A close look at the murders on the list reveals that the
majority of these people were African American women, killed in the South. The
sad reality is that these murders often go unsolved. Because of this, we do not
know the definitive motivations for these deaths. But we can presume two causes: White
Supremacy and Religious Extremism, both of which are on the rise in the US and
globally in the current era.
I would like to focus on religious extremism from the
standpoint of our Torah readings. Last Shabbat we read Parashat Vayeira,
which coincidentally was my B’Mitzvah
parasha. It is also the source of the Torah readings for Rosh HaShanna, so
the text is very familiar. To me, Sefer Bereshit, the Book of Genesis,
is the most difficult book in Tanakh, the Hebrew Bible, and this Parasha,
this section, is the most difficult parasha.
We find that God reveals to Abraham the plan to destroy Sodom
and ‘Amorah. Abraham then bargains with God to save the cities, if only
a few righteous people are found, starting at 50, and working his way down to
ten. At one point he says to God, Hallila Lakh, it would be a
desecration of Your Name, to do this.
Yet, in Parashat Lekh L’kha, read two weeks prior,
and twice in Vayeira, when God tells Abraham to drive out Hagar and
Ishmael, and when God tells Abraham to offer Isaac as a sacrifice, Abraham
doesn’t argue with God, he doesn’t tell God this would be a desecration of the
Divine Name. His response? He gets up early in the morning and eagerly does
Further, Jewish tradition tells us that Abraham studied and
followed ALL of Torah in the Academies of Shem and Eber. I have a huge problem with this tradition.
Surely if this were so, Abraham would have challenged God, saying, “Are You not
going to prohibit child sacrifice? This would be a HUGE desecration of Your
Holy Name!” But Abraham does not do this. He speedily and eagerly carries out
One Midrash even states that Abraham actually DID kill
Isaac. It was only through the resurrection of the dead, a theme repeated in
last week’s Haftarah, or prophetic reading, that Isaac survived.
So, if we examine the outcome of the Aqeida, the
binding of Isaac we see some startling results.
Our tradition teaches that Abraham passed this tenth and final Divine
test, but did he really?
- When Abraham goes back down
the mountain afterwards, Isaac does not go with him
- The Torah never records
Isaac speaking to Abraham again.
The Torah never records God
speaking to Abraham again.
And moving into Parashat Hayyei Sarah, this
Shabbat’s reading, we find that Sarah dies immediately after the Aqeida.
In Rabbi Yishmael’s Barraita on homiletics we learn that adjacent sections of
Biblical texts are thematically related. We can thus presume then that the Aqeida
was the proximal cause of Sarah’s death.
Further, when we next encounter Isaac in the Parasha,
in the fifth reading, he is found in B’er L’hai Ro’i. This is
critical. This is where Hagar, his co-mother, and Ishmael, his half-brother
live. Presumably Isaac was so
traumatized by the events of the Aqeida that he went to live with Hagar
because he needed motherly comfort. The text states that when he married
Rebecca he was comforted for the loss of his mother.
The Rambam, Rabbi Moses Maimonides, teaches in Hilchot
De’ot, the Laws of Human Characteristics, Chapter 1 Law 4, that we are to
take a middle of the road approach to all of our characteristics. We are not to
deviate from that in any way in either direction, because to do so can lead to
disaster. Those who follow this law are considered wise.
Only a few very righteous people are able to take extreme
positions. Note that while permission is
given to deviate from this middle permission, that does not mean that it is required.
The Rambam goes out of his way to emphasize how important the middle of
the road position is.
We see elsewhere in Torah, such as in the case of taking the
captive war bride, that permission is given because human nature is understood.
This doesn’t mean it is encouraged, and in fact the Torah states that bad
things will happen if one does this.
The same is true here. If one takes any extreme position,
bad things will occur. Such is the case
with Abraham. He took an extreme
position in his relationship with God, and he lost everything that was
important to him.
In Avot, the last book of the Talmud we are
told to turn it and turn it because everything is in it. We cannot take Torah
at face value, but rather we must challenge it deeply. Such is the case here. It is easy to take our tradition for granted.
But when anyone takes religious traditions for granted, tragedies occur, be
they the Aqeida or senseless killings by people who claim to be
defending God’s honor.
We are obligated to save lives over all Torah commandments,
so we must challenge the traditions and texts such as the Aqeida.
We pray for a time when we no longer need to mourn over the
loss of anyone killed through Sinat Hinam, senseless hatred.