This action might not be possible to undo. Are you sure you want to continue?
Richard S. Ellis
testimony to its unapproachability: after Chapter 22 of Genesis, the akedah, or the binding of Isaac, is not mentioned again in the Five Books of Moses. Yet this event is not only one of the root causes of the disfunctionality of the families of Genesis throughout the time of the Patriarchs and Matriarchs,1 but also is a nightmare that throws its shadow across all of Jewish history.2 We try to approach this black hole in the collective Jewish soul via a new perspective: the clash between human logic and God’s logic. Human logic: 1+1=2; cause precedes effect; a statement is either true or false. Syllogistic thinking: 1. All human beings are mortal. 2. I am a human being. 3. Therefore I am mortal. Excise contradiction, which is reduced to a mere tool of proof. If I were not mortal, then I would not be a human being. Human logic: Now they said: Come-now! Let us build ourselves a city and a tower, its top in the heavens, and let us make ourselves a name, lest we be scattered over the face of all the earth! (Genesis 11:4)3 Contrast this with God’s non-syllogistic logic:
1 Avivah Gottlieb Zornberg, Genesis: The Beginning of Desire (Philadelphia: The Jewish Publication Society, 1995), p. 238. 2 Shalom Spiegel, The Last Trial (New York: Behrman House, 1979). 3 All translations of the Torah are taken from The Five Books of Moses, trans. Everett Fox (New York: Schocken Books, 1995).
Richard S. Ellis
1. God said, “Nevertheless, Sara your wife is to bear you a son, you shall call his name: Yitzhak / He Laughs. I will establish my covenant with him as a covenant for the ages, for his seed after him. (Genesis 17:19) 2. Sara became pregnant and bore Avraham a son in his old age, at the settime of which God had spoken to him. (Genesis 21:2) 3. He said: Pray take your son, your only-one, whom you love, Yitzhak, and go-you-forth to the land of Moriyya / Seeing, and offer him up there as an offering-up upon one of the mountains that I will tell you of. (Genesis 22:2)
The akedah is the confrontation of these two modes of logic. The paradox inherent in this confrontation begins with the birth of Isaac. Sarah becomes angered at Ishmael, Abraham’s first son through the slave Hagar, and orders Abraham to drive away both Hagar and Ishmael. Abraham is troubled by this demand but he is reassured by God. Do not let it be bad in your eyes concerning the lad and concerning your slave-woman; in all that Sara says to you, hearken to her voice, for it is through Yitzhak that seed will be called by your (name). But also the son of the slave-woman—a nation will I make of him, for he too is your seed. (Genesis 21:12–13) In his disputation with God concerning the fate of Sodom in Chapter 18, Abraham showed his mastery of human logic. Yet in the face of Sarah’s demand and God’s reassurance concerning the fate of Hagar and Ishmael, Abraham is silent. He does not understand in human logic how a banished slave’s son could ever be elevated into a nation. But he does not judge God’s words. Abraham sends away the slave-mother and their son. He seems to trust that in God’s logic there is no contradiction between Ishmael’s expulsion and his eventual elevation into a nation. The point of view now shifts to Hagar, who has not heard God’s prophesy that her son will be the progenitor of another nation. Wandering aimlessly in the Beersheba desert, she watches her son dying of thirst. But God hears Ishmael’s cries, and God’s angel tells Hagar not to be afraid: Arise, lift up the lad and grasp him with your hand, for a great nation will I make of him! (Genesis 21:18) One meaning of the expulsion becomes apparent. Ishmael needs space to grow, and he can only find it away from Sarah and Abraham and Isaac. In the desert, God teaches Hagar that the expulsion is a small journey in the larger journey of Ishmael to future greatness. The human contradiction between expulsion and eventual elevation is resolved in God’s logic in the desert journey. This contradiction foreshadows the paradox inherent in the akedah. Now after these events it was that God tested Avraham and said to him: Avraham! He said: Here I am. He said: Pray take your son, your only-one, whom you love, Yitzhak, and go-you-forth to the land of Moriyya / Seeing, and offer him up there as an offering-up upon one of the mountains that I will tell you of. (Genesis 22:1–2)
