Vayera 5780 – Make Space for Yourself

By: Dr. Melissa Steiner

In 5779, Joel delivered the dvar for Lech Lecha and I delivered the dvar the following week for Vayera. And here we are, in 5780 following the same pattern.

Are we in a rut? Following on the heels of Lech Lecha and Joel talking about “Go. Become.” I have to wonder if that is exactly what is happening… Are we becoming sages on these particular parshiot?

Last year I talked about how, when we are becoming whoever we are, we need to not limit ourselves by using labels. We are far more than…

  • where we live
  • or the jobs we do.

Who we are should be a full-blown story and how we started writing that story is the essence of Lech Lecha. The journey begins in Lech Lecha. When Abraham leaves his home, that is akin to the birth of the individual.

Vayera is more about finding yourself and what you stand for. After all, this is the parsha in which Abraham says ‘Hineni’ – Here I Am… and it is this statement which shows Abraham’s awareness of himself and his role and his relationships.

The juxtaposition of Lech Lecha and Vayera is necessary. You have to let go of who you were…to find yourself. I started thinking about all the times that we do this – we separate and let go of one version of ourselves to transition to the next version of ourselves.

  • At birth, we physically separate from mom and become an infant.
  • At Kindergarten, we physically separate from our parents and enter the world of school, learning, playing with others and we become a student (and a friend).
  • At 16, we leave the safety of letting others chauffeur us around and take responsibility as a driver. This is a huge separation for lots of kids. Thinking back on our girls growing up, I think that learning to ride a bicycle and rolling off without a parent was the precursor to that individual freedom.
  • At 18, we go to college… and for some that means physically leaving home and all that we know from growing up. I think this is when we are most like Abraham and truly, truly start the journey to find out who we are.

If we were lucky, we took the time in our 20s to try on new hats – to try out different versions of ourselves. We couldn’t have done that if we had stayed in our parents’ home. If you didn’t venture out of your parents’ home, you risked becoming stagnant in that child-like role.

I found a couple of quotes from Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks which brought it together for me. Rabbi Sacks wrote:

  • The Torah is teaching us something fundamental and counter-intuitive. There has to be separation before there can be connection. We have to have the space to be ourselves if we are to be good children to our parents, and we have to allow our children the space to be themselves if we are to be good parents.
  • Abraham had to separate himself from his father before he, and we, could understand how much he owed his father. He had to separate from his son so that Isaac could be Isaac and not simply a clone of Abraham.

There has to be separation before there can be connection. This is why we understand our parents when we become parents ourselves.

I can remember being slightly annoyed when my mother would hug me too tightly before I left home to return to college. And I can remember not understanding what is the big deal and why is she crying whenever I my vacation was ending.

I had to separate from my mom and become a parent myself before I could begin to connect with the emotions that she has been displaying for the last 30 years. It wasn’t until Rachel and Lilly left for college that I understood the uncertainty of not knowing when I would see them next… and I have experienced the lump in my throat.

When I was 20 years old and in college, I wrote a poem for my mother for Mother’s Day. It was called ‘All Her Life For One’. In this poem I expressed things I had never said before and I think it was a turning point in my personal growth as well as an important moment in my relationship with my mom.

All her life for one
The guiding hand
That holds me along the paths
The light that warms me
By which I learn to read
The open book
That invites me to partake

Tease me
Hug me and always be my friend
The love, like cool brooks
Runs over the rough spots,
Both fast and slow; it comes
To rest in a pool
That is continually filled –
The love between you and me.

But what is your reparation?
How do I repay all the love,
And confidences you’ve taught me?
How do I express the gratitude,
When I’m so young and inexperienced
In the face of your world?

Why is it your world, when we are
Both women and can share so much more than a mother-daughter relationship?
Stand by me as I learn about an entire world
And ache to share with you all my experiences.
I’ll never leave you behind when I’m forging ahead, because it is you and
It has always been you who stood by me
when I need an extra push or a pat on the back.
You have helped me realize my potential

I plan to grow to fulfill whatever I can
And make you love me more.
I can only respect your sacrifices
Because you have dedicated and given of yourself.
I refuse to be a selfish and
Helpless child anymore…
It’s your turn
To be appreciated
And pampered
And endearingly loved.

I had to make space for myself to become an independent woman, to realize gratitude, and to be ready to give that same kind of love and care and attention to my own kids.

Maybe it’s obvious, but I’m going to say it anyway. The need to make space for yourself is not a ‘one and done activity’ – we cycle thru Lech Lecha and Vayera multiple times in our lives; we cannot do one without the other.

  • At 25 (plus or minus a few years), we enter into a marriage and become a life partner and maybe some of us lose the sense of self at this stage. And for the next several years we are so focused on having a life with another person and starting a family that the “I” takes a backseat to the “we”.
  • And then one day, the kids move out… and the ‘we’ is a little smaller and you once again, begin the journey to a new version of yourself. Maybe this time, with a little more wisdom and confidence, you try a very different hat.

In the book ‘How Stella Got her Groove Back’ by Terry McMillan, Stella is a 40-year-old woman who defines herself by the products she uses and the accessories she chooses. Her materialistic life is all that defines her. Stella has lost her ‘groove’ – her fundamental sense of self that gives her life rhythm – and she no longer understands her own motives and needs. In an effort to ‘find herself,” Stella goes on a solo trip – this gives her time to separate from her everyday life and within that space she is able to re-examine her life and her goals, boost her self-confidence; she level-sets and finds some freedom in her new definition of self.

It doesn’t matter how many times you cycle through these stages; you are always in the process of becoming and of realizing who you are. Give yourself the space to be… to become you.

Shabbat Shalom

Sources of Inspiration


How Stella Got Her Groove Back by Terry McMillan