strengthen the hand of the poor and needy. And they were haughty, and committed abomination before Me; therefore I removed them when I saw it.” (Tosefta Sotah 3:12.)

Raba interpreted the words of Psalm 62:4, “How long will you imagine mischief against a man? You shall be slain all of you; you are all as a bowing wall, and as a tottering fence.” Raba interpreted this to teach that the people of Sodom would cast envious eyes on the wealthy, place them by a tottering wall, push the wall down on them, and take their wealth. Raba interpreted the words of Job 24:16, “In the dark they dig through houses, which they had marked for themselves in the daytime; they know not the light.” Raba interpreted this to teach that they used to cast envious eyes on wealthy people and entrust fragrant balsam into their keeping, which they placed in their storerooms. In the evening the people of Sodom would smell it out like dogs, as Psalm 59:7 says, “They return at evening, they make a noise like a dog, and go round about the city.” Then they would burrow in and steal the money. (Babylonian Talmud Sanhedrin 109a.)

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The Flight of Lot (painting by Peter Paul Rubens)

The Gemara told of the victims of the people of Sodom, in the words of Job 24:7, “They (would) lie all night naked without clothing, and have no covering in the cold.” The Gemara said of the people of Sodom, in the words of Job 24:3, “They drive away the donkey of the fatherless, they take the widow’s ox for a pledge.” In the words of Job 24:2, “They remove the landmarks; they violently take away flocks, and feed them.” And the Gemara told of their victims, in the words of Job 21:32, “he shall be brought to the grave, and shall remain in the tomb.” (Babylonian Talmud Sanhedrin 109a.)

Burning Sodoma

Burning of Sodom (illustration by Alexander Bida)

The Gemara told that there were four judges in Sodom, named Shakrai, Shakurai, Zayyafi, and Mazle Dina (meaning “Liar,” “Awful Liar,” “Forger,” and “Perverter of Justice”). If a man assaulted his neighbor’s wife and caused a miscarriage, the judges would tell the husband to give his wife to the neighbor so that the neighbor might make her pregnant. If a person cut off the ear of a neighbor’s donkey, they would order the owner to give it to the offender until the ear grew again. If a person wounded a neighbor, they would tell the victim to pay the offender a fee for bleeding the victim. A person who crossed over with the ferry had to pay four zuzim, but the person who crossed through the water had to pay eight. (Babylonian Talmud Sanhedrin 109b.)

Explaining the words, “the cry of Sodom and Gomorrah is great (rabbah, רָבָּה),” in Genesis 18:20, the Gemara told the story of a certain maiden (ribah) in Sodom who gave some bread to a poor man, hiding it in a pitcher. When the people of Sodom found out about her generosity, they punished her by smearing her with honey and placing her on the city wall, where the bees consumed her. Rab Judah thus taught in Rab's name that Genesis 18:20 indicates that God destroyed Sodom on account of the maiden (ribah). (Babylonian Talmud Sanhedrin 109b.)


Lot and his Daughters Flee Sodom (1908 illustration by the Providence Lithograph Company)

Did Abraham’s prayer to God in Genesis 18:23–32 change God’s harsh decree? Could it have? On this subject, Rabbi Abbahu interpreted David’s last words, as reported in 2 Samuel 23:2–3, where David reported that God told him, “Ruler over man shall be the righteous, even he that rules through the fear of God.” Rabbi Abbahu read 2 Samuel 23:2–3 to teach that God rules humankind, but the righteous rule God, for God makes a decree, and the righteous may through their prayer annul it. (Babylonian Talmud Moed Katan 16b.)

Genesis chapter 19

The rabbis in a midrash asked why the angels took so long to travel from Abraham’s camp to Sodom, leaving Abraham at noon and arriving in Sodom only (as Genesis 19:1 reports) “in the evening.” The midrash explained that they were angels of mercy, and thus they delayed, thinking that perhaps Abraham might find something to change Sodom’s fate, but when Abraham found nothing, as Genesis 19:1 reports, “the two angels came to Sodom in the evening.” (Genesis Rabbah 50:1.)

