The New Shul

Parshat Vayera

When S. Y. Agnon, the great Israeli author, won the Nobel prize for literature in 1966, the press came to his home in Jerusalem to interview and photograph him. At the photographers’ request, Agnon posed for pictures by sitting at his desk and writing. Later, after Agnon had left the room, one of the journalists looked down at Agnon’s desk to see what he had written as he was being photographed. On the paper were Avraham’s words from this week’s parashah:  “Anokhi afar v-eifer – I am dust and ashes.”

Part of what we learn from Avraham in parshat Vayera is the importance of humility, of remembering our smallness at times when we might otherwise feel grandiose. But in the same parashah, Avraham models the opposite: the importance of hutzpah or audacity, of knowing that we have the power to make a difference in the world. It is Avraham who stands up to God and refuses to let God punish the innocent citizens of S’dom together with the guilty, who insists that “the Judge of all the earth” must “do justly.”

Perhaps the real lesson that we learn from Avraham this week is that those two traits, humility and audacity, are not really opposites at all. At times when we feel paralyzed by the enormity of the challenges in front of us, it is the acceptance of our limits that gets us unstuck and enables us to act. Recognizing that we cannot do everything liberates us — and challenges us — to do something. Like Avraham, we find that humility unlocks audacity.

May Avraham’s example help us, in challenging times, to make our lives a blessing.

  • The New Shul’s Shabbat services are on Friday evenings from 6 to 7 pm, and on Saturday mornings from 9 am to 12 noon. This Shabbat, November 19, our guest teacher will be Rabbi David Jaffe, the founder and principal of the Kirva Institute and the author of Changing the World from the Inside Out. Rabbi Jaffe will speak about the parashah during the service, and teach after lunch on Rebbe Nachman’s Wisdom for Today: Clarifying Motivation and Finding Good Points in Others and Ourselves.”
  • The kiddush-lunch this Shabbat, November 19, is sponsored by the shul. The desserts are sponsored by Stephanie Trotta in honor of Vincent Trotta’s birthday, and by Stacy Andrews in memory of her grandmother Ila Dias.
  • Our learning service for grades 2 to 4 is from 11 to 11:40 am. Childcare will be extended this Shabbat for those who wish to stay for Rabbi Jaffe’s teaching after lunch.
  • On Monday evening November 21 at 7 pm, The New Shul will host Rabbi Chaim Seidler-Feller, the Direcor Emeritus of UCLA Hillel. Rabbi Seidler-Feller will speak on “A Zionism of Power or A Zionism of Values? Toward a Renewal of the Zionist Idea.”The lecture is sponsored by Valley Beit Midrash.