Vayeira: Laughter, Part 1

October 31, 2017 at 9:10 pm | Posted in Vayeira | 4 Comments

The first laughter in the Torah happens when God tells Abraham, age 99, that after he has circumcised himself and all the males in his household, he and Sarah, his 89-year-old wife, will have a son.

“I will bless her, and I will even give you a son from her, and I will bless her and she will become nations; kings of peoples will come from her.” (Genesis/Bereishit 17:16)

And Abraham fell on his face vayitzchak, and he said in his heart:  Will he be born to a 100-year-old man, and will 90-year-old Sarah give birth? (Genesis 17:17)

vayitzchak (וַיִּצְחָק) = and he laughed.  (From the root tzachak, צָחֲק = laughed.)

Humans laugh when we encounter a mismatch: when two things appear together that we would never expect to see in the same context.  We laugh in fun when we are surprised by a joke, or in mockery when we point out mismatched traits in a person we resent.  We also laugh

* in incredulity when a mismatch is almost unbelievable,

* in bitterness when we wish both mismatched things were true but cannot believe it, and

* in joy when receive unexpected good fortune.

In the Torah, humor is offered without a laugh track; it is up to the reader to recognize jokes and funny situations.  But characters in the Bible do laugh in incredulity, in bitterness, and in joy.

When God tells Abraham that he and his 89-your-old wife will have a baby, he silently laughs out of incredulity.  He also “falls on his face” into the prostrate posture for communicating with God,1 because he is concerned about how God is planning to fulfill the divine prophecy that Abraham will have more descendants than there are stars in the sky.2  Until this point, Abraham assumed all these descendants would come from his 13-year-old son Ishmael, whose mother is Sarah’s slave.  What if God ignored Ishmael while making these almost unbelievable plans for Sarah to get pregnant?

Abraham said to God: “If only Ishmael will live in Your presence!” (Genesis 17:18)

And God said: “Truly Sarah, your wife, will be pregnant with your son, and you shall call his name Yitzchak, and I will establish my covenant with him as an everlasting covenant for his descendants after him.  And as for Ishmael, I have heard you. Hey! I will bless him and I will make him fruitful… (Genesis 17:19-20)

Yitzchak (יִצְחָק) = Isaac, in English.  In Hebrew, yitzchak = he laughs, he will laugh (from the root tzachak, צָחֲק).

When God repeats his promise of a miraculous birth, Abraham overcomes his incredulity and goes ahead with the circumcisions.

Abraham Sees Three Visitors
(artist unknown)

In this week’s Torah portion, Vayeira (“And he appeared”), three mysterious strangers arrive at Abraham’s camp while he is recovering from his circumcisionThe aged Abraham gets up and runs to welcome the visitors, who look like men, but turn out to be divine messengers or angels.  Abraham prepares them a meal.  The visitors eat as if they were men, and then make sure Sarah is close enough to overhear them.

And they said to him: “Where is Sarah, your wife?”

And he said: “Here!  In the tent.”

Then [one of them] said: “I will definitely return to you at the time of life, and hey!  A son for Sarah, your wife.”  (Genesis 18:9-10)

And Sarah was listening at the opening of the tent, which was behind him.  Abraham and Sarah were old, coming on in years; the periods of women had stopped happening to Sarah.  Vatitzchak, Sarah, inside herself, saying: After I am worn out, will I have sexual pleasure? And my husband is old! (Genesis 18:10-12)

Sarah Hears and Laughs,
by James Tissot

vatitzchak (וַתִּצְחַק) = and she laughed (also from the root tzachak, צָחֲק).

What kind of laughter does Sarah laugh—incredulous, bitter, or joyful?  Biblical commentary is divided.  So I offer these three alternatives, in colloquial modern English, for what she might be thinking as she laughs:

  1. Incredulity:

    What an idiot this stranger is!  He hasn’t seen me, so he doesn’t know what a dried-up old woman I am.  But Abraham’s standing right in front of him, all wrinkled and liver-spotted.  Who would make an outrageous prediction like that, with a time limit, even? Only an idiot—or a prophet.3  That’s it, Abraham’s three guests are a band of traveling prophets!  Well, this is the most absurd prophecy I’ve ever heard.  You’ve got to laugh at such a ridiculous situation.

  2. Bitterness:

    This stranger may know my name, but he obviously doesn’t know my age.  I bet he was trying to give old Abraham a compliment; even a 99-year-old man likes to hear that he’s virile.  But the man overdid it.  And I bet he doesn’t know I’ve been barren my whole life, and I had to give my slave to my husband just to get a son to adopt.  That was a disaster!  Now, even if I were still young enough to have some juice, I know Abraham is past it.  I thought I was used to sleeping in a cold bed. But suddenly all I can think about is how long I’ve been alone.  No sex for years, never nursed a baby, and Ishmael never treats me as his mother.  Curse that stranger!  He doesn’t realize how much his remark hurts me.  Men are careless like that.  Even my own husband asks me to make fancy cakes for his guests, and then forgets to serve them!  Men never think of women’s feelings.  You’ve got to laugh at these jokers, so you don’t cry.

  3. Joy:

    Who is this stranger?  How does he know my name?  Does he realize how old we are?  Actually, Abraham may have forgotten to serve my cakes to those men, but he’s been running around like a man in his prime.  And not every 99-year-old man could even survive being circumcised.  Or be so cheerful about it.  Hey, Abraham even winked at me, when he told me about what he was going to do to himself, and about how God opened up our names by adding the letter hey.  Everything’s opening up now, he said.  I wonder if he was hinting that my womb was going to open, too?  Maybe when God changed our names and ordered the circumcisions, He went on and told Abraham were going to have a child?  Oh, that would be a rich joke, after I’ve been barren my whole long life!  But if God wants to play a joke on us, and give us both a second youth so I can have my own baby— well then, bring on the miracle!

Then God said to Abraham: “Why is it that Sarah tzachakah, saying: Is it really true, I will give birth, when I have become old? Is a thing too extraordinary for God? At the appointed time I will return to you, at the time of life, and Sarah will have a son.”  (Genesis 18: 14)

tzachakah (צָחֲקָה) = she laughed (also from the root tzachak, צָחֲק).

Now Sarah is alarmed. How could the visitor hear her silent thoughts? Only God could do that sort of thing.  Has she just insulted God?