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Lot flees with his daughters out of Sodom, his wife frozen as a pillar of salt (woodcut by Julius Schnorr von Carolsfeld from the 1860 Bible in Pictures)

The Master deduced from Genesis 19:15 and 19:23 that one can walk five mils (about 15,000 feet) in the time between the break of dawn and sunrise, as Genesis 19:15 reports that “when the morning arose, then the angels hastened Lot,” and Genesis 19:23 reports that “The sun was risen upon the earth when Lot came to Zoar,” and Rabbi Haninah said that it was five mils from Sodom to Zoar. (Babylonian Talmud Pesachim 93b.) But the Gemara noted that as Genesis 19:15 reports that “the angels hastened Lot,” they could naturally have covered more ground than a typical person. (Babylonian Talmud Pesachim 94a.)

Rabbi Eliezer taught that Lot lived in Sodom only on account of his property, but Rabbi Eliezer deduced from Genesis 19:22 that Lot left Sodom empty-handed with the angels telling him, “It is enough that you escape with your life.” Rabbi Eliezer argued that Lot’s experience proved the maxim (of Mishnah Sanhedrin 10:5) that the property of the wicked, whether inside or outside the town, will be lost. (Tosefta Sanhedrin 14:4.)

Rabbi Meir taught that while Genesis 9:11 made clear that God would never again flood the world with water, Genesis 19:24 demonstrated that God might bring a flood of fire and brimstone, as God brought upon Sodom and Gomorrah. (Tosefta Taanit 2:13.)

Rabbi Joshua ben Levi (according to the Jerusalem Talmud) or a Baraita in accordance with the opinion of Rabbi Yose the son of Rabbi Chanina (according to the Babylonian Talmud) said that the three daily prayers derived from the Patriarchs, and cited Genesis 19:27 for the proposition that Jews derived the morning prayer from Abraham, arguing that within the meaning of Genesis 19:27, “stood” meant “pray,” just as it did in Psalm 106:30 (Jerusalem Talmud Berakhot 43a; Babylonian Talmud Berakhot 26b.)

Rabbi Hiyya bar Abba, citing Rabbi Johanan, taught that God rewards even polite speech. In Genesis 19:37, Lot’s older daughter named her son Moab (“of my father”), and so in Deuteronomy 2:9, God told Moses, “Be not at enmity with Moab, neither contend with them in battle”; God forbade only war with the Moabites, but the Israelites might harass them. In Genesis 19:38, in contrast, Lot’s younger daughter named her son Ben-Ammi (the less shameful “son of my people”), and so in Deuteronomy 2:19, God told Moses, “Harass them not, nor contend with them”; the Israelites were not to harass the Ammonites at all. (Babylonian Talmud Nazir 23b.)

Wenceslas Hollar - Abimelech rebuking Abraham (State 2)

Abimelech Rebukes Abraham (illustration by Wenceslas Hollar)

Genesis chapter 20

The Mishnah deduced from the example of Abimelech and Abraham in Genesis 20:7 that even though an offender pays the victim compensation, the offence is not forgiven until the offender asks the victim for pardon. And the Mishnah deduced from Abraham’s example of praying for Abimelech in Genesis 20:17 that under such circumstances, the victim would be churlish not to forgive the offender. (Mishnah Bava Kamma 8:7) The Tosefta further deduced from Genesis 20:17 that even if the offender did not seek forgiveness from the victim, the victim must nonetheless seek mercy for the offender. (Tosefta Bava Kamma 9:29.)

Rabbi Isaac taught that Abimelech’s curse of Sarah caused her son Isaac’s blindness (as reported in Genesis 27:1). Rabbi Isaac read the words, “it is for you a covering (kesut) of the eyes,” in Genesis 20:16 not as kesut, “covering,” but as kesiyat, “blinding.” Rabbi Isaac concluded that one should not consider a small matter the curse of even an ordinary person. (Babylonian Talmud Megillah 28a, Bava Kamma 93a.)

