Seeing God through the eyes of Va'yeira

Rabbi Arthur Waskow

Seeing God through the eyes of Va'yeira
by Rabbi Arthur Waskow

This Torah portion begins:
"Y*WH (I translate this not "the Lord" but "the Breath of Life") made-himself-SEEN to him in [b'] the oaks of Mamre," ("Vayeira" is from the root for "see," and it's important not to miss the fact that the same root appears in a different form right afterwards) ". . . and he lifted up his eyes and SAW [va'yar] and here! -- three men were standing upon him, and he SAW [va'yar] and ran . . .[to bring-them-near and then to feed them]."

There has been some debate about what it meant for Avraham to have God appear to him and then turn aside to feed these visitors.

But I would read this that the three men WERE the visible, see-able presence of God; that usually we refuse to see this in each other; and that the Breath of Life on this occasion made the Divine Presence IN THESE PEOPLE totally visible, see-able, to Avraham.

Then he acted to affirm the holiness of what he now saw was utterly holy, by feeding God who of course is never visible except in all that is around us -- that is, is ALWAYS visible if we open our eyes.

It seems to me this way-of-seeing would change both how we act in the world and how we pray. Even now, many of us feel that in order to pray, to stand in God's presence, to see God, we have to turn away from each other. But if we SAW as Avraham saw, if we never thought we were taking our eyes AWAY from God when we looked with care at human beings or the rest of God's creation, if we looked at the face of each hungry stranger and said "O my GOD!" we would have the "radical amazement" that Heschel said God calls us toward, and we would stop separating the mundane from the holy.

And conversely, if we thought that indeeed the ONLY way to see God is to see fully the faces of each other, then prayer itself would be different.

This is a way-of-seeing that can be learned. For example, in some of our communities, we pause at the Bar'chu and look into each other's faces, one by one (whch we can do because we deliberately choose to stand and davven in circles rather than in rows), and the davvening leader reminds us,

"Look from face to face around the circle; pause at each face and say within yourself, "This is the FACE OF GOD. And THIS is the face of God. And this. And this. And this..."

When you have done this enough times, you begin to believe it. It then becomes harder -- not impossible, but harder -- to forget that the faces we encounter every moment ARE GOD'S FACES. And to act accordingly.

BOTH prayer and action are transformed if we open our eyes in this way.

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