Parshas Vayeira talks about destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah, Avraham’s arguing with G-d about them (one of the few cases when tzaddikim argued with Hashem), statement that Hashem is merciful G-d (which is important for rational argument for Divine Providence — necessary itself for explanation how our Oral Torah is genuine), miraculous birth of the second Jew, Yitzchok, story of Lot and his daughters (whose encounter gave birth to the nation of Midyan, whose member, Ruth, was a grandmother of Dovid HaMelech and, therefore, a descendant Mashiach), and birth of our cousins’ ancestor, Ishmoel, whose mother was one of the people Avraham converted to monotheism.
The parsha also has one of the most significant stories in Judaism — akeidas Yitzchok (the binding of Isaac), a story that redefined the understanding of a relationship with G-d.
For all of this and more, read parshas Vayeira with Chabad-Chassidic commentary.
Self-sacrifice refines us in proportion to the extent of the sacrifice involved. The greater the sacrifice, the more dedication to G-d we must evoke in order to motivate the sacrifice; in other words, we can only sacrifice something for G-d if G-d means more to us than whatever it is that we are sacrificing. The deeper the layer of our being that is exposed in this process, the more refined we become.You can also listen to Rabbi Paltiel’s audio-shiurim on the parsha: “A Perfect Reward” (how is G-d’s appearing to Avraham significant?), “From the Potential to Actual” (why was Avraham tested?), and “Hashem’s Investigation of Sedom” (what do antropomorphic terms of Hashem “seeing”, “descending” and “investigating” mean?).
The devotion we must evoke in order to give up our physical lives for G-d refines us so profoundly and completely that it transforms the very physical matter of our body, rendering it fit to embody spirituality. The material nature of the body, which is normally too coarse to reveal the Divinity that sustains it, becomes spiritually transparent.
It is precisely this sublime level that Isaac reached when he willingly surrendered his life to G-d. According to Midrash, Isaac not only willing to die for G-d; he actually did die: while bound on the altar, his soul temporarily left him and ascended to heaven. It was in this respect that Isaac’s self-sacrifice showed himself ready to give up his life (at Ur of the Kasdites) and even his entire being (at the binding of Isaac), Isaac did give up his life.
The episode of the binding of Isaac is recited daily as a prelude to morning prayers, since our ultimate objective in praying is to dedicate our entire being to G-d. If we pray with proper intention and devotion, this objective will be imbued with self-sacrifice; furthermore, our involvement in the physical world will be solely for the goal of enhancing our relationship with G-d and fulfilling our Divine mission in life. Even the most physical aspects of our lives — our “ashes” — will remain “on the altar”, part and parcel of our Divine lives.