Raba derived from Genesis 20:17 and Genesis 21:1–2 the lesson that if one has a need, but prays for another with the same need, then God will answer first the need of the one who prayed. Raba noted that Abraham prayed to God to heal Abimelech and his wife of infertility (Genesis 20:17), and immediately thereafter God allowed Abraham and Sarah to conceive (Genesis 21:1–2). (Babylonian Talmud Bava Kamma 92a.)

Verhaghen, Pieter Jozef - Hagar and Ishmael Banished by Abraham - 1781

Hagar and Ishmael Banished by Abraham (1781 painting by Pieter Jozef Verhaghen)

Genesis chapter 21

The Rabbis linked parts of the parshah to Rosh Hashanah. The Talmud directs that Jews read Genesis 21 (the expulsion of Hagar) on the first day of Rosh Hashanah and Genesis 22 (the binding of Isaac) on the second day. (Babylonian Talmud Megillah 31a.) And in the Talmud, Rabbi Eliezer said that God visited both Sarah and Hannah to grant them conception on Rosh Hashanah. Rabbi Eliezer deduced this from the Bible’s parallel uses of the words “visiting” and “remembering” in description of Hannah, Sarah, and Rosh Hashanah. First, Rabbi Eliezer linked Hannah’s visitation with Rosh Hashanah through the Bible’s parallel uses of the word “remembering.” 1 Samuel 1:19–20 says that God “remembered” Hannah and she conceived, and Leviticus 23:24 describes Rosh Hashanah as “a remembering of the blast of the trumpet.” Then Rabbi Eliezer linked Hannah’s conception with Sarah’s through the Bible’s parallel uses of the word “visiting.” 1 Samuel 2:21 says that “the Lord had visited Hannah,” and Genesis 21:1 says that “the Lord visited Sarah.” (Babylonian Talmud Rosh Hashanah 11a.)

Schnorr von Carolsfeld Bibel in Bildern 1860 027

Abraham Sends Hagar and Ishmael into the Desert (woodcut by Julius Schnorr von Carolsfeld from the 1860 Bible in Pictures)

Rav Awira taught (sometimes in the name of Rabbi Ammi, sometimes in the name of Rabbi Assi) that the words “And the child grew, and was weaned (va-yigamal, וַיִּגָּמַל), and Abraham made a great feast on the day that Isaac was weaned” in Genesis 21:8 teach that God will make a great feast for the righteous on the day that God manifests (yigmol) God’s love to Isaac’s descendants. After they have eaten and drunk, they will ask Abraham to recite the Grace after meals (Birkat Hamazon), but Abraham will answer that he cannot say Grace, because he fathered Ishmael. Then they will ask Isaac to say Grace, but Isaac will answer that he cannot say Grace, because he fathered Esau. Then they will ask Jacob, but Jacob will answer that he cannot, because he married two sisters during both their lifetimes, which Leviticus 18:18 was destined to forbid. Then they will ask Moses, but Moses will answer that he cannot, because God did not allow him to enter the Land of Israel either in life or in death. Then they will ask Joshua, but Joshua will answer that he cannot, because he was not privileged to have a son, for 1 Chronicles 7:27 reports, “Nun was his son, Joshua was his son,” without listing further descendants. Then they will ask David, and he will say Grace, and find it fitting for him to do so, because Psalm 116:13 records David saying, “I will lift up the cup of salvation, and call upon the name of the Lord.” (Babylonian Talmud Pesachim 119b.)

Guérin Hagar

Hagar (painting by Jean Michel Prosper Guérin)

The Gemara taught that if one sees Ishmael in a dream, then God hears that person’s prayer (perhaps because the name “Ishmael” derives from “the Lord has heard” in Genesis 16:11, or perhaps because “God heard” (yishmah Elohim,יִּשְׁמַע אֱלֹהִים) Ishmael’s voice in Genesis 21:17). (Babylonian Talmud Berakhot 56b.)

