My thoughts on this week's parshah start with a question. Why is it that certain parshahs are so chock full of twists and turns there is a tough time to distinguish one event from another and then there are those that could put one to sleep?
Angels appearing not once but twice; Sarah is told she will conceive at the age of 90 and she laughs; Sodom and Lot; Lot and his daughters, Abraham again making his wife his "sister" so that he will be spared; Isaac is born and Ishmael has to leave; and then last but certainly not lease Abraham's willingness to sacrifice Isaac to prove his loyalty.
Each one could invoke a response from me that could go on for a long while. but I chose to combine some of the "highlights" to engage an exchange from you. Abraham shows faith in G-d when he is told that he is going to be a father through Sarah despite their advanced ages. Sarah laughs. Later on there seems to be a lack of faith when yet again Sarah is told to go with a king and indicate that Abraham is her brother so that he can be spared. How strong is Abraham's faith? He seems to regain his beliefs when told to sacrifice his beloved son, Isaac. Personally, I would rather die then see the death of one of my children and I could never even think of doing it myself.
Then there is Isaac. How could he not have been mentally scarred by what he saw his father was going to do. Isaac is a patriarch but what do we know about him. He almost was the ultimate sacrifice and we know he will marry Rebecca and she is mentioned at the very end of the parshah. But if we peek ahead to upcoming parshahs, does Isaac chose his wife or is she picked for him? Do we know what righteous acts he performed to make him one of the patriarchs? It seems to me that Joseph had more of a relationship with G-d than did Isaac, yet he is not considered a patriarch. Other than being the conduit between Abraham and Jacob, what is contribution to the ideals of Judaism? Granted having his seed produce Jacob is one of the great moments in Jewish history, but other than that, what other contributions can be attributed to him? It is interesting that the parshah ends with the birth of Rebecca who I submit had more to do with the development of Jacob than Isaac.
Yes, parshat Vayera is certainly one of those parshiot with twists and turns, not one that will put you to sleep.
That’s interesting that you see the Akedah as a kind of comeback moment for Abraham when his weakened faith regains its strength. In your next sentence, though, you admit the incomprehensibility of the Akedah. I would even go so far as to say it revolts you. Why is it in the Torah and what does it teach in your opinion?
I’ve heard that said before about Isaac, that he was mentally scarred by the experience of the Akedah, but in my mind, Isaac is the true protagonist of the Akedah, and this is the moment that his relationship with G-d begins. Until that point, he could not differentiate between Abraham and G-d, which makes sense because if your father is a charismatic warrior sojourner prophet like Abraham, you would likely be in awe of him. We’ll get to Isaac next week, but indeed, he seems to pale in comparison to Abraham and Jacob who both take up much space in Genesis. The main credit that goes to Isaac is his ability to dig wells. This suggests that he was prosperous, but it doesn’t speak to his righteousness.
Isaac’s wife is clearly picked for him, but the comfort he feels with her in the aftermath of his mother’s death suggests that Eliezer the steward chose well. Still, this suggests that Isaac is passive.
Why Joseph is not a patriarch is an interesting question, but I have one correction of what you write. I don’t believe Joseph has one conversation with G-d. Yes, he affirms his faith in G-d, and his power to explain dreams seems G-d given, but he and G-d never have a dialogue. Even Isaac has a conversation with G-d.
I think you’re on to something, though, with your last point. Perhaps Rebecca is the conduit between Abraham and Jacob, and Isaac is simply her husband. We’ll talk more about Rebecca next week, too. I think I can make a strong case for her being the outstanding figure in that relationship, and in an age where we see women as equals, now is the time for her to get her due credit.
It is interesting how you sometimes perceive what I say. I never meant that what Abraham was about to do to Isaac was some sort of "comeback moment" for him. My thought process was that if you believed Abraham had no intention of following through with the knife, then Abraham relied on his faith in G-d as getting him through this. If that is true, Abraham sort of relies on faith when his own personal well being is not at stake, like pimping his wife off as his sister to escape possible harm. I don't know what the Torah is trying to teach me as to the Akedah and you are spot on with your assessment as to how it revolts me. If you want a possible answer, it could be that Jews should have complete faith in G-d in that the Supreme Being will come through in tough moments. As one of the "Second Generation", I cannot understand why I never saw a grandparent of either of my parents or all of the aunts, uncles and potential cousins that I never encountered.
I disagree with your assessment of Isaac. He can be summed up in one sentence. He was born, he saw that his father was about to kill him, he needs his father to get his servant to get a wife for him, and if you want to go to next week, he apparently is near sighted and can be duped by his wife and second son. The righteous part completely escapes me. Your other comment about him being comforted by his wife after his mother's passing doesn't help him either. It suggests that he was a "mama's boy" that substituted his wife for his mother when she died.
It is interesting that you indicate that Joseph never had a conversation with G-d. I will not get too far ahead, but the perception in my mind is that they communicated. It is something I will look at when we get to it.
As to Rebecca, let's save that for next week.
I respect your willingness to bring a critical eye to the patriarchs. You really don’t let anything slide. Referring to Abraham’s behavior when he and Sarah went down to Egypt as an example of “pimping” is quite heretical. While I don’t encourage heresy, I welcome it. We have to bring our full minds to the study of Torah.
Your description of the kind of faith Abraham had certainly doesn’t fit my understanding of what faith is. I wasn’t a big fan of the idea of faith for a long time, and I still prefer “trust” which is the original Hebrew designation. But I am coming around to faith. Faith is belief without proof. Science has deceived us into thinking that much of our life can be understood through the prism of proof. In fact, the opposite is true. I don’t think Abraham knew the outcome in advance. I believe that he had every intention of carrying out the act. As for he and Sarah in Egypt, we’ve already discussed that.
I reject the idea that “Jews should have complete faith in G-d in that the Supreme Being will come through in tough moments.” This is the Orthodox view, and it possesses a kind of absoluteness and certainty that is detrimental not just to religion but to life itself. That you follow this remark up with your heart-wrenching comment about the absence of so much of your family makes sense. If the aforementioned statement were true, then the Holocaust could not have happened, but it did, and we should learn from it. If the only interpretation we can give the Akedah is this one, then we have not absorbed the painful lesson the Holocaust teaches.
The Torah is clear that Abraham was old when the Akedah occurred, and Isaac could have been anywhere between 14 and 39 from what I understand the Midrash teaches. That necessarily means that Isaac was a willing participant in the Akedah. That alone should make him qualify as righteous. As I said in my earlier email, the Akedah is really about Isaac, not Abraham. Primarily, it concerns being able to distinguish between your father and G-d.
While the mention of Sarah after Isaac has sex with Rebecca does suggest that he just substituted one love for another, I think the earlier verses in that passage demonstrate that we actually have a case of love at first sight. How unusual to see the Torah delve into romance.