Nov 14, 2008

A Test of Faithfulness.

This week's parshah is the famed akeidah story -- Vayeira -- the binding of Isaac by Abraham. I'm not going to go into a gigantic d'var Torah, but I do want to say a few words.

The interesting thing about this situation is that people debate who failed G-d's test and who had true faithfulness to G-d: was it Isaac or Abraham? Did Isaac have faith that G-d would not allow his father to go through with the sacrifice? Or did Abraham have faith that G-d would not let him go through the sacrifice? At the same time, consider this: Did Abraham FAIL the test?

So here's my take: The Torah is written, as my professor likes to say, in the language of the people of the times. Ethical Monotheism -- what we know today as Judaism -- grew out of a slip away from pagan and cultic religions of the times. Human sacrifice was commonplace, and G-d was well aware of this. Thus, when this brilliant monotheism arose, G-d knew that the people Israel would need to remove themselves from the pagan rituals of the day. Thus, in this case, G-d tells Abraham to sacrifice his son, Isaac, and Abraham -- not having fully grasped the concept of what G-d was shooting for when it came to the monotheism and not needing pagan rituals -- went along wholeheartedly with the plan. Isaac, on the other hand, knew what was going on. He had faith that G-d would keep Abraham from going through with it. At the same time, both G-d and Isaac hoped that Abraham would catch the drift that with G-d's way, human sacrifice wasn't an imperative. Unfortunately, Abraham failed the test and G-d had to stop him from going through with it. Talk about an interesting situation.

Of course, this is just my take. What the implications of Abraham's failure with G-d are, I cannot say right now. If anything, it was just the first in many missteps of the people while trying to get the hang of the non-pagan, ethical monotheism slant, which to be honest they didn't seem to pick up on until well into Isaiah (even Jethro tells Moses that his G-d is the greatest of all G-ds -- the Tanakh is peppered with monolatry!).

At any rate, Shabbat Shalom to one and all! May it be restful, thoughtful, and be shared with friends and family over good food and good stories.


Anonymous said...

Ooh, I hadn't thought of it in that way. Very thought provoking indeed!

However, as you say, there were a lot of mistakes along the way, which is only natural for us humans. And we're still making 'em!

Shabbat Shalom to you - I hope you are feeling well!


Daniel Saunders said...

I agree with you about early Judaism taking place against a pagan backdrop, but I don't think Abraham failed the test. The angel's response to him doesn't sound like that given to a failure.

Personally, I think the fact that God stopped him from sacrificing Isaac was supposed to teach him that this was not an appropriate form of worship.

chaviva said...

@Rachel I am feeling much better. Glad I could provoke some thoughts.

@Daniel Point noted. It is interesting that there are the varying takes, though. But just because G-d stopped him doesn't mean that Abraham *didn't* fail the test. It just means it was necessary for G-d to intervene for Isaac, thus teaching Abraham that such actions weren't a part of the plan. Of course, the rest of Abraham's life wasn't full of punishment or particular dismay, so perhaps you are right!

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