Bound For Greatness?: Vayera 2018

by Adam J. Rosenbaum

Pre-Game Chatter: What is the biggest risk you’ve ever taken? Were you successful? If not, would you still take the same risk if you were faced with the same circumstances again?

The story of the binding of Isaac is stunning for many reasons, not the least of which is how God risks losing Abraham and Isaac’s devotion, and how, of course, Abraham risks losing his son forever:

The Pitch: “‘Take your son, your favored one, Isaac, whom you love, and go to the land of Moriah, and offer him there as a burnt offering on one of the heights that I will point out to you.’ … Then a messenger of Adonai called to him from heaven: ‘Abraham! Abraham!’ And he answered, ‘Here I am.’ ‘Do not raise your hand against the boy, or do anything to him. For now I know that you fear God, since you have not withheld your son, your favored one, from Me.’ When Abraham looked up, his eye fell upon a ram, caught in the thicket by its horns. So Abraham went and took the ram and offered it up as a burnt offering in place of his son.” – Genesis 22:2, 11-13

Swing #1: “There is an opinion that an angel cannot read human thoughts unless God reveals them to him. It was for this reason that the angel had asked, ‘Where is Sarah your wife?’ (Genesis 18:9). The angel simply did not know where she was. This is also why the angel said, ‘Now I know that you fear God.’ The angel was speaking to Abraham; before this, he did not know Abraham’s innermost motives.” – Yafeh Einayim

Swing #2: “The Akedah is an earlier version of the Golden Calf. As far as may be understood, it is a justification for the sacrifice of an entire generation in order to create a people able to fulfill its promise. The entire people – that is, Isaac – is to be offered to the God who stands for unity of the people. The risk, the Akedah instructs us, is worth taking. Dramatizing a situation in which not just one generation but all future generations are at stake – bound to their faith, risking all – makes the larger-scale activity at Sinai more comprehensible.” – Aaron Wildavsky, Moses as Political Leader

Swing #3: “There have even been attempts to separate two distinct stories in the Akedah chapter: the account of Isaac who was slain and burned on his pyre (verses 1-5, 9, 15-19), and that other version according to which Isaac was saved and a ram was offered up in his place. From the earlier story we lack the report of the act of sacrifice, the description of slaughter of the son; but the end of the story, the Lord blessing the father, has survived: ‘Because you have done this,’ ‘because you have obeyed my command,’ ‘I will bestow my blessing upon you,’ etc. … In this second story (verses 6-8, 10, 13-14) there was no mention at all of an angel calling from on high, exactly as verse 13 suggests: for had Abraham been taken by surprise and been prodded ‘from heaven,’ his eye would already have been lifted upward, and there would have been no place for ‘And Abraham lifted his eyes’ (of verse 13).” – Shalom Spiegel, The Last Trial

Late-Inning Questions: Why do you think this story is so central in Judaism? What is its moral, if any? The story begins with the notion that God puts Abraham to “the test”; should he, or any of us, be defined by how he responds to a test? Does Abraham’s willingness show that he passed the test — or failed it?

On-Deck at Emanu-El: We are thrilled to welcome Danny Siegel to our congregation next Shabbat. Danny is the Conservative movement’s foremost authority on social action, and he has inspired generations of Jews to do countless acts of kindness. Be sure to be here Saturday, November 3rd, as Danny will speak before, during, and after services.

The Big Inning at the End: In baseball, as with all sports, the ultimate test is how an athlete or team responds to losing. The Los Angeles Dodgers face that now, as the Boston Red Sox are leading the World Series 2-0. I’m excited to see whether the Dodgers — clear underdogs at this point — can make the series competitive again. Something tells me they will.

Shabbat Shalom!