VaYera: Seeing Each Other

Rabbi Menachem Creditor
3 min readNov 7, 2022

The first word in Parashat VaYera comes from the verb root “ro’eh,” which means “to see.”

In so many ways, this Parashah is all about what happens when we truly see — and fail to see — each other. When God commands Abraham to sacrifice Isaac, God fails to see that Abraham is a separate other, whose obedience will shatter so much (including God and Abraham never speaking from this point in the text onward). When Abraham agrees to do the horrific command, he fails to see Isaac as a separate other, but rather as a test God has given him. And God and Abraham both fail to see Isaac as a person, with separate needs and worth. Isaac is presented as the object of the test, not as a self whose life is his own. The site where Isaac was nearly murdered is named the Moriah, “the place of seeing,”[1] but there is just so much unseeing here.

Earlier, Abraham sees the potential goodness in Sodom and Gomorrah, though God had already determined their guilt. Abraham stands up to God on their behalf. But in this moment, when God tells Abraham to sacrifice his own son, Abraham doesn’t hesitate. He doesn’t say anything at all. And Isaac never gets to respond either because neither God nor Abraham see Isaac as a separate person with their own story. Instead of speaking up, Abraham springs into action, running to obey God’s command. Perhaps he acted so quickly to avoid seeing at all. Perhaps he forced himself to stop seeing his own son so that he could follow God’s horrific command.

In this story, everyone fails to see each other. God sees Abraham as a test-subject. Abraham sees Isaac as Abraham’s test. Modern relational theorists, such as Dr. Charles J. Gelso, have examined this kind of dynamic, with the goal of fostering strong and facilitative relationships.

As Gelso has written:

Persons with these kinds of problems have difficulties forming close relationships in which the other person is experienced as a separate self. The other is experienced as what may be termed a self-object in which they are part of the patient’s self and are internalized with the aim of mirroring the patient’s greatness and/or strengthening a highly depleted sense of self.[2]

If we study the Akeidah through this lens, perhaps we can learn to avoid objectifying others by learning to see every other person as a wholly holy other self.

The only way to build a better world is to love each other, and the only way to love each other is to come to know each other, and the only way to know each other is to see each other, to learn and listen as long as we need to, in order to recognize the Divine in every person.

It’s true that each one of us, like Abraham, will be tested in our lives. But the real test is this: can we learn to see each other as worthy? Can I see you as a fellow person that I would never sacrifice in the name of my truth? That’s the Torah of the Akeidah: we can believe our truths and advocate fiercely for them, even sacrifice in their pursuits. But what we cannot do is dehumanize others, especially those with whom we disagree, reducing them to projections of our own inner truths. You are not an extension of me, and I must commit to never sacrifice you on the altar of my truth.

May we all be blessed to see each other’s inherent worth, something woefully missing in the narrative of the Akeidah.

[1] Gen. 22:2

[2] Gelso, The Therapeutic Relationship in Psychotherapy Practice: An Integrative Perspective, (Taylor & Francis; 2018)