2004It's too bad we get only a week for this parsha. It's jam-packed.
Fathers, Mothers, Sons, and Daughters
Take a look at what we have here:
- the promise of a son for Sarah and the birth of Isaac
- the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah
- Lot, his daughters, and too much alcohol
- the abduction of Sarah
- the expulsion of Hagar and Ishmael
- the binding of Isaac
I pick out only two parts to highlight here.
One is the colossal confrontation between Abraham and God over the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah. God chooses to inform His friend Abraham of His plans to do this, but Abraham objects. "Will you destroy the righteous along with the wicked? ... Shall not the Judge of all the earth deal justly" (Genesis 18: 23 and 25)
These are astounding questions. They provoke further ones that we need to ask and try to answer: Why does God choose to consult with Abraham in the first place? Would not God, being God, be quite enfranchised to operate unilaterally?
Could it be that God needs or wants Abraham's approval? That God needs man as much as man needs God? It's clear that the Torah, and the whole Bible for that matter, makes it clear that the relationship between God and man is a two-way street. That's why Abraham argues with God. It is one of the most glorious aspects of our tradition that we can argue with God! Check out the book of Job for the full development of this point.
Another "not to be missed" part of this parsha is, of course, the story of the binding of Isaac (the Akedah). No story in the Bible, no story in world literature, has attracted more commentary than this one, and for good reason. The text is unbelievably laconic - it reports the actions of Abraham and Isaac but never tells us what they were thinking. Those gaps are for the reader to fill in.
What's the point of this story anyway? That faith in God, submitting to God's command, overrides everything - even the life of one's child? That the God of the Torah does not want human sacrifice?
Another thing: What happened to Isaac? Father and son went to Mt. Moriah together, but only Abraham returned (v. 19).
And where was Sarah? What was her take on all this? We neither see nor hear a thing about her.
Considered in contemporary terms, the story is troubling. I always wonder: Was this child abuse? Must the younger generation always be sacrificed to the vision their parents impose on them? The Stanford anthropologist Carol Delaney wrote a whole book on the Akedah as a signature story for Judaism, Christianity and Islam ("Abraham on Trial," 1998). At the end of her study, she asks: "Why is the willingness to sacrifice the child, rather than the passionate protection of the child, at the foundation of faith? I ask that people imagine how our society would have evolved if protection of the child had been the model of faith" (252f).
Prepared by Rabbi James S. Diamond, senior consultant to the Meyerhoff Center
Additional commentaries and text studies on Parshat Va'yera at MyJewishLearning.com.