And Sarah denied it, saying: “Lo tzachakti!”—for she was afraid. But he said: “Not so, for tzachakte”. (Genesis 18:15)

lo tzachakti (לֺא צָחַקְתִּיה) = I did not laugh (also from the root tzachak, צָחֲק).

tzachakte (צָחָקְתְּ) = you (feminine) laughed (also from the root tzachak, צָחֲק).

Then the three “men” get up and walk with Abraham to look down at Sodom in the valley below.

*

Both Abraham and Sarah laugh at the idea of having a baby in extreme old age.  But they keep listening to God, get over their incredulity, and accept the transformation of their lives.  Abraham is reassured to hear that both his sons will become fathers and patriarchs.  Sarah accepts her sudden good fortune,  prepared to enjoy sexual pleasure again and even nurse her own child.  We next see her in the Torah at the weaning feast of her son Yitzchak.

When you laugh incredulously, do you leave an opening for an unexpected miracle?  Are you willing to accept a new reality? Are you able to move from bitterness to joy?

(An earlier version of this essay was published in October 2010.  Next week I will post part 2, on making laughter in joy and in mockery.)

  1. See my post Korach: Face Down.
  2. In Genesis 15:5 God promised Abraham he will have more descendants than there are stars in the sky. By the time Abraham is 99, God has promised him five times that his descendants will possess the land of Canaan.  Abraham has assumed these descendants will come from Ishmael, his son through the slave Hagar.
  3. 16th-century Rabbi Obadiah Sforno wrote that Sarah assumes the speaker is a prophet giving a blessing. (Sforno: Commentary on the Torah, trans. by Raphael Pelcovitz, ArtScroll Mesorah Publications, 1993)

 

 

 

Haftarat Vayeira–2 Kings: Dance of Pride

November 17, 2016 at 10:02 pm | Posted in Kings 2, Vayeira | 1 Comment
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Every week of the year has its own Torah portion (a reading from the first five books of the Bible) and its own haftarah (an accompanying reading from the books of the prophets). This week’s Torah portion is Vayeira (Genesis 18:1-22:21), and the haftarah is 2 Kings 4:1-37.

Elisha is not only a prophet, but a miracle-worker. He and his mentor, Elijah, are the only characters in the Hebrew Bible who create supernatural wonders on their own initiative—yet with God’s approval.

This week’s haftarah relates two of Elisha’s miracles. First the widow of one of Elisha’s disciples begs him for help. She is in debt to a creditor who is coming to take her two sons as slaves. Elisha speaks to her simply and directly, saying:

Jug from 9th-century Israel

Jug from 9th-century Israel

What can I do for you? Tell me what you have in the house. (2 Kings 4:2)

He has no problem arranging a miracle for the poor and desperate woman, turning her single small jar of oil into so much oil that when she sells it she can pay off her whole debt, with money left over. Magnanimity comes easily to Elisha.

In the next story, the woman who approaches Elisha is wealthy and content. Instead of asking for help, she is determined to help Elisha. He becomes the recipient of someone’s magnanimity.

It happened one day [that] Elisha passed by Shuneim, and there was a gedolah woman, vatachazek him to eat a meal. Then it happened whenever he passed by, he turned aside there to eat a meal. And she said to her husband: “Hey, please! I know that the one who passes by regularly is a holy man of God. Let us make, please, an upper room with a wall, and let us put there a bed for him, and a table and a chair and a lampstand, and it will happen whenever he comes to us, he will turn aside there”. And it happened one day [that] he came there and he turned aside to the upper room …(2 Kings 4:8-11)

gedolah (גְדוֹלָה) = great, significant, big.

vatachazek (וַתַּחֲזֶק) = and she took hold of, and she prevailed over, and she seized.

The woman of Shuneim is probably gedolah, significant in her town, because she and her husband are wealthy enough to build a walled chamber on top of their roof as a guest room. She may also be called gedolah because she is unusually forceful for a woman in the ancient kingdom of Judah. She does not politely ask Elisha if he would like to come to her house for a meal; she makes him do it, either by refusing to take no for an answer or by actually grabbing him.

But feeding Elisha is not enough for her. So she politely tells her husband she wants to build and furnish a guest room for him. Her husband’s reply is not recorded, but judging by the rest of the story, he never stands in her way. In the next sentence, Elisha’s guest room is complete.

What is the woman of Shuneim’s motivation for this extreme hospitality? One clue is that she calls Elisha a “man of god”, an ish elohim. Maybe she is religious, and sees taking care of a man of God as a way to contribute to the cause of glorifying the God of Israel.

House in ancient Israel

House in ancient Israel

And it happened one day [that] he came there and he turned aside to the upper room, and he lay down there. And he said to Geichazi, his manservant: “Call that woman of Shuneim.” And he called her, and she stood before him. (2 Kings 4:11-12)

Elisha is already famous in the kingdoms of both Judah and Israel. Now he has his own servant. He sends Geichazi to summon her, instead of going downstairs himself.  He does not refer to his hostess by name (and we never learn it). When she climbs up the ladder to his room, he is reclining on the bed as if he were a king.

Putting on even more airs, Elisha does not speak to her directly, but only through his servant.

And he [Elisha] said to him: “Say, please, to her: Hey! You have troubled yourself with all this trouble for us. What is there to do for you? To speak for you to the king? Or to the commander of the army?” (2 Kings 4:13)

There is no indication that the woman needs anything from the king or the army commander. I believe Elisha is showing off, letting her know that he has influence with these exalted persons.

The woman is unimpressed. She merely replies:

I am dwelling among my own people. (2 Kings 4:13)

She does not need Elisha’s influence because she is already well-known and respected in Shuneim.  She then goes back downstairs, making it clear that she does not want any favors from the “man of God”.

And he [Elisha] said: “Then what to do for her?” And Geichazi said: “Actually, she has no son, and her husband is old.” Then he [Elisha] said: “Call her”. And he called her, and she stood in the doorway. (2 Kings 4:14-15)

Sarah Hears and Laughs, by James Tissot

Sarah Hears and Laughs, by James Tissot

Geichazi assumes that the woman’s husband is too old to have successful intercourse with her. This story is a good match for the Torah portion Vayeira because in Vayeira, Sarah stands in the doorway of the tent and laughs silently when she hears a guest tell her 99-year-old husband, Abraham, that the following year she will have a son.

The guest, who is actually divine, hears Sarah’s thoughts and tells Abraham:

Is anything too extraordinary for God? Lamo-eid hazeh I will return to you, ka-eit chayyah, and Sarah will have a son. (Genesis 18:14)

lamo-eid hazeh (לַמּוֹעֵד הַזֶּה) = at this appointed time.

ka-eit chayyah (כָּעֵת חַיָּה) = in the same season of life. (An idiom for “at the same time next year”.)

