Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Was I listening closely enough?

What I heard our Rabbi say  “This Torah portion upsets me,” said our Rabbi, as he began a discussion about Abraham climbing Mt. Moriah to sacrifice his son Isaac. At least that’s what I think our Rabbi said. Aside from the story being so complex, his concern is that it is also dark and foreboding. 
If the father of the Jewish religion is to be revered, his willingness to sacrifice his son may send up red flags. “Some say that the voice he heard telling him not to sacrifice his son was actually Sarah’s agonizing scream that demanded that Abraham leave his son unharmed.” Our Rabbi said that too.
I grimaced when I thought of Abraham. His God was unpredictable; Abraham had no idea what to expect other than His demand that Abraham be blindly obedient. Although Abraham was a man of great faith and trust, what he was about to do to Isaac was going to break Abraham’s heart, a heart already in distress from having permanently lost his other son, his beloved Ishmael.
Whether Abraham is merely doing God’s bidding is a grave concern. Would a loving God have a man commit such an atrocity? Is there no other satisfactory way to prove one’s faith? 
Why does such a troubling portion of our Torah begin our New Year? Where is the promise,the encouragement to find meaning, to prosper, to reflect on the human condition? It seems, instead, that there is a message involving grief: it is unavoidable.
Abraham seems to be charged with what he must do. He must prove that nothing is more important that his faith in God. What is Isaac’s role? To be completely obedient to his father? Or must he make a separate peace, away from his father’s constraints? Must he redefine his relationship with the same God?
If so, does Isaac remind us that, with each generation, a new agreement with God must be made, perhaps one that is gentler, kindler, more amenable and more life-preserving?
About our children, what are we to think? If Ishmael was as upset and aggrieved about being removed from his father as Abraham was about losing him, is that supposed to remind us that parents are vitally important to their children, and vice versa?
As this Jewish New Year progresses, my hope is that this topic will be addressed again and again, on a worldwide forum. During this New Year, my first without my father, I must ask whether my interpretation of God’s intentions is absolutely crucial in the sense that it will guide me to be a better father, one who believes that Abraham’s painful confrontation sealed the bond with God that I can choose to build on.
Without the dramatic agony of Abraham and Sarah, without the grief Abraham never shed,  I can choose to foster the light that came after, can nurture those sparks of hope and achievement, of love and faith that my children bring to our world.  
                                                   B. Koplen 10/25/11
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