The Gemara cited Genesis 21:12 to teach that Sarah was one of seven prophetesses who prophesied to Israel and neither took away from nor added anything to what is written in the Torah. (The other prophetesses were Miriam, Deborah, Hannah, Abigail, Huldah, and Esther.) The Gemara established Sarah’s status as a prophetess by citing the words, “Haran, the father of Milkah and the father of Yiscah,” in Genesis 11:29. Rabbi Isaac taught that Yiscah was Sarah. Genesis 11:29 called her Yiscah (יִסְכָּה) because she discerned (saketah) by means of Divine inspiration, as Genesis 21:12 reports God instructing Abraham, “In all that Sarah says to you, hearken to her voice.” Alternatively, Genesis 11:29 called her Yiscah because all gazed (sakin) at her beauty. (Babylonian Talmud Megillah 14a.)

Rembrandt Abraham and Isaac detail

Abraham and Isaac (1645 etching by Rembrandt)

Rab Nahman taught that when Jacob “took his journey with all that he had, and came to Beersheba” in Genesis 46:1, he went to cut down the cedars that Genesis 21:33 reports his grandfather Abraham had planted there. (Genesis Rabbah 94:4.)

Genesis chapter 22

Rabbi Johanan, on the authority of Rabbi Jose ben Zimra, asked what Genesis 22:1 means by the word “after” in “And it came to pass after these words, that God did tempt Abraham.” Rabbi Johanan explained that it meant after the words of Satan, as follows. After the events of Genesis 21:8, which reports that Isaac grew, was weaned, and Abraham made a great feast the day that Isaac was weaned, Satan asked God how it could be that God graciously granted Abraham a child at the age of 100, yet of all that feast, Abraham did not sacrifice one turtle-dove or pigeon to God. Rather, Abraham did nothing but honor his son. God replied that were God to ask Abraham to sacrifice his son to God, Abraham would do so without hesitation. Straightway, as Genesis 22:1 reports, “God did tempt Abraham.” (Babylonian Talmud Sanhedrin 89b.)

Abraham going up to offer Isaac as a sacrifice

Abraham Going up To Offer Isaac as a Sacrifice (illustration from the 1890 Holman Bible)

Rabbi Simeon bar Abba explained that the word na (נָא) in Genesis 22:2, “Take, I pray (na, נָא) your son,” can denote only entreaty. Rabbi Simeon bar Abba compared this to a king who was confronted by many wars, which he won with the aid of a great warrior. Subsequently, he was faced with a severe battle. Thereupon the king asked the warrior, “I pray, assist me in battle, so that people may not say that there was nothing to the earlier battles.” Similarly, God said to Abraham, “I have tested you with many trials and you withstood all of them. Now, be firm, for My sake in this trial, so that people may not say that there was nothing to the earlier trials.” (Babylonian Talmud Sanhedrin 89b.)

The Gemara expanded on Genesis 22:2, explaining that it reports only one side of a dialog. God told Abraham, “take your son,” but Abraham replied, “I have two sons!” God said, “Your only one,” but Abraham replied, “Each is the only one of his mother!” God said, “Whom you love,” but Abraham replied, “I love them both!” Then God said, “Isaac!” The Gemara explained that God employed all this circumlocution in Genesis 22:2 so that Abraham’s mind should not reel under the sudden shock of God’s command. (Babylonian Talmud Sanhedrin 89b.)

Abraham Climbs Mount Moriah

Abraham Climbs Mount Moriah (illustration by Schirmer from the 1908 Bible and Its Story Taught by One Thousand Picture Lessons)

A Baraita interpreted Leviticus 12:3 to teach that the whole eighth day is valid for circumcision, but deduced from Abraham’s rising “early in the morning” to perform his obligations in Genesis 22:3 that the zealous perform circumcisions early in the morning. (Babylonian Talmud Pesachim 4a, Yoma 28b.)

A Tanna taught in the name of Rabbi Simeon ben Eleazar that intense love and hate can cause one to disregard the perquisites of one’s social position. The Tanna deduced that love may do so from Abraham, for Genesis 22:3 reports that “Abraham rose early in the morning, and saddled his donkey,” rather than allow his servant to do so. Similarly, the Tanna deduced that hate may do so from Balaam, for Numbers 22:21 reports that “Balaam rose up in the morning, and saddled his donkey,” rather than allow his servant to do so. (Babylonian Talmud Sanhedrin 105b.)

