Torah Study Notes 11-8-14

November 8, 201

p. 135

Rabbi R: We start with a song. The testing of Abraham by the sacrifice of Isaac. How could he do this? Was it the end of child sacrifice? Arguably it is a testing of both Abraham and of the child. Note that Abraham returned home alone.  LL: One view is that this is an account of the tension between absolute faith and reason. The reader in ancient times would have had the same immediate reaction of horror that a modern reader has.

22:1 What is the reference to “after these things…” Or is this just a literary pause – a trope. LL: The phrase could be citing everything previously read in a meta-sense referring to everything that has gone before in the Torah – all of the lessons. But see:

“God tested Abraham…” is a very specific reference and test. Adam is tested in the Garden of Eden. And Job is tested by Satan – albeit several centuries later. SF: We are all constantly tested so that we can exercise free will and achieve a higher level of being. AF: A test is something that happens after a lesson to see if the instruction has been successful. R – the method of testing can also be questionable – the test may not have a proper ethical and moral foundation. This is not God depicted as a moral and ethical entity. We are being instructed by the story itself. But shouldn’t Abraham have just refused to do it? If he had immediately refused wouldn’t he have passed the test?  Or is the lesson, from the orthodox perspective, that he met the test of absolute faith.

The phrase “Here I am…” has been the center of great controversy in the Jewish world. Some would argue that God cannot be perceived as speaking to an individual. SF: The guidance here is based on the accumulated wisdom over the centuries. AF: Isn’t this reflective of the God that is within us? LL: Oscar Wilde famously said that “Some of my best conversation have been with myself.” MS: There are things that are worth sacrificing your life for. Your core beliefs may be one of those. Or the recognition that there are goals more important than the individual. Rabbi – that is consistent with Reform Judaism. HF: There is something called “situational ethics” – do you put your hand over the mouth of the baby so that the Indians don’t find the group and kill everyone? See:

Bob R. I find that God can appear in many ways – in a poem, a book, or even the conversation of others. The question perhaps is how could Abraham make a decision without input from a variety of other sources. One of those sources is the Jewish community itself. Abraham was essentially the first Jew – he didn’t have our traditions to draw upon. Hence, the use of these literary tropes.  SH: It would be interesting to consider how this experience impacted Abraham going forward? R- this would be an excellent subject for exploration. We hope that he learned from this. Shira – the midrashim assume spiritual growth in Abraham but also in the Jewish people.

MS – Abraham learned that God is more complex than just following orders.  HF: This story of testing and sacrifice is read on the high holy days. So it is recognized as a rich, important, albeit ambiguous text. JudyC: Our understanding of the text changes as the reader changes from childhood to parenthood to old age.

R – There are three basic lessons here: the world depends on Torah, sacrifice/service  and loving kindness.

Note: See Gleanings Essay on The Akedah at page 122 of Plaut. “Says Von Rad: “One should renounce any attempt  to discover one basic idea as the meaning of the whole. There are many levels of meaning.”

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