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Rosh HaShana – The Akedah – More Family Dysfunction

Posted by Henric C. Jensen on September 8, 2007


Bereshit/Genesis 22:1-18

1. And it came to pass after these things, that God tested Abraham, and He said to him, “Abraham,” and he said, “Here I am.” 2. And He said, “Please take your son, your only one, whom you love, yea, Isaac, and go away to the land of Moriah and bring him up there for a burnt offering on one of the mountains, of which I will tell you.” 3. And Abraham arose early in the morning, and he saddled his donkey, and he took his two young men with him and Isaac his son; and he split wood for a burnt offering, and he arose and went to the place of which God had told him. 4. On the third day, Abraham lifted up his eyes and saw the place from afar. 5. And Abraham said to his young men, “Stay here with the donkey, and I and the lad will go yonder, and we will prostrate ourselves and return to you.” 6. And Abraham took the wood for the burnt offering, and he placed [it] upon his son Isaac, and he took into his hand the fire and the knife, and they both went together. 7. And Isaac spoke to Abraham his father, and he said, “My father!” And he said, “Here I am, my son.” And he said, “Here are the fire and the wood, but where is the lamb for the burnt offering?” 8. And Abraham said, “God will provide for Himself the lamb for the burnt offering, my son.” And they both went together. 9. And they came to the place of which God had spoken to him, and Abraham built the altar there and arranged the wood, and he bound Isaac his son and placed him on the altar upon the wood. 10. And Abraham stretched forth his hand and took the knife, to slaughter his son. 11. And an angel of God called to him from heaven and said, “Abraham! Abraham!” And he said, “Here I am.” 12. And he said, “Do not stretch forth your hand to the lad, nor do the slightest thing to him, for now I know that you are a God fearing man, and you did not withhold your son, your only one, from Me.” 13. And Abraham lifted up his eyes, and he saw, and lo! there was a ram, [and] after [that] it was caught in a tree by its horns. And Abraham went and took the ram and offered it up as a burnt offering instead of his son. 14. And Abraham named that place, The Lord will see, as it is said to this day: On the mountain, the Lord will be seen. 15. And an angel of the Lord called to Abraham a second time from heaven. 16. And he said, “By Myself have I sworn, says the Lord, that because you have done this thing and you did not withhold your son, your only one, 17. That I will surely bless you, and I will greatly multiply your seed as the stars of the heavens and as the sand that is on the seashore, and your descendants will inherit the cities of their enemies.18. And through your children shall be blessed all the nations of the world, because you hearkened to My voice.”

No passage in Torah is so baffling as the text describing G-d commanding Avraham to sacrifice his very precious son Yitzhak. The traditional understanding of the text is that G-d is testing Avraham’s faith and trust in Him. Nothing wrong with that per se, if it weren’t two things:

1. G-d abhors human sacrifice, so much so that He forbids it.

Vay/Lev 18:21 “And thou shalt not give any of thy seed to set them apart to Molech, neither shalt thou profane the name of thy God: I am the LORD.” – What was the manner in which people sacrificed their off-spring to Molech? Through fire: 2Ki 23:10 “And he defiled Topheth, which is in the valley of the son of Hinnom, that no man might make his son or his daughter to pass through the fire to Molech.”

2. Going along with something that is against G-d’s known nature is not anywhere like Avraham, an Avraham who argues with G-d over the righteous in Sodom, and actually question the sanity of G-d when G-d proposes to destroy the city!

Bereshit/Gen 18:23-25 “And Abraham drew near, and said: ‘Wilt Thou indeed sweep away the righteous with the wicked? Peradventure there are fifty righteous within the city; wilt Thou indeed sweep away and not forgive the place for the fifty righteous that are therein? That be far from Thee to do after this manner, to slay the righteous with the wicked, that so the righteous should be as the wicked; that be far from Thee; shall not the judge of all the earth do justly?’

Here’s G-d suggesting that His most trusted servant do exactly what He abhors most, sacrifice his own son through Fire, and that most trusted servant goes along with it, although he is known to have no qualms about reminding G-d Himself of His Law? It simply doesn’t fit, it makes absolutely no sense.

So, this text, the Akedah, doesn’t make any sense whatsoever – it’s out of character for both G-d and Avraham, then how are we to understand this?

I am going to go against tradition on this one and suggest that we read the text as something that takes place on an inner plane – inside Avraham.

What if this is not for G-d’s benefit, but for Avraham’s benefit? G-d knows just how much He can trust Avraham (He would, being G-d and all), but what if Avraham is slowly loosing it, or thinks he might be loosing it, and G-d needs a fool-proof way to convince Avraham that he is willing to go any length for G-d? That Avraham can trust Avraham? Loosing it wouldn’t be farfetched in Avraham’s situation – living on a mere promise for decades as he had. So G-d creates a small scenario – it’s not like He hasn’t before, in fact such a scenario is implicated in the passage about Avraham questioning G-d’s sanity in Bereshit/Gen. 18:33. “And the LORD went His way, as soon as He had left off speaking to Abraham; and Abraham returned unto his place” Avraham spoke, G-d spoke – it seems they were having a personal up close conversation. Yet, we know that Torah cannot contradict itself, so Avraham actually speaking face to face with G-d wouldn’t fit what G-d says to Moshe: Shemot/Exo. 33:20 “And He said: ‘Thou canst not see My face, for man shall not see Me and live.'”