Schnorr von Carolsfeld Bibel in Bildern 1860 028

Abraham Prepared To Sacrifice His Son Isaac (woodcut by Julius Schnorr von Carolsfeld from the 1860 Bible in Pictures)

The Sifra cited Genesis 22:11, Genesis 46:2, Exodus 3:4, and 1 Samuel 3:10 for the proposition that when God called the name of a prophet twice, God expressed affection and sought to provoke a response. (Sifra 1:4.) Similarly, Rabbi Hiyya taught that it was an expression of love and encouragement. Rabbi Liezer taught that the repetition indicated that God spoke to Abraham and to future generations. Rabbi Liezer taught that there is no generation that does not contain people like Abraham, Jacob, Moses, and Samuel. (Genesis Rabbah 56:7.)

Noting that Genesis 22:13 reports that “Abraham lifted up his eyes, and looked, and behold behind him (ahar, אַחַר) a ram,” a midrash asked what “behind” (ahar, אַחַר) meant. Rabbi Judan taught that it meant after all that happened, Israel would still fall into the clutches of sin and thus become victims of persecution. But they would be ultimately redeemed by the ram’s horn, as Zechariah 9:14 says, “And the Lord God will blow the horn.” (Genesis Rabbah 56:9.)

Noting that Genesis 22:19 speaks of only Abraham when it says, “So Abraham returned to his young men,” a midrash asked: Where was Isaac? Rabbi Berekiah said in the name of the Rabbis of Babylon that Abraham sent Isaac to Shem to study Torah. The midrash compared this to a woman who became wealthy through her spinning. She concluded that since she had become wealthy through her distaff, it would never leave her hand. Similarly, Abraham deduced that since all that had come to him was only because he engaged in Godly pursuits, he was unwilling that those should ever depart from his descendants. And Rabbi Jose the son of Rabbi Haninah taught that Abraham sent Isaac home at night, for fear of the evil eye. (Genesis Rabbah 56:11.)


According to Maimonides and Sefer ha-Chinuch, there are no commandments in the parshah. (Maimonides. Mishneh Torah. Cairo, Egypt, 1170–1180. Reprinted in Maimonides. The Commandments: Sefer Ha-Mitzvoth of Maimonides. Translated by Charles B. Chavel, 2 vols. London: Soncino Press, 1967. ISBN 0-900689-71-4. Sefer HaHinnuch: The Book of [Mitzvah] Education. Translated by Charles Wengrov, 1:87. Jerusalem: Feldheim Pub., 1991. ISBN 0-87306-179-9.)

In the liturgy

Haggadah 14th cent

A page from a 14th century German Haggadah

The Passover Haggadah, in the concluding nirtzah section of the Seder, in a reference to Abraham’s visitors in Genesis 18:1, recounts how God knocked on Abraham’s door at the heat of the day on Passover and Abraham fed his visitors matzah cakes, deducing the season from the report in Genesis 19:3 that Lot fed his visitors matzah. (Joseph Tabory. JPS Commentary on the Haggadah: Historical Introduction, Translation, and Commentary, 126. Philadelphia: Jewish Publication Society, 2008. ISBN 978-0-8276-0858-0.) The Haggadah recounts that Abraham ran to the herd. (Menachem Davis. The Interlinear Haggadah: The Passover Haggadah, with an Interlinear Translation, Instructions and Comments, 111. Brooklyn: Mesorah Publications, 2005. ISBN 1-57819-064-9.) And the Haggadah continues that it was thus on Passover that the Sodomites were consumed by God’s fire, as reported in Genesis 19:24–25. (Davis, at 111; Tabory, at 126.)

Also in the nirtzah section of the seder, in a reference to Genesis 20:3 or 20:6, the Haggadah recounts how God judged the King of Gerar Abimelech in the middle of the night. (Davis, at 108; Tabory, at 123.)

