Sunday, November 12, 2023

2023 Israel-Gaza War: Hoping for Peace

Jews, Muslims, and Christians are all children of G-d and children of Abraham. I do not believe that G-d or Abraham take any pleasure in seeing their children fight. 

I wish we could talk less about rights and more about responsibilities. I wish we could talk less about what has been done to us, or what is being done to us, and more about whether we are setting a good example for the next generation.

I feel sad to see so much pain and suffering, so many miles away. There is so much anger and anguish on both sides. I do not know what the Divine plan is, but I know there is a plan. 

Martin Luther King, Jr. was right that love is stronger than hate. There can be imbalances in the short term, there can be many things in the short term, but in the long term there is only love.

Tuesday, November 7, 2023

One Call to Prayer

 A vision of peace

There is one call to prayer

Regardless of religion or denomination

Regardless of nationality

Regardless of political affiliation

Regardless of any labels people call themselves or others

As it says: "You shall know and take to heart this day that the L-rd is G-d in the heavens above and on earth below. There is no other." (Deuteronomy 4:39)

As it says: "And G-d shall be sovereign over all the earth; in that day there shall be one G-d with one name." (Zechariah 14:9)

Thursday, November 2, 2023

The Lasting Echoes of Abraham's Sacrifice (Part 1)

In Chapter 22 of Genesis, Gd commands Abraham to sacrifice his son Isaac.  What I learned as a child: Abraham is commanded to sacrifice Isaac, Abraham and Isaac willingly do as they are told, Abraham is rewarded, the end.  

Here are some of the interpretations or rationalizations I've heard over the years:
  • The opening verse of the chapter explicitly says that this is a test. Gd was never seriously planning to let Isaac be killed.
  • Abraham was incredibly righteous. Gd would never test an ordinary person in this way.
  • Even though Abraham is prepared to kill his son, the net effect of the story is against child sacrifice. Gd is saying he does not want or expect child sacrifice.
  • There is a Midrash that Gd only intended Abraham to put Isaac on the altar but not to kill him. [1]

The consequences of the attempted sacrifice

Let's look at the aftermath of these Biblical events. 
  • For most of Abraham's life, Gd talks directly to Abraham. In Chapter 22 it is an angel, not Gd, who blesses Abraham. After Chapter 22, Abraham has no further recorded dialogue with Gd or angels.
  • At the end of Chapter 22, Abraham goes back to Beersheeba and Isaac isn't mentioned. (So maybe Abraham and Isaac settled in different regions of Israel.)
  • Abraham's wife Sarah dies a few verses later.
  • After Chapter 22, there is no further recorded dialogue between Abraham and Isaac.
These can all be explained away. [2]

After enough reading and thought and analysis, an interesting fact emerges:
  • Abraham is mostly outdoors. Isaac is mostly indoors.
Let's see where this observation can take us.

Why is Abraham outdoors so often?

In the Midrash, Abraham destroys his father's idols.  Abraham's father brings Abraham to Nimrod, who throws Abraham in a fiery furnace. Gd makes a miracle and Abraham emerges unharmed. Let's suppose that Abraham develops claustrophobia as a result of this ordeal. [3]

The book of Genesis never explicitly describes Abraham as being indoors. Abraham pitches his tent (Genesis 12:8), he dwells in various cities, and through all his travels Genesis never describes Abraham as being inside a tent or other structure.

After Abraham circumcises himself, Abraham is at the entrance of his tent at the heat of the day. (Genesis 18:1) Then three men (or angels) appear, whom Abraham rushes to serve.  Rashi says that Gd appears to Abraham, then Gd makes the sun hotter than usual so Abraham won't be troubled by travelers, and when Gd sees that Abraham really wants guests, Gd sends three angels to visit Abraham.  While the claustrophobia interpretation is an unusual reading, it doesn't contradict anything said by Rashi here. Abraham could be a righteous man who, even when in pain and on a hot day, wants to serve guests. At the same time, maybe Abraham never goes fully inside his tent, and the best he can do under difficult circumstances is sit at the entrance to his tent where gets partial shade.

