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The Holy Sojourner
By Michael Chessen
The life and times of Abraham, as documented over the course of our
current and previous Torah readings, is that of a man on the move. We
might reasonably have expected, that following the banishment, uprooting
and dispersion which characterized the twenty generations of human
development preceding Abraham, the reward for an individual who finally
sought to fully live up to having been created in God's image would be
his being allowed to put down roots.
Certainly, Abraham and Sarah's initial physical journey into Canaan
was vital to their spiritual aspirations. However, we learn much about
what drove the parent figures of the Jewish people by observing the
description of their now advanced age in this week's reading of V'yera.
When Abraham and Sarah learn that they are due to expect the birth of a
son, this seems "laughable" to Sarah because, as the text relates, she
and her husband were "well advanced in days"(Genesis 18:11). The
relevance of using days rather than years as a yardstick for measuring
age is well expressed by Solomon in Proverbs(10:27): "The fear of the
Lord prolongs days, but the years of the wicked shall be shortened". In
marked contrast to the wicked, who inflict evil upon themselves by
anxiously worrying in measures of years, the paradigm of secure faith is
that of Abraham and Sarah, taking life one day at a time. And each day
was utilized to the fullest in order to demonstrate the importance of
active faith in God, primarily through simple acts of loving kindness.
Rabbi Isaac Bernstein cites the Torah's repetition of Abraham's need
to deceive royalty concerning his wife as a poignant illustration of the
vital role which the fear of God plays in ensuring moral behavior. After
having sought to protect himself from possible harm in Egypt by saying
that Sarah was not his wife but his sister, Abraham again uses this
tactic with the Philistines. Whereas upon the revelation of the truth in
Egypt, no explanation of the need for Abraham's tactic had been
necessary, Abraham needs to explain to Avimelech, king of the
Philistines, that he had been forced to deceive him because he had
perceived the absence of the fear of God in his kingdom. (Genesis 20:11).
While Egyptian society made no genuine pretenses to being moral, the
Greek influenced society of the Philistines recognized the need to abide
by certain moral principles in order to benefit the whole of humankind,
and therefore apparently viewed itself as being "enlightened". However,
the problem with a moral code which does not recognize divine guidance
and retribution is that there ever lurks the potential of human
rationalization intervening to abrogate it.
Finally, Abraham's exemplary level of faith faces the ultimate test
the difficult story of the Binding of Isaac. Whereas the "sudden"
appearance of the ram to be offered as the true sacrifice is certainly a
great comfort to we the readers, Abraham actually found more comfort in
the symbolism of the state of the ram than in its physical presence. The
ram was "tangled in the brush" (Gen. 22:13). The Hebrew term for "brush"
alludes to the term for "complication". For Abraham, challenges were not
something to avoid, but a welcome means of more fully serving God, and a
potential opportunity to more fully disseminate appreciation of the
concept of holiness among humanity.
Wishing you all a Shabbat Shalom!
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