Ancient NSA: Vayera 5774 by Cantor Lipp

Fri, 10/18/2013 - 12:27pm -- AJ Blog

According to a recent study, when we are primed to think of money, we are more likely to lie. When we are primed to think of time, we are more likely to be honest.

Three groups were given three initial tests, the results of which were unimportant. One included words about money and another had time-related terms. A third, control group, was given a test without either. The same groups were given a follow up test and those who had taken the 'money' test prior cheated twice as often as those who had taken the 'time' test. Those in the control group were almost precisely in between, average cheaters, as it were. The percentages were roughly 80%, 40% and 60% respectively.

We have a case of lying in our portion. Or at least it seems that way. Despite the modern study, the statement which primes the denial is about time, not money.

Three strangers show up at the door and Abraham and Sarah feed them handsomely. One announces that next year they'll be the proud parents of a son and Sarah laughs, inwardly, and says to herself, My husband so old and I'll know pleasure of this kind, really?  God reprimands her to Abraham -- Is there anything I can't do?  Why did Sarah laugh and say she was too old to have kids?  She says, I didn't laugh.  God answers, Yes you did!

This section always bothers me for a simple reason.

Sarah isn't really lying.  If you say something and I think it's ridiculous but I don't share that information with you, keeping it to myself, my act of self-control is intended to guard your feelings. In the Torah example, you can't even blame Sarah for indicating her attitude by her body language since she's presumably not visible to the speakers but standing behind them in the entrance to the tent. 

Furthermore, there is a wonderful ambiguity in the story of the three strangers/angels. There is no indication they are angels except for the double entendre of Abraham's greeting of them -- Adonai, my lords.  He speaks of them as his masters as a good host treats his guests.  And yet Adonai is the common form of address we use for God as well.

I just came back from the United Synagogue Biennial where I heard during a morning minyan the synagogue-recipe of a modern Rabbi. Every service should have three things: Awe, Silence and Community. The last was expressed with the following admonition: No one should ever be able to enter a synagogue without someone greeting them. 

Our story has all three: The awe of divine presence, Sarah’s silent laughter that only God’s Ancient NSA can hear, and the eager application of hospitality performed by Abraham running after three strangers to feed them the day after his circumcision. 

Perhaps the real lesson in this story is one the rabbis have known and taught for years. 

Whenever we are speaking to a being in God's image, we may very well be interacting with a manifestation and articulation of God's will, an angel as it were.

And that’s no lie.


Shabbat Shalom.

David Lipp