Parashat Vayeira 5780

A D’var Torah for Parashat Vayeira
By Rabbi Heidi Hoover (’11)

At the beginning of this week’s Torah portion, Vayeira, Abraham is sitting outside his tent at the hottest part of the day. God visits him. Our rabbis tell us that this is an act of compassion on God’s part. The reason Abraham is sitting isn’t just that it’s the hottest part of the day—too hot to work or do anything, really—but also because he’s recovering from having circumcised himself, as God had commanded him to do at the end of last week’s Torah portion.

This is where we derive the duty to visit the sick—we are emulating God, who visits Abraham when he is recovering from surgery. God, who is so much more important than Abraham, takes the time to come see him when he isn’t feeling well.

And look at the effect it has on Abraham, who must be toward the end of his recuperation. He jumps up, offering food and water, apparently rejuvenated just by the fact of having visitors.

That’s one of the ways that visiting someone in a hard time can help them. Being sick, even just for a little while, can lead to a sense of isolation, as well as actual isolation. Having someone come and sit with you and recognize that you feel rotten is comforting too.

It’s not just physical illness that calls for visiting and comfort. Loss, such as the death of a loved one, is similar to illness in that it also can cause weakness and a feeling of isolation. That’s why we have visitors come for shiva, to feed us, sit with us, and bring us comfort.

It can sometimes feel awkward to visit someone who is sick or to pay a shiva call. I find that it helps to relax into the awkwardness. What I mean by that is that it’s okay to be silent, and it’s okay to feel that it’s not a typical situation—it isn’t. So feeling awkward is natural, and, with practice, starts to feel more comfortable and less awkward.

I have never regretted visiting someone who is ill or paying a shiva call. Both of these are mitzvot, commandments. It feels good to carry out a commandment, and sometimes these visits are opportunities to get to know people better and in a different way, and that is wonderful. And the idea that we are able to offer comfort with our presence is nice too.

At the beginning of our Torah portion we see a caring, compassionate God showing us one of the ways we can care for each other. May we have the courage to overcome nervousness and awkwardness so that we can act on our compassion and be like God toward one another: visiting, comforting, and forming stronger connections with each other.
Rabbi Heidi Hoover (AJR ’11) has taught Conversion at AJR. She is the rabbi of B’ShERT: Beth Shalom v’Emeth Reform Temple in Brooklyn, NY.