Abraham, in silence, hastens to carry out God’s command. Va’yashkem Avraham baboker, we read in Genesis 22:3; “Avraham started-early in the morning.” These same words used to describe the beginning of Abraham’s journey to the place of offering-up with his second son are also used in Genesis 21:14 when Abraham sends away the slave-mother and his first son, thus setting up another link between the two stories. As Rashi points out, the Hebrew word ha’alehu in Genesis 22:2, translated here as “offer him up,” generally indicates complete sacrifice but also allows for the alternate interpretation: bring him up to the mountain to prepare him as a burnt offering but do not actually sacrifice him.4 Abraham interprets God’s command as a command of sacrifice. He does not hesitate to carry it out even though it seems to contradict God’s promise, made in the previous chapter, that through Isaac Abraham’s offspring shall be continued (Genesis 21:12). As in the expulsion of Hagar and Ishmael, Abraham does not judge God’s words. The place of sacrifice is the “land of Moriyya,” Mount Moriah in Jerusalem, a three day’s journey from Abraham’s home in Beersheba. The text now becomes silent, like a dream. We may imagine that during this journey Abraham struggles with the apparent contradiction between God’s promise of offspring through this son and the command to sacrifice this son. Perhaps Abraham acts in the faith that it is a contradiction only when it is viewed from a human perspective. And perhaps Abraham begins to suspend human logic, trusting that God’s logic is different from his own. A hint of this trust comes on the third day of the journey to Mount Moriah when Abraham addresses his two servants, one of whom, according to a midrash, is the banished son Ishmael.5 (How could the banished son accompany the father on such a journey? Is this human logic, God’s logic, or nightmare logic?) On the third day Avraham lifted up his eyes and saw the place from afar. Avraham said to his lads: You stay here with the donkey, and I and the lad will go yonder, we will bow down and then return to you. (Genesis 22:4–5) At the same moment that Abraham is prepared to sacrifice his son, he can also say, “We will return . . . to you.” Abraham, about to ascend Mount Moriah, is suspended between human logic and God’s logic, where all contradictions are resolved. Father and son climb the mountain and prepare for the sacrifice. Just as Abraham is ready to slaughter his son with the knife, God’s angel stops him. Do not stretch out your hand against the lad, do not do anything to him! For now I know that you are in awe of God—you have not withheld your son, your only-one, from me. (Genesis 22:12)
4 Chumash with Targum Onkelos, Haphtaroth and Rashi’s Commentary: Bereshith, trans. A. M. Silbermann (Jerusalem: Silbermann Family by arrangement with Routledge and Kegan Paul, 5745 ), p. 93. 5 L. Ginzberg, Legends of the Bible (Philadelphia: The Jewish Publication Society, 1975), pp. 129–130.
Richard S. Ellis
Thus God resolves the contradiction inherent in the akedah. Abraham is extricated from the tangle of human logic, symbolized by the ram caught in the thicket by its horns. He sacrifices the ram and is told by the angel of the magnification of God’s earlier promise: By myself I swear—YHWH’s utterance—indeed, because you have done this thing, have not withheld your son, your only-one, indeed, I will bless you, bless you, I will make your seed many, yes, many . . .; . . . all the nations of the earth shall enjoy blessing through your seed, in consequence of your hearkening to my voice. (Genesis 22:16–18) As the journey from Beersheba to Mount Moriah in Jerusalem is a physical ascent, so Abraham through his faith seems to be raised above the level of human logic to the level of God’s logic, where all contradictions are resolved. But Abraham needs the three-day journey in order to reach this level, in order to cultivate the mindset that could accept God’s resolution of the contradiction. The journey gives Abraham the space in which the breakthrough to the higher level may happen. Is this analysis faithful to the text? Or have we been misled somehow to view it only from God’s perspective? For surely God is satisfied, and as we read in a midrash, God tells Abraham that his act will be an eternal benefit to the Jewish people. Thy children will sin before me in time to come, and I will sit in judgment upon them on the New Year’s Day. If they desire that I should grant them pardon, they shall blow the ram’s horn on that day, and I, mindful of the ram that was substituted for Isaac as a sacrifice, will forgive them for their sins.6 But what does Abraham think? What happens to Abraham that enables him to achieve his breakthrough? We feel like taking him by the shoulders and shaking him. Tell us, father Abraham, what really happened. But the text offers no clue. Language, linear human language, the language in which the akedah is described is incapable of conveying Abraham’s internal transformation, if in fact it did occur. So it presents us with . . . silence. In commanding Abraham to sacrifice his son, his only one, Isaac, whom he loves, God also commands Abraham to sacrifice himself. He asks Abraham to confront and to discard the basic illusion of human existence, that Abraham, and we ourselves, can control the show. This illusion is fostered by human logic, which follows the model of Euclid’s Elements to construct the grand edifice of human reasoning out of a few self-evident axioms: 1+1=2; cause precedes effect; a statement is either true or false. This illusion is fostered by everyday experience until tragedy strikes, until God commands, until we confront the reality of our own powerlessness and our own death. In mathematics the first approximation to a curve is a straight line. The approximation is useful in the small but is doomed to fail in the large. As in mathe6
Ginzberg, Legends of the Bible, p. 135.