The rabbis understood Abraham’s devotion to God in the binding of Isaac in Genesis 22:1–19 to have earned God’s mercy for Abraham’s descendents when they are in need. The 16th Century Safed Rabbi Eliezer Azikri drew on this rabbinic understanding to call for God to show mercy for Abraham’s descendents, “the son of Your beloved” (ben ohavach), in his kabbalistic poem Yedid Nefesh (“Soul’s Beloved”), which many congregations chant just before the Kabbalat Shabbat prayer service. (Reuven Hammer. Or Hadash: A Commentary on Siddur Sim Shalom for Shabbat and Festivals, 14. New York: The Rabbinical Assembly, 2003. ISBN 0916219208.)

And many Jews, following Kabbalistic masters from the Zohar to Arizal, recite Genesis 22:1–19, the binding of Isaac, after the morning blessings (Birkat HaShachar). The recitation of Abraham’s and Isaac’s willingness to put God above life itself is meant to invoke God’s mercy, to inspire worshipers to greater love of God, and to bring atonement to the penitent. (Menachem Davis. The Schottenstein Edition Siddur for Weekdays with an Interlinear Translation, 27–31. Brooklyn: Mesorah Publications, 2002. ISBN 1-57819-686-8.)


The haftarah for the parshah is:

The parshah and haftarah in 2 Kings both tell of God’s gift of sons to childless women. In both the parshah and the haftarah: God’s representative visits the childless woman, whose household extends the visitor generous hospitality (Genesis 18:1–15; 2 Kings 4:8–16); the husband’s age raises doubt about the couple’s ability to have children (Genesis 18:12; 2 Kings 4:14); God’s representative announces that a child will come at a specified season in the next year (Genesis 18:10; 2 Kings 4:16); the woman conceives and bears a child as God’s representative had announced (Genesis 21:1–2; 2 Kings 4:17); death threatens the promised child (Genesis  22:1–10; 2 Kings 4:18–20); and God’s representative intervenes to save the promised child (Genesis 22:11–12; 2 Kings 4:32–37).

Further reading

The parshah has parallels or is discussed in these sources:

Milkau Oberer Teil der Stele mit dem Text von Hammurapis Gesetzescode 369-2




File:Euripides close up.jpg

Early nonrabbinic



Classical rabbinic

  • Mishnah: Bava Kamma 8:7; Avot 5:3. 3rd Century. Reprinted in, e.g., The Mishnah: A New Translation. Translated by Jacob Neusner. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1988. ISBN 0-300-05022-4.
  • Tosefta: Berakhot 1:15; Maaser Sheni 5:29; Rosh Hashanah 2:13; Taanit 2:13; Megillah 3:6; Sotah 4:1–6, 12, 5:12, 6:1, 6; Bava Kamma 9:29; Sanhedrin 14:4. 3rd–4th Century. Reprinted in, e.g., The Tosefta: Translated from the Hebrew, with a New Introduction. Translated by Jacob Neusner. Peabody, Mass.: Hendrickson Pub., 2002. ISBN 1-56563-642-2.
  • Sifre to Deuteronomy 2:3. Reprinted in, e.g., Sifre to Deuteronomy. Translated by Jacob Neusner, vol. 1, 26. Atlanta: Scholars Press, 1987. ISBN 1-55540-145-7.
First page of the first tractate of the Talmud (Daf Beis of Maseches Brachos)


