11/02/2012 03:39 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

Genesis 18:1-22:24: Closed Doors, Open Doors and No Doors at All

Recently, a girl was on a school bus returning from a day of learning. Taliban gunmen stopped the bus, approached the girl and shot her in the head and neck. What could have threatened these men so much as to warrant an attack on a schoolgirl?

Malala Yousufzai wants an education and since the age of 11, she has been speaking publicly about the rights of all girls to an education. In 2009, a BBC reporter approached Ziauddin Yousafzai, a school director and activist, to find a female teacher who would be willing to write about life under the Swat Taliban. Yousufzai told the reporter that no woman would be willing to do this, but that his 11-year-old daughter would willing take on this responsibility.

Malala didn't just communicate the terrors of living under the Taliban; she talked about her passion for knowledge and her thirst for learning. Malala seeks to open doors to women and the Taliban are desperate to close women in behind their doors. What happens when doors open?

This week's Torah portion, Vayeira, takes us from the desert, to the cities, from valleys to mountains. In part, it explores the dynamics of closed and open doors and how we move through them.

The text begins with Abraham sitting at the entrance of his tent. He sits at the edge, neither inside nor outside exclusively. He is protected from the heat of day by his tent, yet he looks outward to the world beyond his tent. Upon noticing visitors, he leaves the entrance of the tent and reaches out to them, bowing down before them in humble greeting. The open door (or open tent flap) ultimately leads him to an encounter with the Divine. Even as he is uncertain about the identity of his guests, he openly welcomes them. Abraham's encounter with these angelic visitors, his open tent flap leads to the announcement of new life and the promise of a future for his family.

A few scenes later in the text, we find ourselves in Sodom, with Lot putting pressure upon the angels to stay with him in his home behind closed doors. The door to his home becomes a focal point for the action that follows. The men of the city surround Lot's home, Lot quickly opens the door and shuts it behind him as he talks with the mob.

He offers to bring his daughters out through the doors to satisfy the perverse needs of the mob. But the mob presses hard against the door to break through. Suddenly hands emerge and pull Lot back inside. In this environment of corruption and violence, to open the door is dangerous -- to walk through it even more so. Eventually, this home, its door and the inhabitants of the city are destroyed.

As I began to write this piece, I decided to Google "doors" as a metaphor. The links that appeared on the first pages included a report from on the revolving doors of Washington, describing the phenomenon of federal employees turning into lobbyists and strategists, and visa versa. There was a review on a book entitled "Opening Doors Wider: Women's Political Engagement in Canada," written by Sylvia B. Bashevkin. This book looks at the progress made in the last 40 years in Canada to raise the profile of women's involvement in public life.

Consistently, revolving and closed doors serve to protect power, to privilege those on one side of the door and to marginalize those on the other side. The open door dissolves the distinctions between insider and outsider. Abraham's open door brings together heavenly beings and human beings in an encounter that provides Abraham with new insights and knowledge. The door of Lot's house becomes a barrier, necessary for protection but also a source of terrible danger for his daughters. The closed door only furthers the tension and accentuates the problems in that society.

Malala, a leading light for women's rights in the contemporary world, has refused to live behind a closed door, despite the dangers of opening the door. Those that have tried to shut her in now hear the world speaking as one against the violence. The door continues to open. May we all continue to open doors, to welcome strangers into our homes and to join others outside in the public square.

ON Scripture -- The Torah is a weekly Jewish scriptural commentary, produced in collaboration with Odyssey Networks and Hebrew College. Thought leaders from the United States and beyond offer their insights into the weekly Torah portion and contemporary social, political, and spiritual life.