matics, so in life: the first approximations to the truth—human logic, controllability—are crude and ultimately inadequate. And after the akedah? Abraham seems to find enlightenment on the mountaintop. But exercising such faith does not happen without paying the price. Abraham leaves the mountaintop alone. He learns of the twelve children born effortlessly and without incident to his brother Nahor. He buries Sarah, who, as Rashi points out, died from the shock of the akedah.7 Perhaps most poignantly, after the akedah neither Ishmael, the banished son, nor Isaac, the almost sacrificed son, speaks with the father again. The next time the text mentions father and sons together is after the father has died. Yitzhak and Yishmael his sons buried him, in the cave of Makhpela, in the field of Efron son of Tzohar the Hittite, that faces Mamre, the field that Avraham had acquired from the Sons of Het. There were buried Avraham and Sara his wife. (Genesis 25:9) Although Abraham did not succeed in consummating the sacrifice of his son Isaac, the sacrifice of his immediate family in the aftermath of the akedah was complete. Did Abraham find enlightenment? Was the sacrifice of his family too steep a price to pay for this enlightenment, if in fact it did occur? Did Abraham feel regret? The silence of the text engages us, angers us, forces us to confront the reality of our own powerlessness and our own death, forces us to grapple with the key question: When tragedy strikes, as one day it must, will I seek refuge in human logic or will I open myself to God’s infinite blinding light?
Chumash with Targum Onkelos, Haphtaroth and Rashi’s Commentary: Bereshith, p. 98.
Richard S. Ellis is Professor in the Department of Mathematics and Statistics and Adjunct Professor in the Department of Judaic and Near Eastern Studies at the University of Massachusetts in Amherst.
Lisa D. Brush Rosh Ha-shana Day 2
The Akedah/The binding of Isaac = Genesis 22:1-24
“How terse and to the point the portion is, how unembroidered.” V’ha’elohim nisah et-Avraham. G-d put Abraham to the test. “Abraham,” G-d said, and Abraham answered, “Hineini -- Here I am.” “Take your son, your only son, the son you love, take Isaac and go to the land of Moriah; bring him up (v'ha'aleihu) there as a free-will offering (l'olah) on one of the hills which I will name to you.” That is the extent of the conversation between G-d and Abraham. It is not G-d but an angel that calls, “Abraham, Abraham!” when Abraham is about to slaughter Isaac. “Hineini,” says Abraham, again -- “Here I am.” “Do not lay hands on the lad, do nothing to him; I now know that you revere G-d, since you have not grudged me your son, your only son.” Then looking up Abraham glanced round, and there was a ram caught in the brushwood by its horns! Thus ends the family drama. Thus ends Abraham’s period of taking directions, arguing, and communicating directly with G-d. We might read the subsequent divine silence as disapproval. In such a reading, Abraham was so caught up in what he thought he heard, in what he believed he had to do and how, that he could not notice the ram that was provided for him. But that interpretation would be a stretch. The imperative seems so straightforward – “bring him up there as an offering.” How could Abraham have misunderstood? Or worse, how could Abraham have just made it all up? This text is traditionally chanted on Rosh Ha-shana because it is most straightforwardly read as an example of faithful obedience. In the traditional reading, the chapter epitomizes determination to serve G-d no matter how difficult the circumstances, no matter how great the sacrifice. The rabbis read the story as the last of ten trials (as in ‘try the patience of a saint’ or even ‘don’t try this at home’) through which G-d established the worthiness of Abraham. This last one is the only trial explicitly called a “test” because it was not actually carried through. Midrash renders nisah (test) in the sense of elevated, like a nise, a banner, that flies high above a ship or army or parading group. This interpretation puts an interesting spin on the verse: “And G-d exalted Abraham, through trial to greatness.” In similar fashion, Rashi reads v'ha'aleihu (bring him up) as the focus of G-d's imperative, rather than l'olah (free-will offering, a specific type of sacrifice). Rashi makes a point of noting that G-d did not say, “Slaughter him”, because G-d did not
D’var Torah 2 intend for Isaac to be slaughtered, but only that he be brought up to the mountain and be prepared as a burnt-offering. The Midrashic rendering of “test” as “exalt” and Rashi’s emphasis on “bring him up” instead of “slaughter him” are excellent examples of the rabbinic tradition’s clutching at straws to resolve a classic problem in the text. In this case, the problem is with the notion of a trial or test, especially a test of faith that seems so likely to brutalize the spirit of both Abraham and Isaac. It would seem Abraham is to be praised for not withholding from G-d what was most valuable to him. But Abraham is not to be emulated. This terse, dramatic story is supposed to emphasize G-d’s condemnation of human sacrifice. It is from the notion of holy condemnation of the ritual practices of others (rather like the demand in Leviticus that the Jews not have sex like an Egyptian or a Canaanite) the we can derive the possibility of reading the divine silence after this incident as holy disappointment that Abraham would think even for a moment that slaughter would be what was required. The whole episode is a bitter pill to swallow if you are (pun intended) bound to the idea that the patriarchs are exemplars of moral comportment. But this parasha is not usually referred to as the “testing or elevating of Abraham.” It is known as the akedah, the binding of Isaac, because that is what Abraham does: va’ya’akod et-Yitzak. This binding was intense. Rashi