Isaac as an agoraphobic

After Isaac is almost killed, the literal text in Genesis says nothing about Isaac's emotional state or his reaction to these events.  Was Isaac an eager and willing participant, even after being bound to the altar? Was Isaac afraid? We the reader are left to fill in the blanks.  Let's say that, as a result of the attempted sacrifice, Isaac develops agoraphobia. As we will see, this helps to resolve some of the textual difficulties later in the story.

"Agoraphobia is an anxiety disorder that causes an intense fear of becoming overwhelmed or unable to escape or get help. Because of fear and anxiety, people with agoraphobia often avoid new places and unfamiliar situations..."

Why did Eliezer find a wife for Isaac, rather than Isaac finding a wife for himself? Why does Isaac relocate rather than confronting the herdsmen of Gerar? [4] Why are Isaac's servants sometimes digging the wells? [5] Agoraphobia is one possible explanation.

Location, location, location

Let's look at the different places we see Isaac after he moves away from his father.
  • He prays in a field and meets his wife Rebecca (Genesis 24:63)
  • He is indoors with Rebecca (Genesis 26:8)
  • As previously mentioned, both Isaac and his servants dig various wells.
  • When Isaac blesses his sons the location is not mentioned. (At this point in the narrative Isaac's eyesight is limited, so it's reasonable to assume he's indoors in his tent.)
There are two times that Isaac digs his own wells:
  • Isaac redigs the wells that Abraham had dug, and calls them by the same names that Abraham had called them. (Genesis 26:18)
  • Isaac's servants dig the wells of Esek and Sitnah, and quarrel with the herdsmen of Gerar. Immediately afterwards, Isaac relocates and digs a well himself at Rechovot. (Genesis 26:19-22)
In the first case, Isaac digs the wells himself to honor his father. In the second case, Isaac only gets involved after his servants have made two failed attempts on their own.  One reading is that this is hard for Isaac, and outside his comfort zone, and he does it anyway because he understands it is important to his mission.

When Abraham instructs Eliezer to find a wife for Isaac, Abraham repeats twice not to move Isaac to Canaan.  Gd also says that Isaac shouldn't descend to Egypt. In the traditional understanding, even though Isaac wasn't killed on the altar, he acquired a level of holiness that made it inappropriate for him to leave Israel.  The agoraphobia reading does not contradict this. Isaac is a holy man, and neither Gd nor Abraham want to burden Isaac with the challenge of living in an unfamiliar country.

Now that we have this understanding of Isaac, let's see where it takes us.

Why does Isaac love Esau?

"Isaac loved Esau because game was in his mouth, and Rebecca loved Jacob."
(Genesis 25:28)

The obvious reading is that "his mouth" refers to Isaac: Esau gives Isaac food. Another reading: "his mouth" refers to Esau.  Esau tells Isaac stories of the outside world, and of Esau's daily adventures hunting.  As an agoraphobic, Isaac is so grateful to hear these stories, and he loves Esau for it.  

Coming in Part Two

So far we have explored how Abraham and Isaac each responded to very difficult circumstances.
In part two we will look at how these events affected Isaac's sons Jacob and Esau.


"This midrashic commentary, like the previous one, understands that [Gd] could not possibly have commanded Abraham to actually sacrifice Isaac."

As Israel Drazin explains in his article "Was Isaac angry that Abraham tried to kill him?", Isaac brought Rebecca to his deceased mother's tent, and Isaac buried his father Abraham. So Isaac was still connected to his family.

"What causes claustrophobia isn’t fully understood. Researchers believe causes might include ... [a] traumatic event as a child: Some adults with claustrophobia report one or more events where they were trapped or confined to a tight space as a child."

Note the contrast between Abraham and Isaac.
When Abraham's herdsmen quarrel with Lot's herdsmen, Abraham immediately intervenes. (Genesis 13:5-9) 
When Isaac's herdsmen argue with the herdsmen of Gerar, Isaac doesn't intervene and instead moves to a new location. (Genesis 26:16-22)

Isaac digs his own wells: 
Genesis 26:18
Genesis 26:22
Isaac's servants dig a well: 
Genesis 26:19
Genesis 26:21
Genesis 26:32