Torah Study Notes 11-19-16

November 19, 2016

Class led by Senior Rabbi – Paul Golomb.

Page 123

Note the interaction of personalities – Abraham, Sarah, the strangers and God. God is a personality here as well. The portion opens right after all the males in the household have been circumcised.

18:1 Abraham sees three men and offers them hospitality. LL There is an implicit assumption that the strangers will move on. They are likely armed. A has already shown he can defend himself – is a pretty effective military leader. Hospitality is offered with limitations. The text is signaling something to the reader about the divinity of the strangers that A himself does not know. Note that he rushes but does not appear to invite them into his tent. He hurries to do a good deed. At age 99 he has circumcision without anesthesia. He must be uncomfortable but he still runs to greet them. In the Torah the stranger is generally a manifestation of the Eternal. A technique in epic literature is not to build to an event. You are told the subject matter right from the start and then are engaged in the journey. This is true in Gilgamesh and others. There is no sense of mystery in the sense of  not knowing what is happening.  Abraham purposely understates his hospitality as “a little bit of water and bread” whereas he then puts out a feast

18:6  He prepares a feast but note that it is not kashrut –there is a mixing of meat and milk. A matter of Jewish apologia with respect to Christianity was to insist that Abraham Isaac and Jacob knew Torah – although they are part of it and it was not yet written. This worked against the Christian notion that religion is based on faith rather than revelation. If these men are “angels” why do they eat? PG In Torah as in much of the bible there are a group of super-luminary beings – they are avatars of God – they are God appearing in human form.  See The Great Chain of Being which makes Plato’s argument that there are no gaps in the hierarchy of things – ranging from rock at the bottom to God at the top. See:

The theological challenge in Christianity was the meaning of the Trinity – which led to the council of Nicaea – the reformation etc. Diarmaid MacCulloch in writing about Christianity suggests that the Muslim conquest of Europe was because the Christians were fighting one another over these theological issues. See:

18:9 Sara laughs. Will she bear a child when she has grown so old? Think of this as a stage production – where the characters are and who is being addressed. God has appeared in the first verse and now reappears. Sarah is behind the curtain but can hear the conversation. There is a conflation here of the strangers and God. That is an elusive issue. But there is an awareness nevertheless. It appears that God knew what she was thinking. We, as readers, have to figure out the inflections because that is not indicated in the Hebrew. The innovation of Hebrew was vowels – which provided a sense of pronunciation. Catholic doctrine emphasizes God’s grace here – that these three individuals were selected at random whereas in Judaism it has to do with being worthy – taking responsibility. This notion is closer to the Protestant view. But the worthiness of A can only be understood with the presence of Sarah – she represents the reality check.  See Mary Poppiin song “I love to Laugh” which state the different forms of laughter. Isaac means “to laugh.”  This is not the only instance where God speaks directly to a woman. Cf Hagar at the spring.  But there is an ambiguity here – is the speaker Abraham and not God? This appears to be their reward for hospitality to strangers. When she says she did not laugh – she meant not aloud.  Consider Karen Armstrong’s “A History of God.”

There is a difference between immanence and transcendence. God is saying that laughter is a good thing. Previously God has used the expression “where is” when asking Abel about Cain.

8: 16  The Eternal thought – Should I hide from Abraham what I am intending? The story of Sodom. Now we have a direct colloquy with God. God appears to be talking out load so that A can overhear. His words are not directly addressed to A.  This parsha presents the question of what is meant by justice. It brings up the notion of collateral damage. WWI was the beginning of total war – wherein civilians were also targets. Recall that during the Civil War people would go out in carriages to watch. They did not feel threatened. Where are the limits of justice? Should the innocent be destroyed together with the guilty? That is the risk whenever there is bombing or a drone strike.



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