Elisha borrows language from the Torah portion to announce his own miracle, and finally addresses the woman instead of confining his remarks to his servant.

And he said: “Lamo-eid hazeh, ka-eit chayyah, you will be embracing a son.” Then she said: “No, my lord, Man of the God. Don’t you lie to your maidservant.” (2 Kings 4:16)

Through the language of this annunciation, Elisha is comparing himself with Abraham’s guest, an angel who turns into the voice of God. I suspect that the woman of Shuneim rejects his message because she knows Elisha is only a man of God, not an angel. She puts him in his place.

She may not even want a son. Most women in Biblical times needed a son to support them in old age, since they rarely had property of their own. But as commentator Tikva Frymer Kensky pointed out, the woman of Shuneim appears to be independent, and may even own the land her husband farms for her.

Nevertheless, she has a son the following year. When the boy is old enough to follow his father around outside, but still young enough to fit on his mother’s lap, he suddenly has a pain in his head. His father does not take it seriously, and merely tells a servant to carry him back to his mother.

And he sat on her knees until noon. Then he died. And she took him up and laid him on the bed of the man of God, and she closed [the door] behind him, and she left. (2 Kings 4:20-21)

Elisha and the Shunamite Woman (artist unknown)

Elisha and the Shunamite Woman (artist unknown)

The woman realizes that now she does need a favor from Elisha, and she has a right to demand it. When she reaches him on Mount Carmel, she brushes off Elisha’s servant Geichazi.

And she came up to the man of God on the mountain, vatachazek his feet… (2 Kings 4:27)

Once again the woman seizes Elisha, but this time instead of making him accept a favor from her, she requests one from him.

Geichazi tries to pull her away, but Elisha tells his servant:

“Leave her alone, because her soul is bitter, and God has hidden it from me and has not told me [about it].”

Then she said: “Did I ask for a son from my lord? Did I not say: Don’t you be careless with me?” (2 Kings 4:27-28)

Elisha's Servant Geichazi, engraving by Bernhard Rode

Elisha’s Servant Geichazi, by Bernhard Rode

That is enough of a clue for Elisha. He realizes her son has died, and he gives his staff to Geichazi with orders to place it on the boy’s face. But the woman knows that will not work.  She insists on taking Elisha to her house in person. He still does not speak to her directly, but he follows her. When they arrive, the boy is still laid out dead on Elisha’s bed.

Elisha’s pride has taken two blows; first God did not tell him anything was wrong, and then his idea for a miraculous revivification did not work. His benefactress knew more than he did.

Elisha Raising the Son of the Shunemmite, by Frederic Leighton

Elisha Raising the Son of the Shunemmite, by Frederic Leighton

All he can do now is imitate one of his mentor Elijah’s successful miracles, and hope it works for him, too. He goes into the guest room, shuts the door on Geichazi and the woman, and prays to God. Then he climbs up and lies down on the boy, mouth to mouth and hands to hands. (Too much time has elapsed for mouth-to-mouth resuscitation; Elisha is attempting to send some of his own life-spirit into the child.)

After he does this a second time, the boy sneezes and opens his eyes. Elisha calls Geichazi and says: “Call that woman of Shuneim.”  It sounds as if Elisha is resuming his proud distance from his benefactress.  But when she arrives, he speaks to her, saying: “Pick up your son.” (2 Kings 4:36)

And she came and she fell at his feet and she bowed low to the ground and she picked up her son and she left. (2 Kings 4:37)

Although she bows to him, it is only his due as a man of God who has brought a dead child to life. She retains her dignity by rising and carrying her son away.

Does Elisha give up some of his prickly pride about receiving help from the woman of Shuneim? The story ends here, but later the second book of Kings reports:

And Elisha spoke to the woman whose son he had revived, saying: “Get up and go, you and your household, and sojourn wherever you will sojourn, because God has called for a seven-year famine, and even now it comes to the land.”  And the woman got up and did as the man of God spoke… (2 Kings 8:1-2)

God is speaking to Elisha, and Elisha is speaking to the woman of Shuneim, treating her with consideration, even if she did once force him to accept favors from her.

*

Maybe I see this haftarah as a story of prickly male pride because I was born in the 1950’s and I’ve seen that dynamic again and again—though less often in this 21st century. On the other hand, I sometimes find it difficult to accept help myself, because I, too, want to appear competent and in control, not weak and needy.

This week’s haftarah demonstrates that there are times when even the great woman of Shuneim, or Elisha the man of God, needs help. In order for we humans to do our work best, we need three things: the strength to ask for help when we need it, the strength to accept help whether we need it or not, and the compassion to give help when we can.

 

 

Lekh Lekha & Vayeira: Hints of Jerusalem

October 19, 2015 at 8:07 pm | Posted in Joshua, Lekh Lekha, Samuel 2, Vayeira | 1 Comment
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by Melissa Carpenter, maggidah

“Next year in Jerusalem!” is the phrase that concludes both the Passover seder and the holy day of Yom Kippur.  For more than two millennia, Jews have referred to Jerusalem as their holiest place and ultimate home.

Yet the city we call Jerusalem in English, and Yerushalayim (יְרוּשָׁלַיִם‎) in Hebrew, is a Jebusite city in the Hebrew Bible until the second book of Samuel, when King David conquers its citadel and makes it his capital.

An Egyptian vassal city

So far, the oldest reference archaeologists have found to a place in Canaan called something like Jerusalem appears on Egyptian potsherds from the 19th century BCE, where Rushalimum is one of 19 Canaanite cities.

Rushalimum = uru (city of, founded by) + shaleim (the Canaanite god of the evening star, in the Semetic language of the Jebusites).

In the Amarna letters of the 14th century B.C.E., the king of the land of Rishalimum complains to the pharaoh of Egypt about how the Egyptian soldiers treated his capital city, “Beit-Shulmani”—a Semetic name meaning “House of Shaleim”.

Shaleim (שָׁלֵם) = the Canaanite god of the evening star (in the Jebusite language); completeness, safety, peace (in Hebrew, another Semitic language).

A place called Shaleim

Abraham is blessed by the king of Shaleim in the Torah portion Lekh Lekha (“Get yourself going”).  And in this week’s portion, Vayeira (“And he saw”), Abraham almost slaughters his son as an offering on Mount Moriyah, later identified as the temple mount.  Both of these place-names hint at the future Israelite city of Jerusalem.