tells us the root of akedah is the same as for the word “spotted” – the bonds were so tight that Isaac’s skin turned white under the cords. And this is where I want to focus our attention today. I want us to listen to the akedah not for what it tells us about Abraham, who uncharacteristically does not argue with G-d in the face of what he hears as the demand to sacrifice the child who brought laughter to his old age. I want us to listen to the akedah not for what it tells us about G-d, who can look sadistic in the demand for obedience. I want us to listen to the akedah not for what it tells us about the conversation between G-d and Abraham, which reaches its climactic conclusion when the angel tells Abraham to focus less on his idea of the task and how he imagines it must be done and more on what is being provided for him. I want us to listen to the akedah not for what it tells us about Sarah, left at home to die alone and afraid while Abraham and Isaac were out for the ultimate (pardon the expression) male bonding ritual. Instead, I want us to listen for what the akedah tells us about Isaac, and about what binds us and why, and about what might loosen our bonds so we can turn and return (that is, practice tshuvah) during these Days of Awe. The rabbis suggest that Isaac understood what was happening fairly early on in the process. According to the Midrash, Isaac tells his father to bind him tightly so he will not flinch. What the Midrash suggests to me is Isaac’s wisdom in the face of the tremendous forces at work around him. Isaac knew that being a conduit for enormous energy sometimes requires utter stillness – which in turn requires not insipid piety but immense discipline. To be in a tight place – such as Mitzrayim, where the Israelites were in bondage in Egypt – is to be “in a bind.” That is also to be in a coat with wrap-around sleeves, a straightjacket. But also: A healer may “bind up a wound.” A contract or other agreement is “binding”, and can make it possible to act even under conditions of uncertainty or mistrust. A person may be “bound and determined” to succeed, traits we admire. This ambiguity in the meaning of “binding” is one way to listen to the akedah anew.
D’var Torah 3 But I don’t want to skirt the issue semantically. What binds us up? In particular, what are the cords that bind us to the traditional reading of this story? One reason we read the akedah on Rosh Ha-shana is because from Isaac’s perspective, we want to believe in the possibility of divine reprieve even when the knife is at our throat. The bonds of tradition, of responsibility, of duty, can help us face the sacrifices that are sometimes required of us. When we have to relinquish our pride, our stubbornness, or our insistence that things will be done “my way or the highway”, the bonds of discipline can help us give up the familiar without flinching. We need more than faith to perform tshuvah. We need consistent practices that will help us to listen to our better selves, attend carefully to those around us, and do what it takes to get things right with G-d. Anaïs Nin wrote, “There are those who dance, and those who tie themselves up in knots.” What ties up the knots in the cords that bind us? What binds us most devastatingly is attachment. When we attach to certain feelings by labeling them “negative” or “horrible” or “unworthy,” we bind ourselves to depression instead of holding still and simply being with the flow of “energy in motion” that is “e-motion.” When we attach to being right, we bind ourselves to judgment instead of opening to communication and forgiveness. When we attach to being injured, or to thinking that we can know in the narrowness of our minds what G-d asks of us, we bind ourselves to martyrdom instead of turning toward healing and letting the bigness of our spirits come through. What removes our bonds? What allows us to “let go and let G-d”? According to the famous words of the spiritual, there is only one thing that will loose those knots: Amazing grace how sweet the sound that saved a wretch like me I once was lost and now am found, was bound but now am free. And how do we turn and open to the sweet sound of Amazing Grace? One possible answer is prayer. A.S. Byatt puts it this way (I paraphrase): Praying is not asking; praying is loosing these knots of care into some dark running stream of energy between It and yourself so that things are delivered from you to It, to deal with. Prayer, especially during the High Holy Days, offers us the opportunity individually and collectively to loose the knots of care, undo the cords of pride and attachment, and just hold still and notice the flow in and around us. During the Days of Awe, through prayer and ritual and practice of tshuvah, we can cultivate a heightened awareness of what we need to let go and perhaps sacrifice or at least substitute with a new way of doing and being. For the knots of care and worry that furrow our brows and stoop our shoulders and clench our jaws, we can seek to release into noticing what is really going on. For the rigid dignity of stoic suffering, we can seek to exchange the suppleness of letting our pain soften and open us. For the
D’var Torah 4 stony determination to demonstrate faith and persistence in adversity, we can seek the places of connection and compassion that are the angels reminding us there is another way. Isaac’s ultimate gift to us perhaps lilts through the words of Chris Williamson: “Follow your heart, love will find you, truth will unbind you.” In the New Year, find a way to listen for the song of your soul, the sweet sound of Amazing Grace. Let that loosen the places where you are bound up in knots. Allow the truth of your life to unbind you from the old ways of reading and telling stories of sacrifice and discipline. And may your release result in health, abundance, and connection that is not bondage. L’shana tova.
