The fourth Torah portion Vayeira, continues the story cycle of Avram and includes poignant moments in his emerging relationship with Hashem and with his destiny as the father of Israel. The portion opens with the following narration: “Hashem appeared to [Avram] by the oaks of Mamre; he was sitting at the entrance of the tent as the day grew hot. Looking up, he saw three men standing near him.” I’d like to focus very briefly on seeing. In our text, Hashem appears, and Avram sees–but it isn’t so simple. There is a gap between what Avram sees (three men) and what is actually before him.
I’ll refer to this gap as a hyperlink and say that when I click on it, I am brought to the concept of the “male gaze.” Thinking and feeling through the #MeToo movement, I was focused on the problem of how we (primarily men) are taught how to see women. Sitting here with the first few lines of Vayeira, I think we can talk about the gap between what men see and what actually appears before them. The gap between the appearance of a person in her totality and how she is seen is the place of harassment and violence. Relearning how to see is one of the great challenges facing men. There would seem to be a few good Jewish guideposts for that reeducation. We should develop the curriculum.
Rabbi Joshua Bolton, Director of the Jewish Renaissance Project and Senior Jewish Educator, University of Pennsylvania Hillel