This is a basic overview of the parsha story in a format that can be adapted for a wide range of ages. Sources include parsha text, commentaries and midrash. When introducing midrash or other non-pshat elements, I use the words “some people think” or something similar (find out why). If you find these overviews helpful, or if there’s a typo, or something is confusing you or your kids, I’d love to hear from you. Really truly!
This week’s parsha starts outdoors on a VERY hot day…
Avraham has had his bris milah at 99 years old! Now he and Sara have new names (do you remember the old ones?). He’s feeling terrible three days later, but he sits outside to make sure no travellers get stuck out in the heat. Welcoming guests – hachnasas orchim – was so important to Avraham & Sara that some people think their tent had four doors to invite people from every direction! And guess what? Avraham sees three guests, coming across that hot, hot sand!
Sometimes, old people walk very slowly because it’s difficult. But not Avraham!
He jumps up, runs over to the men and bows low. “Please,” he begs, “come have water, and some crumbs of bread; rest beneath my tree.” They agreed. What did Avraham offer? Not much at all. Water… and bread. Not even a good meal.
But then he gives them much, much more than he’d promised.
He runs to Sara (she was 89!). “Quick – knead the finest flour to make cakes for our guests!” While she’s baking, he runs to prepare the best foods – creamy milk to drink and meat from a tender young calf. (Do we have milk at a meat meal? But the Torah mentions milk before meat; in those days, people could have them in that order.) What an amazing meal!
What Avraham doesn’t know is that they’re not ordinary visitors…
They look like three normal men. They even pretend to eat! But they’re really malachim (angels), messengers of Hashem who perform only one job each. One of them (some say he was named Michael) delivers a message: “Sara will have a baby next year.” He leaves; the other two keep going to the city of S’dom (we’ll find out why soon).
Now: picture the oldest woman you have ever seen. And imagine her with a brand-new baby!
You might laugh thinking of an 89-year-old lady having a baby – anyway, that’s what Sara does. But Hashem can make anything happen, so when that baby is born later on, he’ll be called Yitzchak, from the Hebrew word l’tzacheik – to laugh.
One of the malachim has a terrible job to do – destroying the city of S’dom.
The people of S’dom were terrible! They treated strangers most cruelly, murdering people and not caring about one another. Avraham goes with the malachim and begs them to save the city. “Maybe I can find fifty good people in the city!” Hashem says he will save it if Avraham can, but Avraham looks and looks… and there aren’t fifty, or forty-five, or forty, or thirty, or twenty or even ten good people. So the city must be destroyed. But Avraham’s nephew Lot is living in S’dom. He and his family aren’t as good as Avraham, and they don’t stop bad people around them, but Avraham is so holy (Do you remember what holy means? Special to Hashem!), that the second malach, Refael, rescues him. He says, “Run away with your family! Don’t ever look back!” Then, the third malach, Gavriel, does his job: he destroys the city.
But Lot’s wife doesn’t listen. She looks back while the city burns – and is quickly punished.
She turns into a crusty, rusty pillar of salt! In fact, today, near where S’dom used to be, there’s so much salt that the Yam HaMelach (the Salt Sea; in English, the Dead Sea, because nothing can live in it) is one of the saltiest places on Earth. The water is so salty that you can’t even sink while you’re swimming in it! (It’s also the lowest place on earth.)
Remember in last week’s parsha, when Avraham and Sara met Paroh?
Avraham worried that Paroh would kill him and marry Sara, so he said Sara was his sister. But now, guess what? Same thing with another king! In Grar, in the south of Israel, Avraham tells a powerful king named Avimelech that Sara is his sister. Avimelech is about to marry her when a plague strikes. In a dream, he learns who she really is. Just like Paroh, Avimelech begs Avraham to take Sara and leave in peace, giving Avraham gifts of animals and servants before he goes. Avraham is getting to be wealthy and powerful – and his neighbours are learning how Hashem protects His people.
In last week’s parsha, Avraham married Hagar and had his first son – Yishmael.
A year after the malach’s promise, Sara and Avraham have a son – a boy named Yitzchak. Yitzchak grows up, much loved, but Yishmael, now 14, is a terrible influence. Sara finally sends Hagar and Yishmael away to the desert, where Yishmael almost dies – stumbling, sick and thirsty, over the sand. Luckily, Hagar and Yishmael do teshuvah and Hashem makes a well of water appear. They survive and live long lives – far away from Sara and Yitzchak.
Many years pass… and Yitzchak grows up.
Now, Hashem calls to Avraham with the most difficult of his ten tests: “Avraham, bring your son Yitzchak as a korban for me.” How old was Yitzchak? The Torah doesn’t say. Some people think 37, others, 13. He’s not a baby, though, and when Avraham says, “let’s take firewood and a knife and go for a walk,” he figures out what’s happening. Avraham tells Yitzchak that Hashem will send a lamb for a korban, but they both know that Yitzchak is the korban – and they walk up Har Hamoriya togerther. Yitzchak isn’t afraid to do what Hashem asks, and he lets Avraham tie him up. But just as Avraham raises the knife to kill Yitzchak… another malach (some people think it was Tzadkiel) calls out, “Avraham! Avraham! Don’t hurt the boy – you have passed the test; you listened to Hashem.” Avraham looks up to see a ram caught in a bush. The ram becomes the korban instead (do you remember what we use rams’ horns for to this day?) and Avraham goes home with Yitzchak. But as we’ll find out in next week’s parsha, not everybody lives happily ever after…