  • Jerusalem Talmud: Berakhot 4b–5a, 43a–b; Peah 8b. 4th Century. Reprinted in, e.g., Talmud Yerushalmi: Tractate Peah. Edited by Chaim Malinowitz, Yisroel Simcha Schorr, and Mordechai Marcus. Vols. 1, 3. Brooklyn: Mesorah Pubs., 2006.
  • Genesis Rabbah 48:1–57:4. Land of Israel, 5th Century. Reprinted in, e.g., Midrash Rabbah: Genesis. Translated by H. Freedman and Maurice Simon. London: Soncino Press, 1939. ISBN 0-900689-38-2.
  • Babylonian Talmud: Berakhot 26b27a, 29a, 56b, 62b; Pesachim 4a, 54a, 88a, 119b; Yoma 28b, 38b; Rosh Hashanah 11a, 16b; Taanit 8a-b, 16a; Megillah 28a, 31a; Moed Katan 16b; Yevamot 63a, 65b, 76b77a, 79a; Ketubot 8b; Nedarim 31a; Sotah 9b–10b; Kiddushin 29a; Bava Kamma 92a, 93a; Sanhedrin 89b; Chullin 60b. Babylonia, 6th Century. Reprinted in, e.g., Talmud Bavli. Edited by Yisroel Simcha Schorr, Chaim Malinowitz, and Mordechai Marcus, 72 vols. Brooklyn: Mesorah Pubs., 2006.


Rashi woodcut


  • Solomon ibn Gabirol. A Crown for the King, 7:67. Spain, 11th Century. Translated by David R. Slavitt, 10–11. New York: Oxford University Press, 1998. ISBN 0-19-511962-2.
  • Rashi. Commentary. Genesis 18–22. Troyes, France, late 11th Century. Reprinted in, e.g., Rashi. The Torah: With Rashi’s Commentary Translated, Annotated, and Elucidated. Translated and annotated by Yisrael Isser Zvi Herczeg, 1:173–240. Brooklyn: Mesorah Publications, 1995. ISBN 0-89906-026-9.
  • Judah Halevi. Kuzari. 2:14, 80; 5:20. Toledo, Spain, 1130–1140. Reprinted in, e.g., Jehuda Halevi. Kuzari: An Argument for the Faith of Israel. Intro. by Henry Slonimsky, 91, 130–31, 282–83. New York: Schocken, 1964. ISBN 0-8052-0075-4.
  • Shalom Spiegel and Judah Goldin. The Last Trial: On the Legends and Lore of the Command to Abraham to Offer Isaac as a Sacrifice: The Akedah. Jewish Lights: 1993. ISBN 1-879045-29-X
  • Zohar 1:97a–120b. Spain, late 13th Century.



File:Eli Wiesel US Congress.jpg
  • Elie Wiesel. “The Sacrifice of Isaac: a Survivor’s Story.” In Messengers of God: Biblical Portraits & Legends, 69–102. New York: Random House, 1976. ISBN 0-394-49740-6.
  • Phyllis Trible. “Hagar: The Desolation of Rejection.” In Texts of Terror: Literary-Feminist Readings of Biblical Narratives, 9–35. Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1984. ISBN 0-8006-1537-9.
  • Pat Barker. Regeneration, 149–50. New York: Dutton, 1992. ISBN 0-525-93427-8.
  • Charles Oberndorf. Testing. New York: Spectra, 1993. ISBN 0-553-56181-2.
  • Pat Schneider. Sarah Laughed. In Long Way Home: Poems, 46–47. Amherst, Mass.: Amherst Writers and Artists Press, 1993. ISBN 0-941895-11-4.
  • Aaron Wildavsky. Assimilation versus Separation: Joseph the Administrator and the Politics of Religion in Biblical Israel, 5–6, 15, 17–29. New Brunswick, N.J.: Transaction Publishers, 1993. ISBN 1-56000-081-3.
  • John Kaltner. “Abraham’s Sons: How the Bible and Qur’an See the Same Story Differently.” Bible Review 18 (2) (Apr. 2002): 16–23, 45–46.
  • Vocolot. “Sarah and Hagar.” In HeartBeat. Berkeley: Oyster Albums, 2002.
  • Alan Lew. This Is Real and You Are Completely Unprepared: The Days of Awe as a Journey of Transformation, 122. Boston: Little, Brown and Co., 2003. ISBN 0-316-73908-1. (the Rosh Hashanah readings).
  • Elie Wiesel. “Ishmael and Hagar” and “Lot’s Wife.” In Wise Men and Their Tales: Portraits of Biblical, Talmudic, and Hasidic Masters, 3–28. New York: Schocken, 2003. ISBN 0-8052-4173-6.


See also

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Old book bindings

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