This to me indicates that we are indeed dealing with some sort of Inner Conversation, where G-d and Avraham is playing out a scenario that will eventually convince Avraham that he indeed measures up to G-d’s standards.

Another way of reading this text is through the lens of Baruch Sienna at Kolel.org. which would put this text into the catergory of “Torah passages that tells us what NOT to do, through being hideous”.

Avraham is indeed loosing it – it’s been decades since he got the promise, and nothing has happened, except him loosing one son because his wife got jealous, and the second son still too young to be of any use in bringing his tribe to fruition. It would have me chewing on the tent walls, I tell you! So what if Avraham truly went mad? What if he decides to force G-d’s hand and somehow gets the idea that human sacrifice will get the attention of the Almighty? Or is he simply hearing voices? After all he is used to G-d speaking to his mind every now and then, so…

He packs up his son Yitzhak and starts trekking the mountains, finds a spot that fits, and builds an altar, whacks Yitzhak over the head ties him up and starts to sacrifice him, in an attempt to force G-d to acknowledge him – and G-d, because He is G-d, hates human sacrifice and needs Yitzhak to bring His promise to completion breaks through the walls of insanity and stops Avraham’s craziness, and gives him means to do it the right way?

So what can we learn from this different way of reading the Akedah?

Not everything that sounds like G-d is G-d speaking – Torah cannot contradict Torah, and when it does, it’s because we are reading it either too narrowly or too broadly. We have to use Ben Bag Bag’s advice “Turn it and turn it again, because all is in it!” until what we read makes sense, is logical and in tune with the rest of Torah.

When we fail to trust our mental and intellectual faculties and mess up – G-d will break through our wall of insanity and put things right.

L’Shanah Tovah Tikatevu

Another view on the Akedah

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7 Responses to “Rosh HaShana – The Akedah – More Family Dysfunction”

  1. yaelbatsarah said

    This is a horrifying story on one level, but there are so many fascinating ideas in this one short story. I suppose it’s chosen for Rosh Hashanah due to the ram’s horn, but wow, it really gets a person to thinking right off the bat in the new year.

    Here’s something funny for you. Four years ago Rosh Hashanah was the first I’d ever attended. Rabbi had us get into small groups and discuss the Akedah. Me, I came from a fundie Christian background. God says do this, Abraham did it. Good for him. Next. I was so startled listening to the other people in my group. Not one of them took such a simple view of the story. I felt like such an idiot! For the longest time I thought I’d never see anything but what I learned in church, but the day I came out of the mikvah was the day I started thinking like a Jew. It was quite a transformation.

    Maybe now I get too extreme at times, but I think God prefers that to how I was before. At least now God has something with which to work!

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  2. *lol*

    I used to cringe at this story, especially right after encountering Judaism and setting out on that path – because I was taught that this is a “prophetic story” alluding to, well, yeah…can’t even make myself say it… Which doesn’t make sense either, because if it was a prophetic allusion to “you-know-what” then why on earth (or in heaven) would G-d stop Avraham?!

    I love studying the weekly parasha and write my little divrei torot, and I have been saving up to this one *lol*.

    Did you know that the Sages says that not only does our understanding of Torah need to be logical, sensible and in tune with the rest of Torah – it needs to be “Pleasing to the mind…”as well – I went looking for the source on that, and the Forum where I got that has been moved…so I can’t find the Text. Sorry.

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  3. yaelbatsarah said

    because if it was a prophetic allusion to “you-know-what” then why on earth (or in heaven) would G-d stop Avraham?!

    Yeah, all those types and shadows don’t quite pan out under close scrutiny now do they?

    I’d rather struggle with Torah than just look for hints of one person everywhere.

    One more story for you….I had a co-worker who used to bug me all the time saying that you-know-who was clearly seen in Torah and she would be only too happy to point those places out to me. I told her I studied in seminary and no doubt knew her texts at least as well as she did, probably even better, but she wouldn’t go away! One day her persistence finally paid off. I agreed with her that her guy was clearly seen in Torah, in fact I saw him almost right at the start. She was so thrilled! Where did you see him, she asked? Right there in the garden. He was the snake! Well, you can imagine the look on her face. Makes sense to me though. Didn’t the snake get them to go against God’s command? Sounds like the perfect ‘prophetic allusion’ to me!

    Now when people try to tell me he’s in Torah I just readily agree and save myself further hassles. Obviously there’s not much hope for someone who equates their guy with the snake…. LOL Works for me!

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  4. *applause* *lol*

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  5. yaelbatsarah said

    We got to hold our own ya know

    Like

  6. […] The Parasha/Dvar Torah for the Second Day of Rosh HaShana: Rosh HaShana – The Akedah – More Family Dysfunction […]

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  7. WeiseeMuh said

    I agreed with you

    Like

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