From the Midrash on Vayera
The Moral Dilemma of the Akedah
http://hitzeiyehonatan.blogspot.com/2004/10/from-midrash-on-vayera-archive_30.html There is perhaps no chapter in the Bible that presents greater philosophical and ethical difficulties than that of the Akedah, the binding of Isaac, found in this week’s parasha (Genesis 22). Whatever position taken—ranging from humanistic rejection of the values it implies; to anthropological-historicist reduction of it as an “archaic” document reflecting the remnants of antique concepts of human sacrifice; to its theocentric celebration of it as showing man’s submission of his will to that of the Absolute; to the anti-rationalist existentialist interpretation of Soren Kierkegaard, who saw in it the “teleological suspension of the ethical,” in his famous phrase from Fear and Trembling, perhaps the first and most famous modern discourse in the Akedah—the concern is, first and foremost, with the ethical problematic raised. The modern sensibility seems to agree that this chapter is scandalous from the perspective of nay normal standards of ethics, and demands profound examination and interpretation. But this is not necessarily the immediate association evoked in classical Jewish thought upon reading this chapter. The classical midrashim run a wide gamut: from exploration of the nature of the trial; to painting in sharp colors the harshness of Abraham’s dilemma, both his emotional reaction and the contradiction posed by this test to earlier promises; but only rarely directly challenging God’s justice in posing such a test. In the medieval world, as eloquently demonstrated by Shalom Spiegel in his study The Last Trial, medieval Jews themselves with the figure of Isaac. For many, the Akedah was a powerful metaphor for the martyrdom of the hundreds if not thousands who perished in Kiddush Hashem during the Crusades, in 1096 and on other occasions. Spiegel’s book culminates with a liturgical poem on the Akedah by Rabbi Ephraim ben Jacob of Bonn, which includes the phrase: “You were bound once, but I was bound many times”—i.e., the Jewish people as the sacrificial victim. This week, we shall attempt to examine some of the meanings of the Akedah in two midrashim which portray the dilemma in clear terms. First, Genesis Rabbah 55.4:  “After these things” [Gen 22:1]—after thought about things that were there. Who thought? Abraham thought and said: I have rejoiced and caused rejoicing to all the others, but I have not put aside for the Holy One blessed be He even one bullock or one ram?! The Holy One blessed be He said to him: so that I may ask you to offer your son, and you will not refuse. The phrase, “I have rejoiced and rejoiced others” refers to the feast made by Abraham when Isaac was weaned (Gen 21:8)—an occasion for celebration, evidently, because it marked the transition from babyhood to early childhood and the beginnings of the child’s life as an independent figure in the family circle and not merely an appendage to his mother—and thus, in later Rabbinic tradition, the earliest stage of education and training towards a life of mitzvot. In any event, Abraham expresses here his misgivings that he did not make a proper offering to God on that occasion.
The dilemma stems from the basis religious impulse toward sacrifice, to offer something of one’s own to God. Hesed, the impulse toward expansiveness and generosity, is here directed toward God. (Incidentally, this is a basic need fulfilled by the mitzvah, which provides a vehicle directing man’s inchoate energy of wishing to serve God.) But there is a paradox here: What happens if God asks for more than what one bargained on giving to Him? Deep down, the average person wants to show appreciation to God, to reciprocate in some small measure His infinite love, to acknowledge the gift of life itself—but to remain a human being, to go about in the world, to live his life, to enjoy the mundane pleasures, small and great, of earthly life. The Akedah represents, in principle, the idea of giving everything to God; of mesirat nefesh, of being prepared to lay down one’s very life, of there being nothing else but God (see the Kabbalistic interpretations of Shema, of Tahanun, etc.). Its spiritual logic may be impeccable, but it is certainly scary, taking one to a realm far beyond that at which human life is ordinarily lived. Yeshayahu Leibowitz was wont to refer to the Akedah as paradigmatic of Judaism. He contrasted the Crucifixon with the Akedah: in the one God sacrifices Himself for man; in the other, man sacrifices that which is dearest to him for the sake of God. Leibowitz thus drew a sharp dichotomy between the theocentric and the anthropocentric moment. Torah and mitzvot are Avodat ha-Shem, Divine service; as such, they transcend reason, need not make any sense, nor express any of our own feelings emotions, but are purely God-focused.  According to the view of R. Eleazar, who said: “and God” (veha-Elohim) refers to Him and his court. The ministering angels said: Abraham rejoiced and caused rejoicing to all the others, but he did not put aside for the Holy One blessed be He even one bullock or one ram?! The Holy One blessed be He said to them: So that I may ask him to offer his son, and he will not refuse. The sequence of events described here is almost the same, with one “small” change. In the first case, the Akedah comes about as a kind of extension or expansion of Abraham’s own initiative; here, it is the angels who draw God’s attention to Abraham’s omission. This makes all the difference. Are the angels jealous of man? One is reminded of the opening scene in the Book of Job, where Satan comes up with his devilish scheme to test Job, destroying first his family, his property, and then subjecting him to painful physical suffering—and God acquiesces without protest. Or of the midrash of the jealousy of the angels, when Moses ascended to heaven to receive the Torah (see Shabbat 89a).  Isaac and Ishmael were disputing with one another. This one said: I am more beloved than you, for I was circumcised at thirteen years; and the other said: I am more beloved than you, for I was circumcised at eight days. Ishmael said to him: I am more beloved than you. Why? Because I could have objected and did not object. At that moment Isaac said: Would that the Holy One blessed be He were to be revealed to me now and tell me to cut off one of my limbs, and I would not object. Immediately: “and God tested Abraham” [ibid.]. Here the focus moves from Abraham or the Celestial Court to Isaac and Ishmael. What at first seems a childish dispute, one more incident in what was doubtless endless squabbling between the siblings, perhaps of jealousy or rivalry for the affection of the
