October 25, 2018


10.26.2018 Weekly Torah Portion

Parashat Veyera

Chapter 22 of Genesis deals with the Akeidah, the binding of Isaac.  I have many thoughts on this chapter.  First of all, how do we know that this was really the voice of God?  What kind of test is it to ask a man to sacrifice his only remaining son at home and the inheritor of his Spiritual Legacy?  Is this truly the voice of God?  Some people say this was a two-sided test: Abraham was testing God and God testing Abraham.  I can see this more as a test of God to see which voice inside Abraham would listen to.  Would he give in to his anger and passion regarding the expulsion of Ishmael?  Would he try to “get even” with Sarah through hurting Isaac?  How do we play people off of one another in order to get even or to get our way?  Is this how we have learned to get what we want?  How often have we used the excuse that this is the way God wanted us to act?  If everything in God’s world is perfect, then the bad we do must be okay, right?  WRONG!  This is one of the big lies of fundamentalists.  They find a reason from God or some other text to excuse immoral and wrong behavior.  This is a familiar trap for most of us.  We find some reason that makes sense to excuse our wrong behavior.  We find a reason to get mad at those that have helped us; we find an excuse to “go out” and rationalize it.  We find reasons and make a case as to why someone else is a bad guy; this is the wrong place for me; I can’t stand being here any more; if only I had …. everything would be okay; I can’t find a job that fits my station in life, etc.  All of these rationalizations are used by us to excuse listening to the OTHER voices.  We see this in the Prosperity Gospel being sold by some of my fellow Clergypeople – if you have something God loves you, and if you are poor, God doesn’t love you so much!  They also preach that the stranger is to be feared and subdued, according to God, they continue.  Yet, God loves the stranger: Abraham was a stranger to the Canaanites; Moses was a “stranger in a strange land.”  Has Abraham fallen into the trap of hearing what he wants to hear from God and not what God is actually saying?  How are we doing the same?  What bad/wrong behaviors do we clean up for ourselves or those “on our side” to justify doing them?

What about an argument from Abraham?  Why does he go along with this craziness?  Have we ever so convinced ourselves that what we want to do is really right that we attribute it to God?  When God says “Please take your son, your only one, whom you love, Isaac, …” (verse 22: 2), is God asking Abraham to argue with Him?  Have we listened to a voice that has asked us to argue and instead we give in?  How often do we need to argue and we don’t?  How often do we need to take the action of the right voice and we argue?  Do we get these two voices so confused that we get mixed up, or are we wanting to do something and then hear the voice that agrees with us?  Isn’t this the ultimate in self-will?  There is a famous story in the Talmud that says that God was laughing and smiling when the Rabbis argued with Him and told him to stay out of their decisions regarding the Laws from the Torah.  They say the Torah was given to us and is not in Heaven, it is here on Earth for us to figure out.  Do we argue when we need to?  Rabbi Harold Shulweis says that it is our duty to argue with immorality even if it comes from God.  Isn’t this what Abraham did with the Sodom and Gomorrah incident?  Why not here?

What about Isaac?  Why is he so passive?  Why does he let Abraham put him on the altar and tie him up and almost kill him?  Where is his self-worth?  What could have happened to him that he let his father do this?  Have we trusted someone so much that we have gone against what we KNOW is true and right for ourselves?  Have we become so passive and non-reactive to life that we don’t care whether we live or die?  Is this the ultimate love, as some say?  Is this the ultimate cop-out of doing what is right even when we will disappoint or go against authority that we love and/or respect?  Torah tells us to not honor our parents when they tell us to do something that is wrong.  Did Isaac not know this or not learn this?  How can someone this passive be the father of Jacob and Esau?  Is this the ultimate irony?

Can we identify with Isaac asking his father what is happening?  As a parent or as a child, have we heard this question: “Will everything be okay?” and we answer “Yes” when we know that what we are doing will bring harm to another, especially the one who asks.  As a parent who lied to his 6-year-old daughter that he would not go to jail again and she believed me, how have I built up in her a distrust for people’s word?  How can she trust anyone when she could not trust someone she loved so much?  I still feel the pain of that lie.  Have we committed similar actions?  When have we been Isaac and when have we been Abraham?  When have we believed the lie of another because we wanted to and it was easier and less painful that acknowledging the truth that was in our souls and our hearts?  Are we still doing this?  Are we still trying to kill our souls, the souls of our loved ones?

In ten days we will be voting: my prayer is that we vote for the people who Live – not talk – the principles of Torah, the principles of decency and the principles of faith, truth, kindness, justice and love.

Shabbat Shalom,

Rabbi Mark