Vayera 5779

By: Dr. Melissa Steiner

Last week Joel talked about Lech Lecha – go out, leave what is comfortable, go and make something of yourself. Become something perhaps you hadn’t even imagined a decade ago.

WHO are we becoming?

How do we describe ourselves? What labels do we wear?

Do you describe yourself by your job title or the type of work you do?

Doctor – Lawyer – Accountant – Consultant – Engineer – Student

If you ask a high school student to describe him or herself, you will likely hear what they are good at or their academic goals: I’m a good math student. I want to go to college to study law.

Or they may focus on their perceived flaws: I’m not very popular. I write well but I’m not good at science. I love to sing but I didn’t get the lead.

Do we left others define and describe us?

Oh, she’s smart!

He’s a good dancer.

She’s a good cook.

We have a bad habit of defining ourselves in terms of what is ‘normal’ or what is ‘expected’. Are we normal, better than normal, or not quite cutting it? We judge ourselves and we allow others to pass judgement on us.  And labels are too limiting to really reflect who we are becoming.

I recently read an article on Forbes.com where I found this excerpt:

We mention what we do, where we live, where we went to school. We describe ourselves in bullet points and keywords, instead of telling stories of our personal histories and victories. We rarely mention our core character traits, or even hint at our true personalities.

          You are not your job title

          You are not your real estate, nor your tax return.

          You are not your social media profile

          You are not a bullet point list of mistakes. Nor a bullet point list of your skills

You are not your proclaimed beliefs

Your actions tell your story far more convincingly

In Lech Lecha, Abram becomes Abraham. Sarai becomes Sarah.

They each got new names for goodness sake. It seems the perfect question to ask Abarham and Sarah ‘Who are you?’ but that is not what God asked.

In Vayera, God asks Abraham, ‘where are you?’

And it’s not even the first time God asks this question. In Beresheit, shortly after Adam and Eve have eaten from the Tree of Knowledge… God asks Adam, “Where are you?”

Adam doesn’t answer the question at hand.

And they heard the voice of the Lord God going in the garden to the direction of the sun, and the man and his wife hid from before the Lord God in the midst of the trees of the garden.                    

And the Lord God called to man, and He said to him, “Where are you?”               

And he said, “I heard Your voice in the garden, and I was afraid because I am naked; so I hid.”       

And He said, “Who told you that you are naked? Have you eaten from the tree of which I commanded you not to eat?”                   י

And the man said, “The woman whom You gave [to be] with me she gave me of the tree; so I ate.”               

And the Lord God said to the woman, “What is this that you have done?” And the woman said, “The serpent enticed me, and I ate.”

And it goes on… excuse after excuse. But the question, “Where are you?” goes unanswered …. Until this parshah.

God asks Abraham, where are you? And Abraham answers, Hineni – Here I am.

Abraham’s answer is far more than his physical location. He’s saying that he is present… he is engaged in the moment… he is believing and trusting in his journey.

From “Answering the World’s Oldest Question” in Text Messages – a Torah Commentary for Teens

Who you are will probably keep changing over the course of your life; it does for most people. You have new experiences, you understand things in different ways, and your understanding of who you are shifts. That’s actually a sign of growth.

But where you are is not simply about who you are, or who think you are, or who people think you should be. Where you are actually depends on your relationship with other people, places, and things.

What if we define ourselves in terms of our relationships with others?  What if we define ourselves in terms of our actions? In terms of our core character traits? In terms of what we stand for? In terms of what we love?

Father – Mother – Friend – Grandma – Grandpa – Classmate – Brother – Sister – Teammate – Life Partner – Patient – Honest – Foodie – Bookworm – Cyclist

Ah, but you see – I’ve still fallen into the same trap of using a single word label. What if I use some combinations?

I… am a mother and wife who loves seeing her family happy and excited about things in their lives.

I… am a consultant who loves connecting people with technology that makes their jobs easier and more fulfilling.

I… am a member of this Kehillah who delights in the pageantry of taking out the Torah and who is struggling to connect with her faith.

Be like Abraham. Have the courage to stand up with a strong sense of who you are and the awareness that the who also depends on where you are in relation to others.

Shabbat Shalom



“Text Messages – a Torah Commentary for Teens”, Edited by Rabbi Jeffrey K. Salkin, Jewish Lights Publishing, Vermont, 2012.