parents, is quickly revealed as something deeper: as a contest for Divine favor. (Were this Midrash not ancient, no later than the 5th century, one might suspect this passage of being a covert Jewish-Muslim polemic.) The comment I made earlier, about “getting more than he bargained for,” applies equally well here. Incidentally, it is ironic that this section ends with the verse saying that God tested Abraham when the test is no longer seen here as Abraham’s, but as the fruit of Isaac’s impulse.  [An alternative version:] Ishmael said to him: I am more beloved than you, for I was circumcised at thirteen years, but you were circumcised in your infancy when you could not protest. Isaac said to him: All that you gave to the Holy One blessed be He was three drops of blood. But I am now thirty-seven years old, If the Holy One blessed be He were to ask me to be slaughtered, I would not object. The Holy One blessed be He said to him: This is the hour. Immediately: “and God tested Abraham” [ibid.]. Here, the impulse comes from Isaac himself, expressing his full willingness to be sacrificed. There is something almost masochistic here. The impulse is not simply one of showing ones gratitude to God, the putting aside of a token offering by the selfsatisfied bourgeois baal bayit (householder), nor even longing for mystical knowledge of God, but the total self sacrifice of the God-intoxicated mystic, who disregards everything in the world. (This line of thought reminds me of friend, a deeply pious and somewhat unbalanced Hasid who, after a regimen of years of intense mystical prayer, routinely fasting most if not all of the day, died of anorexia.) The average reader will ask: Is this “healthy” or “normal”? But such definitions of health or normality are irrelevant and even meaningless when speaking of those who are totally consumed by such God-centered yearnings. Let us now turn to another midrash, which to my mind addresses the “modern” questions in about the problematics of the Akedah more directly. Genesis Rabbah 56.4:  “And Isaac said to Abraham his father…” (ibid., vv. 7-8). Samael came to Father Abraham and said to him: Grandfather! Grandfather! Have you lost your heart [i.e., your mind]? A son that was given to you at the age of one hundred years, you are going to slaughter? He said to him: Nevertheless so. He said to him: And if He tests you more than that, can you stand? “If one tests you with some thing, you will be exhausted” [Job 4:2; read here as “If one ventures a word with you will you be offended”]. He said to him: Nevertheless. He said to him: Tomorrow He will say to you: “You have shed blood! You are guilty of shedding your own son’s blood.” He said to him: Nevertheless so. Samael is one of the names for Satan, the Tempter, the Arch Enemy of all that is good and holy. But while Satan or Samael was definitely part of the mythic world of Hazal, I wonder whether he may not serve here as a kind of personification or mouthpiece for the “heretical” thoughts of the Rabbis themselves, who were doubtless disturbed by many of the same problems regarding this chapter as are we moderns. He puts forward three arguments: first, all the hopes that Abraham has pinned on Isaac, his son and heir, which will now be swept away as naught. Second, that the trials may in fact be never-ending (the use of the verse from Job, where trials seem to be an end in themselves, and Satan is constantly convincing God to “up the ante,” in what seems a concerted effort to break Job, is perhaps intended to allude to this). Third, “Tomorrow
He will say to you: You have shed blood!” Suppose you’re found culpable of murder! The argument here is either that God will change his mind, completely nullifying his command retroactively and somehow holding Abraham guilty; or, what seems to me more likely, that perhaps Abraham was deluding himself, and the voice he heard was not that of God, but some kind of self-deception. My friend Dr. Joshua Levinson, a Midrash expert, called my attention to the phrase al menat ken (here translated “Nevertheless so”), used repeatedly. He noted the usage of this phrase in Tosefta Sanhedrin, in the context of the formal warning given to a murderer, or one about to commit a capital crime, to which he answers al menat ken, to show that he is fully aware of the consequences of his action.  Since he didn’t get anywhere with him, he went to his son Isaac. He said to him: Miserable child, he is going to slaughter you. He said to him: Nevertheless. He said to him: If so, all those beautiful garments that your mother made for you will be inherited by Ishmael, the hated one of your house. Do you not take this to heart? Note the banality of Satan’s argument: what will happen to the clothes that your mother made for you? Of course, what he is invoking here are Isaac’s presumed feelings of rivalry, jealousy, even hatred. He starts with something that is seemingly petty, but Samael is really a shrewd psychologist: in general, one of the strongest forces in life are the hatreds, grudges, jealousies, etc. that people bear towards others for all kinds of reasons. While all this is highly negative and undesirable, and most all religious teachers, ethicists and psychologists would agree that it would be best if these could somehow be eliminated from life, and certainly not allowed to fester—in reality they are very powerful, and serve as a powerful driving force in all kinds of life situations, whether between individuals or between nations and even whole civilizations (the Twin Towers?).  [He said to himself;] If the word is not accepted, perhaps half a word will be. This is what is written: “And Isaac said to Abraham his father, and said, ‘Father!’” Why did he say “his father ,” “Father” twice? So that he might be filled with compassion toward him. “And he said: behold, here is the fire and the knife.” He said to him: May He rebuke that man [i.e., Satan]. In any event, “God will show him the lamb, my son,” and if not “you are the lamb for the burnt offering, my son.” “And the two of them walked together”—this one to bind, and that one to be bound; this one to slaughter, and that one to be slaughtered. Finally, Samael decides to go for at least a partial success: if he can stop neither Abraham nor Isaac, perhaps he can somewhat upset the perfection of their intention in performing the act, by awakening ordinary paternal emotions of compassion, thereby “spoiling” what was intended by God to be a perfect, unblemished, supreme act of faith. But he fails in that too: between the lines, we are told that Abraham discloses to Isaac what is going to happen, and “the two of them walked together”—this time with perfect unity of purpose. (This verse, which is located in the exact middle of the narrative, is seen by Nehama Leibowitz and others as the dramatic climax of the story; hence its position at the center of a chaistic literary scheme.)