A blessing in the city of Shaleim concludes Abraham’s only recorded military campaign.  Five kings at southern end of the Dead Sea lose a battle against four northern kings, who then head north with the booty and all the southerners they can round up as slaves.  One of the kidnapped southerners is Abraham’s nephew Lot.

Abraham and his 318 men chase the northerners, defeat them, and head back south with all the captured people and goods.  Before they reach Abraham’s encampment in Hebron, the southern king of Sodom meets Abraham and his men in the Valley of Shaveh.

And the king of Sodom went out to meet him, after he returned from striking Kedarlaomer and the kings who were with him, in the Valley of Shaveh, which is the valley of the king.  But Malki-Tzedek, king of Shaleim, brought out bread and wine; and he was a priest to Eil Elyon.  (Genesis/Bereishit 14:17-18)

Shaleim (שָׁלֵם) = peace, safety, wholeness.

Eil Elyon (אֵל עֶלְיוֹן) = the High God.

If Shaleim is a shortened name for Jerusalem, then the Valley of Shaveh may be the level area where the Kidron Valley meets the Valley of Ben-hinnom.  Commentators have pointed out that Shaveh also means “level”.

And he blessed him and he said: “Blessed be Avram to Eil Elyon, owner of heaven and earth.  And blessed be Eil Elyon, Who delivered your enemies into your hand”.  And he gave him a tithe of everything. (Genesis 14:19)

Abraham adds the name Eil Elyon to the four-letter name of God when he swears to the King of Sodom that he will not keep any of the people or goods that he won in battle.  (See my blog post Lekh Lekha: New Names for God.)  Abraham’s use of Eil Elyon may be diplomatic, but it also implies that Malki-Tzedek and Abraham recognize the same god as supreme.

Why would Malki-Tzedek give a tithe of the booty, when he is not listed as participating in the battle?  Probably it is Abraham who gives a tithe of his booty to Malki-Tzedek, prefiguring the tithes that Israelites brought to the high priest in Jerusalem centuries later.

So the stage is set for the Jebusite city of Shaleim to become the capital and holy city of the Israelites someday. The site is associated with a name of God, with priesthood, with blessings, and with tithes.

A place called Moriyah

This week’s Torah portion, Vayeira, hints at the future site of the temple through a very different story.  After Abraham and Sarah’s son Isaac has grown up and become a young man, God speaks to Abraham in the night.

And [God] said:  “Take, please, your son, your only one, whom you love, Isaac, and get yourself going to the land of the Moriyah.  And lead him up there for a burnt offering on one of the mountains, [the one] which I will say to you.”  (Genesis 22:2)

Moriyah (מֹרִיָּה) = Mor of God.  Mor (מֹר) = myrrh; a shortened form of moreh (מוֹרֶה) = throwing or teaching; or a homonym for mareh (מַרְאָה) = seeing, vision, apparition, mirror.

After a three-day walk from his home in Beersheba, Abraham sees the place.  The Torah does not say how he knows this particular hilltop is the one God chooses, but he climbs up with Isaac, some firewood, a fire-box, and a knife.

Beersheba is 44 miles from Jerusalem.  If the Moriyah is one of the hills surrounding Jerusalem,  then Abraham and Isaac would have to walk 14 to 15 miles a day—a reasonable distance, especially if the two servants Abraham brings along carry the firewood, and the donkey carries Abraham, age 117.

Just as Abraham lifts his knife to kill his son at the top of the hill, another voice from God calls to him and tells him to stop.  Abraham sacrifices a ram caught by its horns in the thicket in place of Isaac.  (The Torah does not say whether it is a thicket of myrrh.)

And Abraham called the name of that place “God Yireh”, as it is said to this day:  On the mountain of God yeira-eih. (Genesis 22:14)

yireh (יִראֶה) = he sees, will see, perceive, look at, consider.

yeira-eih (יֵרֶָאֶה) = he/it will be seen, will become visible, will appear.

In this story Abraham connects the place-name Moriyah (מֹרִיָּה) with the word mareh (מַרְאָה) = seeing, appearance, vision.

The only other occurrence of the name Moriyah in the Hebrew Bible is in a book written several centuries later:

Then Solomon began to build the house of God in Jerusalem on the hill of the Moriyah, where [God] had appeared to his father David, where David had appointed the place on the threshing floor of Ornan the Jebusite.”  (2 Chronicles 3:1)

Moriyah is not mentioned in 2 Samuel, an earlier book that includes an account of Solomon building the temple.  But this retelling of the story in 2 Chronicles (written circa 400-250 C.E.) firmly identifies Moriyah as a hill in Jerusalem.

A placed called Yerushalaim

The Hebrews conquer much of Canaan in the book of Joshua, but even though Joshua executes the king of Jerusalem, he cannot conquer the city-state itself.

As for the Jebusites, the inhabitants of Yerushalaim: the children of Judah were not able to dispossess them, so the Jebusites dwell with the children of Judah in Yerushalaim to this day.  (Joshua 15:63)

Yerushalaim (יְרֽוּשָׁלַ֔םִ) = Jerusalem; yeru (יְרֽוּ) = (possibly from of yarah (יָרָה) = “he founded” or “he shot arrows”) + shaleim.1

Joshua sets up the Israelites’ portable tent-sanctuary in Shiloh, about 20 miles north of Jerusalem, and it remains there for centuries, acquiring stone walls and becoming the main temple of the Israelites.

The city-state of Jerusalem remains an independent Jebusite enclave until King David conquers its citadel and makes it his capital in the second book of Samuel.  Instead of enslaving or subjugating the native Jebusites, David integrates them into his kingdom.  He moves the ark to his new capital in Jerusalem (2 Samuel 6:12-17), and his son Solomon builds the first temple there.

*

The story of Abraham and Malki-Tzedek, set in Shaleim, prefigures the requirement to donate a tithe to the priests in Jerusalem, first mentioned in the book of Leviticus/VayikraShaleim is also were Malki-Tzedek blesses Abraham, as priests later blessed people.

The story of Abraham’s near-sacrifice of Isaac establishes the principle of burnt offerings of animals only, which later became the central form of worship in the temple in Jerusalem.  The  name Moriyah and its folk etymology at the end of this story make this the place where humans see and are seen by God.

So Jerusalem is supposed to be a place of blessing, and a place where humans meet God.

