When Abraham Sees God in Oak Trees
The Torah portion Vayeira (Gen. 18:1 through 22: 24) itakes its name" from its first word. This word is usually translated "appeared," but it comes from the root for "see," and the same root appears in a different form right afterwards.
The second word is "YHWH." That is usually translated "the Lord," but since this sacred unpronounceable Name with no vowels can only be "pronounced" by breathing --- "Yyyyhhhhwwwwhhhh" - I translate it as "the Breath of Life" or "the Wind/ Breath/ Spirit of the world."
The first sentence says "YHWH brought-about-being-SEEN to [Abraham] in [b'] the oaks of Mamre."
Then the story continues: ". . . and he lifted up his eyes and SAW [va'yar] and here! -- three people were standing upon him, and he SAW [va'yar] and ran . . .[to bring-them-near and then to feed them]."
First the oak trees themselves and then the three visitors were the visible, see-able presence of God.
How can the Divine Breathing-Spirit of the world become visible in trees? Think about the rustling leaves, quivering as the wind rushes from them, in them, into them. Quivering as the trees breathe out what we breathe in (oxygen), and then breathe in what we breathe out (carbon-dioxide). This is the rhythm of life upon our planet. As we open our eyes to this rush of breath, we see God.
And it was not till Abraham saw God breathing in these oak trees that Abraham was able to see God breathing in human beings.
Then he and Sarah acted to affirm this holiness by feeding God who of course is never visible except in all that is around us -- that is, is ALWAYS visible if we open our eyes. Feeding God by feeding human beings -- sharing with earthy human beings the abundance of the earth.
And in response, the human beings who were God's messengers ("angelos" is simply Greek for "messenger") told Abraham and Sarah that they would, after all, have a child.
Once Abraham had deeply seen the interbreathing of all life as God, he more deeply saw the intertwining of adam and adamah, the earthy humus and the human earthlings, that feeds us all and celebrates the One. Not till he saw God in this body of earth-human interchange could his and Sarah's bodies intertwine to seed new life.
(Till then, Sarah had been an "akarah" - a "root" without a sprouting. Perhaps it was not she who was barren; perhaps her rootedness needed some new quickening in Abraham, this vision more connected to the earth, to make her root more fruitful.)
So if this story honors the first expression of Eco-Judaism (and maybe eco-Christianity and eco-Islam, all born of Abraham's vision), we should honor this story by opening our eyes to it.
Look closely at a tree, at grass. Sniff at its leaves, breathing life into it and out of it. Pray not to the tree but to the whispering, rustling Breath that enters it and leaves it.
Promise to sustain it. Act to sustain it.
With blessings of shalom, salaam, peace -- Arthur
Rabbi Arthur Waskow, co-author, The Tent of Abraham; director, The Shalom Center www.theshalomcenter.org, which voices a new prophetic agenda in Jewish, multireligious, and American life. To receive the weekly on-line Shalom Report, click on --