Joshua Levinson also noted that some manuscripts, brought in the Theodor-Albeck edition, add here a passage in which the Satan tells Abraham: “I heard from behind the veil [i.e., from Heaven] that you won’t have to slaughter him.” But Abraham disbelieves him, for “one does not listen to a joker [i.e., a known deceiver].“ In other words, Samael tries to demolish the seriousness of Abraham’s devotion by telling him that the whole thing is a kind of ”play-acting,” and not for real—but in this too he fails. Yehonatan Chipman is an ordained rabbi, who for five years has been writing a weekly commentary on the Torah portion from various aspects. To subscribe, email: firstname.lastname@example.org .
Opening to the divine voice
The binding of Isaac story teaches us that we must learn to distinguish between the voice of God and the voices of the inclination Rabbi Mordechai Gafni Published: 11.17.05, 15:15 / Israel Opinion http://www.ynetnews.com/articles/0,7340,L-3170816,00.html Just before bed a son asks his father to read him a bedtime story. After dimming the lights and pulling the blanket over his shoulders, the father sits down on the bed by his side. Thumbing through his Chumash, the father turns to the weekly portion and chooses the section on the binding of Isaac. What could be better than bible stories from the weekly portion? And he reads, God commanded Abraham to "take his son, his only son, the son that he loved, and offer him as a sacrifice to God". The father looks up from the text and into the face of the small boy. The boy's eyes are closed. The father can see the boy's chest rising and falling under the blanket and knows that his son has fallen asleep. The father reads on and sees that Abraham indeed takes his son and binds him to an altar and takes a knife to slaughter him. Abraham is stopped in the last moment by a divine angel who tells him, "Lay not your hand upon the boy." Abraham listens to the angel and does not harm his son. The angel says, "Because you have done this thing, I see that you fear God". Abraham then sees a ram caught in the thicket, takes the ram and offers up the ram as a sacrifice, instead of his son Isaac. He calls this place the place where God, Y H V H, was revealed. The father closes the book, takes a deep breath and looks again at his son. What a strange and critically important tale for our time. And as all the great interpreters have written for over two thousand years, what a terribly painful and difficult story it is.
What are the stories we wish for our children to know intimately; the stories and history of our struggles as a Jewish people, the stories of our own lives , and our struggles to make choices rooted in faith rather than in fear. We all know that there are a thousand ways to read this story. Virtually all of them, however, make one core assumption, that God actually commanded Abraham to sacrifice his son Isaac. Abraham's basic test was to have faith in God. Even though it violated his moral sense, he was to obey the command and sacrifice his son. The huge problem with this approach – particularly in our post-modern context, is that there are quite a few people today who claim to hear the voice of God telling them to do ethically outrageous things. To say the least, you would not want to have those people over for dinner. Khomeini, who heard the God-voice tell him to send lines of children tied to chains walking through mined fields in order to clear out Iraqi mines by exploding them on the children- children sacrificed to the Khomeini's God-voice; Saddam Hussein, who heard the God-voice commanding him to torture and murder countless Iraqi youth suspected of threatening his rule, believed he was responding to a divine imperative which commanded him to rule Iraq. In our country, ten years after Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin was assassinated, it is difficult not to remember that Yigal Amir also claimed to, in some sense, hear the Godvoice, commanding him to assassinate Rabin. There is little doubt that Amir believed and seems to still believe that he was filling the divine will. Indeed religious fundamentalists world-over claim to be guided by the God-voice; Moreover, all of the examples above have been known to cite the story of the binding of Isaac to validate their seemingly cruel deeds in the name of God. A new interpretation to the Akedah story For all of these reasons I want to offer, as an Orthodox Rabbi, and using the exegetical method of Hassidic interpretation of Torah text, a new interpretation to the Binding of Isaac story. The essence of this interpretation is that God NEVER commanded Abraham to sacrifice his son. This interpretation will reveal itself through a close reading of the text and using psychological, literary and mystical tools to prove my point. Most importantly, this new interpretation is an invitation into to deep faith consciousness. What are the voices that we are listening to as we make our choices day-to-day? As we sit above the bed of our own sons, looking deeply into their innocence and humanity, how can we learn from this new interpretation in conceptual spiritual terms why this reading is as vital for us as both committed Jews and committed human beings in this new millennium. Actually, my radically new interpretation is not so new. The Zohar itself is the source for this Understanding. The Zohar hooks its understanding on the use of the God name Elohim in the Binding of Isaac story, as in, "Elohim tested Abraham".