Over the centuries, Jerusalem has occasionally lived up to the promise of its name under Malki-Tzedek, the Hebrew word shaleim = wholeness, peace, and safety.  At other times, too many of the human beings in Jerusalem have been unable to bless or to see each other—and therefore unable to truly bless or perceive the divine.

May the promises of a holy, whole, peaceful, and safe Jerusalem in Lekh Lekha and Vayeira finally come true, speedily and in our time.

  1. In Genesis Rabbah 56:10, Yerushaleim is interpreted as a combination of yir’eh, “He will see [to it],” and shaleim, the city of King Melchizedek in Genesis 14:18.

 

 

Chayyei Sarah (& Lekh-Lekha): A Holy Place

October 21, 2013 at 1:00 pm | Posted in Chayyei Sarah, Lekh Lekha, Vayeira, Vayeitzei | 2 Comments
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What makes a place holy?

The word for “holy”, kadosh, means separated from mundane use, dedicated to God, or simply inspiring religious awe.  Kadosh appears only once in the book of Genesis/Bereishit, in verb form, when God blesses the seventh day of creation and makes it holy.  The word does not show up again until the book of Exodus/Shemot, when Moses stops to look at the burning bush, and God tells him to take off his shoes, because the place where you are standing is holy ground (Exodus 3:5).  Later in Exodus, Mount Sinai becomes holy ground for a whole people.  Eventually the Bible names Jerusalem as a holy city.

Even though there are no places called kadosh, “holy”, in the book of Genesis, there many sites where God makes first contact with a human being.  At two of the locations where God speaks to a human, the human dedicates the spot, and later someone returns to the same place to connect with God.  These places, Be-eir Lachai Ro-i and Beit-El, must surely count as holy!

Isaac and his bride Rebecca meet in a field next to Be-eir Lachai Ro-i (“Well for the Living One Who Sees Me”) in this week’s Torah portion, Chayyei Sarah (“the life of Sarah”).  But it is Hagar, an Egyptian, who first encounters God there.

When Abraham and his wife Sarah leave Egypt in the Torah portion Lekh-Lekha (“Go for Yourself”), Hagar goes with them as Sarah’s servant.  Sarah gives Hagar to her husband for the purpose of producing a child Sarah can adopt.  But once Hagar is pregnant, Sarah abuses her, and Hagar runs away across the Negev Desert, back toward Egypt.  A messenger of God  finds her at a spring, a watering-place by the road.  God speaks to Hagar through the messenger and convinces her to return to Abraham and Sarah.

And she called the name of God, the one speaking to her: You are the God of Ro-i; for she said: Even as far as here, I saw after ro-i! Therefore the be-eir is called Be-eir Lachai Ro-i. (Genesis 16:13-14)

ro-i = seeing me, one who sees me.

be-eir = well, watering-place.

lachai = for the living one.

For Hagar, accustomed to being a pawn in Sarah’s schemes, the most amazing thing is that God actually notices her—and she survives.  Hagar does return, and gives birth to Ishmael.  Sarah adopts Ishmael, but later bears her own son, Isaac, and sends Hagar and Ishmael into exile.

Isaac is 40 years old before the Torah once again mentions Be-eir Lachai Ro-i, the Well of the Living One Who Sees Me.  At this point, Isaac is estranged from his father.  In last week’s Torah portion, Vayeira (“And He Saw”), Abraham bound Isaac as a sacrificial offering, and raised the knife to his son’s throat before a voice from God called him off.  After that, Isaac did not go home with his father.  In this week’s Torah portion, Abraham buries Sarah, Isaac’s mother, without Isaac’s presence.  Then he arranges for Isaac to marry an Aramean without even informing his son.  Apparently they are not on speaking terms.

Abraham lives in Beersheba (Be-eir Sheva), and Isaac lives farther south, in the Negev Desert.

And Isaac, he came from coming to Be-eir Lachai Ro-i, and he himself lived in the land of the Negev.  And Isaac went out lasuach in the field, in the face of the sunset; and he raised his eyes and he saw—hey!  Camels were coming. (Genesis 24:62-63)

lasuach = to ?? (This is the only occurrence of the word in the Bible, and though it is in the form of an infinitive verb, scholars do not agree on its meaning.  Lasuach has been translated as to stroll, to pray, to supplicate, and to meditate.  It might be a variant spelling of the verb siyach = meditate, go over a matter, contemplate something.)

I like the literal translation he came from coming to; it emphasizes that a holy well is a place you come to.  Isaac is avoiding his father, but he comes to the well where God noticed and spoke to Hagar.  Since he has no intention of traveling to Egypt on the road that runs past the well, he must come there because he knows about Hagar’s experience.

Like Hagar, Isaac is used to being overlooked as a person, accustomed to being a pawn in his father’s schemes.  Maybe he hopes that God will notice him at Hagar’s well, or maybe he hopes he will be able to see himself.

Coming from the Well of the Living One Who Sees Me, Isaac heads out into the field at sunset to lasuach.  Maybe Isaac senses the holy presence of God at the well, and he walks back through the field slowly to absorb the experience.

Lost in thought, he raises his eyes and is surprised to see camels approaching.  He is not far from the road between Beersheba and Egypt, but these camels have left the road and are heading across the field toward him.  The first rider to dismount is Rebecca, the bride that Abraham’s servant is bringing to Isaac.  They meet in the field, he loves her, and he begins his new life.

Near the end of the Torah portion, Isaac and his half-brother, Hagar’s son Ishmael, bury Abraham in the family cave to the north.  Then Isaac returns to Hagar’s well.

And it was after the death of Abraham when God blessed Isaac, his son; and he settled next to Be-eir Lachai Ro-i. (Genesis 25:11)

The only other place in the book of Genesis that remains holy years later, under the same name, is Beit-El (sometimes called Bethel in English).  In the upcoming Torah portion Vayeitzei (“And he went”), Jacob stops for the night on his way to Charan and dreams of a stairway between heaven and earth. God speaks to him for the first time.  When Jacob wakes, he says:

Truly God yesh in this place and I, I did not know! And he was awestricken, and he said: How awesome is this place! This is nowhere but Beit El, and this is the gate of the heavens! (Genesis 28:16-17)

yesh = it exists, it is present, there is.

Beit El = the house of God.

For Jacob, the most amazing thing is not that God notices him, but that God exists at all in this world.

