A Sheepish Response: Vayera 2021

by Adam J. Rosenbaum

Pre-Game Chatter: Does the story of the binding of Isaac seem more or less disturbing than when you first read it? Or are you not disturbed by it at all?

Perhaps the story is at its most confounding when Abraham has a chance to speak to his son, but tells him very little:

The Pitch: “Then Isaac said to his father Abraham, ‘Father!’ And he answered, ‘Yes, my son.’ And he said, ‘Here are the firestone and the wood; but where is the sheep for the burnt offering?’ And Abraham said, ‘God will see to the sheep for His burnt offering, my son.’ And the two of them walked on together.” – Genesis 22:7-8

Swing #1: “Abraham speaks these seemingly duplicitous words to shield Isaac from realizing that he is the ‘sheep’ for the sacrifice. But in retrospect, we know that Abraham’s words are true — God does provide a ram (lexically, a subtype of sheep) for the sacrifice. Even though Abraham intends the words to deceive, the narrator intends them to be true.” – Ronald Hendel, Remembering Abraham: Culture, Memory, and History in the Hebrew Bible

Swing #2: “As a father, I find this nearly impossible to read. The repetition of ‘my son’ is devastating. Abraham does not try to distance himself from Isaac, to separate himself from the child he must kill. Isaac remains ‘my son,’ ‘my son.’” – David Plotz, Good Book

Swing #3: “If [Isaac] had not acquiesced in the akeidah, the aged Abraham could certainly not have forced him into it. But, certainly, Isaac did this with full acquiescence, as it is written, ‘and the two of them walked on together’ — with one heart.” – Shemirat HaLashon

Late-Inning Questions: Do our commentators seem to believe that Abraham dupes his son? Or is Isaac a fully compliant partner in the endeavor? Do you think Abraham told Isaac more than what the text records? Why are conversations often remembered more for what is not said than what is said?

On-Deck at Temple Beth Tzedek: We’re so proud of our Lifelong Learning students, and we invite everyone to join them when they help lead us in Ma’ariv and Havdallah tomorrow night. Log onto Zoom starting at 7:00 p.m.

The Big Inning at the End: Speaking of stories that continue to confound, the question of what Babe Ruth did or said during the 1932 World Series when he appeared to point to the stands before launching a home run remains a mystery, even though the moment was in full view of several people within close vicinity, and witnessed by thousands more in the stands. Am I the only person who can’t understand why no one seems to know whether the Babe called his shot?

Shabbat Shalom!