Parashat Vayera: Our Isaac.

2016-10-03-22-03-22The story of the Akeidah, the “Binding” of Isaac, is certainly one of the most terrifying and troubling accounts in all of the Torah. The Rabbis since the dawn of Rabbinical discussion have been arguing its merits and problems. How could the same Abraham who argued with God to save Sodom and Gomorrah have acceded passively to God’s demand that he sacrifice his favourite son? Whose test was it … a test of Abraham, or a test of God? Where was Sarah in this whole story? What did Abraham think about for three days while he journeyed to the place that God promised to show him for the sacrifice? How could an Israelite and Prophetic tradition which decries human sacrifice reconcile Abraham’s willingness to sacrifice a human child to his God? How could such a “test” of Abraham’s love for God be taken seriously? The questions mount up.

It is particularly powerful, that this short Torah account continues to captivate our hearts and imagination in every generation. In his book, The Last Trial, the scholar Shalom Spiegel points out that in the Middle Ages, the murdered Jews of those oppressed generations wrote intricate poems based on the midrashim (rabbinical stories) that claimed that Abraham, in fact, sacrificed Isaac who was then brought back to life! For them, the story symbolised at once the horror and hope of resisting anti-Semitism.

In our own times, artists and poets have continued to find resonance and meaning in the Akeidah. The artist George Segal, when asked to create a sculpture to memorialise the anti-Vietnam War Student demonstrators killed at Kent State University, created his unforgettable 1978 sculpture, Abraham and Isaac. In bronze images, he portrays the figures of an American workman with his knife at the throat of a student wearing love beads and shorts: it is the older generation, he seems to say, that sends their children to war. It is the children who die. Last week, on November 4, represents the yahrzeits, which is intimately tied up with our parshah. 04 November is the anniversary of the assassination of Prime Minister Yizhak Rabin. At the funeral, U.S. President Bill Clinton, in his famous “Shalom Chaver” speech, was the speaker to refer to the Parshah, pointing out the near sacrifice of the Biblical Isaac, and lamenting the sacrifice of “our Isaac”.

Shabbat Shalom – Rabbi Adrian M Schell

(Source: Rabbi Jody Hirsh)

Podcast of Rabbi Schell’s weekly Sermons Tuesdays on Radio Today (10h30) or:

Torah Reading for Vayera
Genesis 18:1-22:24 (Gen 22:1-24) Plaut p. 123; Hertz p. 63
Haftarah: 2 Kings 4:1-37 Plaut p.149; Hertz 76
In our Parasha
•Abraham welcomes three visitors, who announce that Sarah will soon have a son.
•In the next episode Abraham argues with God about the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah.
•While Lot’s home is attacked by the people of Sodom. Lot and his two daughters escape as the cities are being destroyed. Lot’s wife is turned into a pillar of salt.
•Out of fear that the family would not have an heir, Lot impregnates his daughters, and they bear children who become the founders of the nations Moab and Ammon.
•God fulfils his promise to Abraham by granting him and Sarah a son. Isaac is born, circumcised, and raised. Hagar and her son, Ishmael, are sent away; an angel saves their lives.
•In the concluding part of our parasha God tests Abraham, instructing him to sacrifice Isaac on Mount Moriah.

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