Jacob dedicates the spot by setting up a stone pillar and pouring oil over it, and naming it Beit-El.  More than 20 years later, God tells him to return to Beit-El.  Jacob first buries all the idols belonging to his household.  Then he leads them to the spot and builds an altar. God blesses him again, and Jacob pours a libation as well as oil on the stone pillar before moving on.  By returning to the place where God first spoke to him, Jacob rededicates himself to God.

*

Few of us today hear God speaking to us in Biblical Hebrew.  But once in a while, we notice God, or God notices us, and we are amazed.  Suddenly our usual mundane perspective changes, and the world is suffused with new meaning.

Sometimes this happens because a place strikes us as holy, awe-inspiring, connected with God.  It might be a liminal place in nature—the edge of the ocean, deep in a forest, a remote spot with a brilliant night sky.  I have also felt that mysterious awe inside medieval cathedrals, though as a Jew I do not go looking for God there.

Sometimes we go back later, and find God again.  Sometimes we go back and discover that the place seems ordinary now; the holiness was in our own heart.  Either way, it is a blessing to be able to stand on holy ground.

Vayeira & Noach: Drunk and Disorderly

October 16, 2013 at 8:08 pm | Posted in Noach, Vayeira | Leave a comment
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As I read the book of Genesis/Bereishit again this year, I feel sorry for the characters who try to rise to the challenge of walking with God, but are just too limited to keep up. Two of those who fall by the wayside are Noah and Lot, who both attempt to do the right thing, then collapse into drink and incest after they see their worlds destroyed.

Noah begins by following all of God’s directions; he sees God destroy all life on land with the over-the-mountaintop flood. Abraham’s nephew Lot begins by offering hospitality to strangers in this week’s Torah portion, Vayeira (“And he saw”). He sees the strangers, who are actually messengers from God, destroy the city of Sodom and the land around it.

After their respective catastrophes are over, and it is time to build a new life, both men think only about getting drunk.

And Noah began to be the man of the soil, and he planted a vineyard. And he drank some of the wine, and he became drunk, and vayitgal in the middle of his tent. And Cham, the father of Canaan, saw the erat aviv and he told his two brothers outside. (Genesis/Bereishit 9:20-22)

vayitgal = he uncovered himself, exposed himself

erat aviv = nakedness of his father

Noah plans his drunkenness with the foresight of an alcoholic who hides stashes of liquor in strategic places. He has to wait a long time, through planting and harvesting and fermentation, before he gets his first drink after the flood. Although the Torah does not report Noah’s feelings, I imagine he is haunted by the deaths of everyone he knew outside his own immediate family of eight. Perhaps he dreams of children drowning. Perhaps he wishes he had said something to change God’s mind, or found some way to rescue more people.

I suspect that Noah cannot find a way to live with this knowledge and move forward. So he opts to escape into an altered state of consciousness, or unconsciousness.

After becoming drunk, Noah uncovers his nakedness in the middle of his tent. A modern reader might wonder what is so bad about lying down naked in the privacy of your tent—even if one of your sons barges in and accidentally sees you.

But in the Torah, to “uncover the nakedness” of someone is a euphemism for a sexual act. The book of Leviticus/Vayikra devotes thirteen verses to listing close relatives whose nakedness you must not uncover, using the same words for “uncovering” and “nakedness” as the passage above.

The implication is that Noah and his son Cham (whose name means “heat”) are guilty of some illicit sexual act. Furthermore, Noah begins it, by “uncovering himself”. Yet Noah shifts all the blame to his son.

And Noah woke up from his wine, and he knew what his youngest son had done to him. (Genesis 9:24)

Noah expresses his anger at Cham by cursing Cham’s son Canaan. Alas, it is a common human reaction to reject your own guilt by lashing out at someone else.

In this week’s Torah portion, Lot and his daughters act out a different version of the drunken incest theme.

Lot, like Noah, means well. His story begins with a good deed; when two messengers from God, disguised as ordinary men, come to the city of Sodom, Lot goes out of his way to give them hospitality and treat them with respect and kindness—just as his uncle Abraham did in the previous scene in this week’s Torah portion. After Lot has brought the strangers home and fed them, the men of Sodom converge on Lot’s house and demand that he bring out his guests, so that they can “know” them.

Just as it never occurs to Noah to question God’s plan to wipe out the earth, it never occurs to Lot that there might be an alternative to sacrificing two people to the mob. Since his two guests are out of the question, Lot steps outside and offers the would-be rapists his two virgin daughters instead.

Maybe Lot is so terrified of his neighbors that he cannot think straight. But we can still question his impulse to sacrifice his daughters—and perhaps after the crisis is over, Lot is tormented by remembering his own behavior.

The mob outside ignores Lot’s proposed substitution of rape objects, and crowd forward to break down the door. The messengers from God save the day (or night) by pulling Lot inside and blinding the men outside. Then they tell Lot that God has sent them to destroy the whole city, and they order Lot to flee with his family.

Lot panics, and at dawn he is still dithering in his house. The messengers grab him, his wife, and their two daughters by the hand and lead them outside the city. They tell Lot to save himself by escaping to the mountain, without stopping or looking back.

When God rains sulfur and fire down from the heavens, Lot’s wife looks back and turns into a pillar of salt, but Lot hurries on. He settles into a cave on the mountain with his two daughters.

And the elder said to the younger: Our father is old, and there is no man on the earth to marry us as the way of all the earth. Come, we will give our father a drink of wine, and we will lie down with him, and we will keep alive seed from our father. So they gave their father wine to drink that night, and the elder came, and she lay down with her father, and he did not know when she was lying down or when she was getting up. (Genesis 19:31-33)

They repeat the procedure the next night, with the younger daughter as the seed collector. And once again the Torah claims Lot did not know when she was lying down or when she was getting up. Both women become pregnant, as they planned.

Many commentators have pointed out that preserving a man’s lineage is a high value in the Torah, and concluded that Lot’s daughters were doing the right thing. But if incest were truly the right behavior in their situation, they would simply ask their father to cooperate, without resorting to wine. Lot may not have read the Torah’s prohibition against “uncovering the nakedness of your father”, but he obviously knows that incest, like mistreating a stranger, is wrong.

The Torah appears to view Lot as innocent of incest by reason of unconsciousness. Yet it is Lot’s decision to keep drinking the wine until he passes out; even two strong young women could not force it down his throat.

