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 morning service has moved outdoors due to the Covid pandemic. Our service takes place off-site, on the grounds of the Sandpiper School, 6724 E. Hearn Rd, from 9:30 to 11:30 am on Saturday mornings. Everyone is welcome (please contact us for details). The kiddush this Shabbat, November 7, will be sponsored by Diane Targovnik and John Jacobs.
  • All other New Shul events continue online. They include: Kabbalat Shabbat on Friday afternoons (4:30 pm this Friday), lay-led Shabbat services (10 am this Saturday morning), Havdalah (6:30 pm this Saturday night), daily text study, and weekly classes. For more information, please contact us or visit our website,