And where did the wine come from? The Midrash Rabbah, a collection of commentary from Talmudic times, speculates that either the Sodomites stored wine in distant mountain caves, or the wine appeared miraculously. However, I agree with modern commentator Jonathan Kirsch that Lot probably grabs some wine when they pass through the village of Zoar on the way to the mountain. Like Noah, Lot would anticipate a need for escape from sanity after the catastrophe. And as in Noah’s story, the Torah blames Lot’s subsequent sexual misdeed on his children.

It is easy for me to judge both Noah and Lot harshly. But if God gave me orders, would I have the imagination or the courage to talk back? If I were faced with a mob of evil men, would I have the imagination or the courage to divert them safely? I have lots of imagination—except when it comes to my own problems. I’m learning courage, but I still prefer avoidance.

If all my friends, most of my family, and every familiar thing in my life were suddenly wiped out, would I have the imagination and courage to build a new life from nothing? I think I would, but how do I know?

When life becomes unbearable, do I stick with reality and avoid any drugs of escape? Cookies don’t count, do they?

When something bad happens between two people, do I duck responsibility by blaming it on the other guy? Never—except for when I am fixated on escaping the situation.

As I read the book of Genesis/Bereishit again this year, I feel sorry for the characters who try to rise to the challenge of walking with God, but are just too limited to keep up. I might be one of them.

Vayeira: Seeing Angels

October 30, 2012 at 11:03 am | Posted in Vayeira | 2 Comments

Three Visitors, by James Tissot (one is God)

How do you deal with an angel who looks like a man?  What if even God looks like a man?

Sometimes in the Torah God speaks directly to a human being.  Sometimes God speaks through an intermediary, a malakh = messenger, emissary.  (The Hebrew word malakh is often translated as “angel” in English, although it bears little resemblance to an angel in our popular culture.)

A messenger/malakh of God can manifest as a voice “from the heavens” (to Hagar and Abraham), and as someone who looks like a man (to Abraham, Lot, Hagar, Jacob, and probably Joseph).  In this week’s Torah portion, Vayeira (“And it appeared”), men who are really divine messengers appear first to Abraham, then to his nephew Lot.

God appeared to him [Abraham] at the great trees of Mamre; he himself  was sitting at the entrance of the tent in the heat of the day.  He lifted his eyes and saw–hey!–three men were standing over him.  He saw, and he ran  from the entrance of the tent to greet them, and he bowed to the ground.  He said: Please, Adonai, if I find favor in your eyes, please don’t pass by your servant. (Genesis 18:1-3)

Adonai (אֲדֺנָי) = my lords; My Lord (a name of God).

Abraham’s words are ambiguous. By saying “my lords” to three strange men, he is treating them as people of high rank.  Does he do this because he is a polite host?  Or does he know he is actually addressing God and a pair of God’s messengers?

He rushes around, preparing a delicious meal for the three “men”.  He recruits his wife Sarah to bake cakes, and his teenage boy (either a slave, or his son Ishmael, who is 13) to slaughter a tender calf.  The three men eat, or appear to eat.  Then one of them declares that Abraham’s wife Sarah will have a baby.    Inside the tent, Sarah laughs; she is 89 years old.

Then God said to Abraham: Why is it that Sarah laughed? … Is it too extraordinary a thing, from God? (Genesis 18:13-14)

Abraham expresses no surprise that now God is talking to him, though the three “men” are still present.

And the men got up from there, and they looked down on the face of Sodom, and Abraham was walking with them to send them off.  And God said: … Because the outcry of Sodom and Gomorrah is great, and because their wrongdoing is very heavy, I will go down … (Genesis 18:16-21)

But it is the “men” who go down to Sodom, while Abraham argues with God.

The men turned their faces away from there and they went to Sodom, when Abraham was still standing before God. (Genesis 18:22)

After Abraham convinces God to refrain from destroying Sodom if there are even ten righteous people in the city,

God left as [God] finished speaking to Abraham, and Abraham returned to his place. And the two malakhim came to Sodom in the evening, and Lot was sitting in the gate of Sodom, and Lot saw, and he got up to greet them, and he bowed to them, face to the ground. (Genesis 18:33-19:1)

malakhim (מַלְאָכִים) = messengers, emissaries.  (Plural of malakh.)

Lot bows to the ground before the men just like his uncle Abraham.  He begs them to come home with him for the night.  Like Abraham, Lot calls the men adonai, which could mean either “my lords” (men of rank) or “My Lord” (God).  Lot prepares a drinking-feast for the two messengers, with matzah he bakes himself.  Unlike Abraham, he does not ask his wife or his children to participate in welcoming the guests.  That night, all the men of Sodom surround Lot’s house.

Lot Prevents the Sodomites from Raping the Angels, by Heinrich Aldegrever, 1555

And they called to Lot and they said to him: Where are the men who came to you tonight?  Bring them out to us, and we will “know” them. (Genesis 19:5)

The men of Sodom do not see divine messengers, only strangers who can be degraded through rape.  Lot steps out, closing the door behind himself, and asks the men of Sodom not to do evil.  Then he says:

Hey, please, I have two daughters who have not known a man.  I will bring them out to you, please, and do to them what is good in your eyes.  Only don’t do a thing to the men of God … (Genesis 19:10)

Does Lot think his two guests are prophets, and therefore “men of God”?  Or does he know they are malakhim, God’s emissaries?

The last thing the men of Sodom see, before they are blinded by a dazzling light, is the “men” stretching out their hands and pulling Lot back into the house.  The two “men” urge Lot to collect his married daughters and their families, so they can all flee together before disaster strikes.  Now their words make it clear that they are God’s instruments, not ordinary men.

For we are destroying this place, because the outcry is great before God, and God sent us to destroy it. (Genesis 19:13)

But Lot cannot persuade his sons-in-law to flee.  When he returns to his house, the two “messengers” urge Lot to leave at once with his wife and his two unmarried daughters.  Lot hesitates, so the “men” grasp all four people by their hands and pull them out of the city.  Once Lot, his wife, and his two daughters are out of range, it is “God” who rains sulfur and fire on Sodom.

*

Both Abraham and Lot recognize the strangers as messengers of God.  What strikes me is that Abraham not only recognizes God, but also recognizes the importance of his own wife and boy.  By telling them to help prepare the banquet, he is acknowledging that they, too, have a stake in this visit from the divine.  He speaks to everyone: his own family, the three strange men, and God.

Lot, on the other hand, speaks only to God’s messengers and the men of Sodom.  He prepares drink and matzah for the divine messengers without saying a word to his wife or his daughters.  When he faces the men of Sodom outside his house, he shuts the door to protect God’s messengers, but he offers his daughters to the mob.

Lot reminds me of people I have met who act as if their relationship with God is more important than their relationships with human beings.  Abraham, at the beginning of this Torah portion, is a model of someone who lives comfortably with both humans and God, who speaks to everyone, respects everyone, and is generous with everyone.  He loses his balance later in his life; but at that moment, in the grove of Mamre, he values both God and human beings.

Whether we recognize God’s messengers or not, may we all become more like Abraham in Mamre, and less like Lot in Sodom.

Lekh-Lekha & Vayeira: Going with the Voice

November 1, 2011 at 10:59 pm | Posted in Lekh Lekha, Vayeira | 4 Comments

The phrase lekh-lekha appears only twice in the Torah.  Both times God is telling Abraham to do something radical.

The Caravan of Abraham, by James Tissot

The first time God says lekh-lekha is in his first request of Abraham, at the beginning of this week’s Torah portion (called “Lekh-lekha”):

God said to Abraham: “Lekh-lekha , away from your land, and away from your birthplace, and away from the house of your father, to the land that I will show you.”  (Genesis/Bereishit 12:1) 

lekh (לֶךְ) = Go! 

lekha (לְךָ) =  for yourself, to yourself.

lekh-lekha (לְךְ־לְךָ) = Go for yourself!  Go to yourself!  Go, yourself!  Get going!  

God’s final request to Abraham, in the Torah portion Vayeira (“And he appeared”), contains the same phrase.

And [God] said:  “Please take your son, your only one, whom you love, Isaac; and lekh-lekha to the land of the Moriyah, and bring him up there for a burnt offering upon one of the mountains, which I will tell to you.” (Genesis 22:2)

God’s first request seems difficult but relatively benign.  Yes, Abraham leaves his father and his familiar life.  But he takes along his wife Sarah, his nephew Lot, a lot of personal property, and a number of servants or followers.  Although he is venturing into a strange land to find himself,  he has the benefit of both resources and a party of people of his choosing.  He also has the reassurance of knowing his brother Nachor has remained in Charan to take care of their elderly father, Terach.

French, 13th century

God’s final request, on the other hand, seems impossibly horrific.  Abraham must cut the throat of his son and heir, and burn him up as an offering to God.  In dire circumstances, chieftains in the Middle East did sacrifice their own sons to prevent national disaster.But at this point in the story of Abraham, his small clan is living peacefully at Beer-sheva, with no threat in sight.

So Abraham knows that although he will prove something to God and himself by sacrificing Isaac, his own people and his neighbors will probably think he is a lunatic.  He also knows that his wife Sarah is so attached to Isaac that she will either die of shock or become his bitterest enemy.  Nevertheless he leaves early in the morning with his son and three servants, without speaking to Sarah and without telling the servants what kind of offering he is planning.

God’s final request leaves Abraham without aid or comfort from anyone.   At this point Abraham only has two family members at home: his wife Sarah, and their son Isaac.  (He has already sent away his concubine Hagar and their son Ishmael.  His nephew Lot separated from him long ago.)  By sacrificing Isaac, Abraham will lose the rest of his family: his wife and his remaining son.

Yet God’s two requests, one benign and one disastrous, are related.  Not only do both requests use the unusual term lekh-lekha, but both of them also use a series of phrases that increase Abraham’s emotional stake in obeying.  In the first request, God asks Abraham to leave not just his country, but also the culture he grew up with, and even his own birth family.  In the final request, God asks Abraham to sacrifice not just his son, but his only child (now that Ishamel is exiled), the son he loves.

Both sentences with the phrase lekh-lekha also leave Abraham’s destination a mystery.  The first time, God does not even tell Abraham that he should head for Canaan; he must blindly go to “the land that I will show you”.  The second time, God tells Abraham to go to the land of Moriyah (a place name that may be related to the word marah,  “something shown”) and promises to point out the right mountain to Abraham when he arrives.  Both times, Abraham must start out on his mission trusting God to reveal where it will end.

Furthermore, both of God’s orders come at times when Abraham has a settled life and there is no emergency.  When Abraham first hears God say lekh-lekha, he is simply living in Charan with his extended family.  (Later commentary invented stories about his dramatic youth there as an idol-smasher, but the Torah itself says nothing.)  And when Abraham hears God say lekh-lekha again, he and his people have been living at Beer-sheva for “many years”.

Both times, when nothing in particular is happening, Abraham hears God speak to him out of the blue.  Maybe lekh lekha does mean “Get going!”, since both times Abraham responds by rousing himself and taking an action that changes his whole life.

Rashi wrote that lekh-lekha meant “Go for yourself”, i.e. for your own benefit.2  He pointed out that God promised Abraham many descendants, a famous name, and blessing in return for leaving Charan and going to God’s undisclosed destination.

But surely Abraham would not benefit from sacrificing Isaac, his son and heir.

The sacrifice is not completed; an angel of God stops Abraham at the last minute, when he is holding his knife over Isaac’s throat.  But Abraham’s willingness to sacrifice his own son causes lifelong psychological trauma for Isaac.  Although Abraham arranges a marriage for his younger son, there is no indication in the Torah that he and Isaac ever see one another again.

Furthermore, after the attempted sacrifice, the next story in the book of Genesis is about the death of Abraham’s wife Sarah.3  Although Abraham eventually remarries, the death of Sarah probably weighs on him.

*

Lekh-lekha!

How do you know whether the apparently divine voice in your head is summoning you to an adventure, or to a nightmare?  How do you know whether it is ethical to follow that call?

Maybe you experience a divine call as an urgent need to change your life, even though you do not know where the need comes from, or where you will end up if you act on it.  Suppose you ignore this inner voice, this inner god.  Will you feel ashamed for the rest of your life that you did not rise to the challenge?

Suppose you do heed the call.  Will you become a revered leader and the founder of a new way of life, like Abraham?  Or will you become a crazy person ready to sacrifice his own child—like Abraham?

Listen carefully.

  1. For example, in 2 Kings 3:27, when the king of Moab is losing to the invading armies of Israel, Judah, and Edom, he sacrifices his son and heir as a burnt offering, and the invaders retreat.
  2. Rashi is the acronym of 11th-century rabbi Shlomoh Yitzchaki.
  3. The story of Abraham’s near-sacrifice of Isaac is Genesis 22:1-19.  Then there is a brief genealogical interlude, Genesis 22:20-24.  The story of Sarah’s funeral begins with Genesis 23:1.
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