The Zohar teaches, picking up on a theme with roots in biblical text but which deepened Jewish mystical texts, that Elohim in this text refers not to God in the traditional sense of the term, but to Yetzer Hara, to the evil inclination. The text according the Zohar would then read, The "Evil inclination tested Abraham" by commanding him to sacrifice his son. A highly radical, provocative and relevant reading. Moreover, later in the same passage the Zohar amplifies a similar theme from a different perspective and teaches that the command which Abraham heard from Elohim, was refracted to him through an Aspaklarya Delo Nahara, an unclear prism. To understand the full power of this Zoharic image, we need only to compare it to the position of the great medieval scholar Maimonides, who teaches that the story of the Akeda is evidence of the absolutely clear nature of prophecy; after all, reasons Maimonides, who would respond to a command from God to kill one's son unless it was one thousand percent clear? The Zohar – taking issue with Maimonides, offers up an image of Abraham being called; being somehow driven to do something, however, he is not quite sure what he is to do, or who is doing the commanding. It is may be worth pausing at this point to note that this is not an obscure and irrelevant passage which went unnoticed and uncited by serious Orthodox authorities. Not at all. For example, Mordechai Lainer of Izbica, author of a work called Mei Ha-Shiloach and a highly important Hassidic master, cites part of this Zohar and unfolds his reading of the Akedah story from it's matrix. In this reading of the Zohar and Lainer, the challenge of the Akedah – the great test- is not to sacrifice Isaac, but rather to disambiguate the God-voice and realize that God never wanted Abraham to kill Isaac in the first place. A Freudian insight In Hebrew wisdom, which at its core is based on human interpretation of divine law – fundamentalism is rejected. The obligation to take responsibility for how he hears the God-voice is solely on Abraham. Abraham must learn to distinguish between the voice of God and the voice of Yetzer Hara. And the most dangerous Yetzer Hara of all is the spiritual Yetzer Hara. This is precisely the lesson that Yigal Amir teaches us. What might it mean that Abraham is driven or called by his Yetzer Hara to sacrifice Isaac. Yetzer Hara means an internal impulse – highly difficult to control - a deep seated drive that moves the person to act not in accordance with their divine self. Abraham was, in the Midrashic tradition, brought by his father before Nimrod, who was the local king-deity. Nimrod commands Abraham to be thrown into a furnace of fire. In the Midrashic tradition, this is the defining story of Abraham's early life. This is, of course, critical to our discussion. In effect, Abraham was offered up by his father as a sacrifice to the local Gods represented by the king-deity Nimrod, in a terrible act of abuse. Freud expressed a great truth when he reminded the world of the terrible dynamic of repetition- compulsion. That means, for example, that an abused child is internally
compelled, driven, to do to his child what was done to him. Thus, the Zohar says, Abraham is driven by Yetzer Hara –a powerful internal drive, to do to his son what his father did to him. The terrible Yetzer Hara of repetition compulsion. Indeed if one reads the text carefully one notices that the first God-voice which Abraham understands as a command to kill Isaac comes from Elohim. However the major God-voice which commands him not to kill Isaac is Y H V H, the name of God which incarnates divine love and compassion. The angel of Y H V H tells him "Now I know that you fear Elohim for you have done this thing." Using the Hassidic method of interpreting divine text, we might read it as follows: Because you have done this thing- that is, you have disambiguated the God-voice and recognized that is was not God, but your own Yetzer Hara of repetition-compulsion which moved you to kill Isaac; now I know that you are Yereh Elohim. Yereh usually translated as fear, is actually rooted in the Hebrew word Ra'ah, related to ideas of sight and perception. Now I know, says the angel of Y H V H, that you were able to perceive deeply and distinguish between Yetzer Hara disguised as Elohim and the authentic God voice of Y H V H. At the end of the verse the Y H V H voice says "For you have not-chasachta- simply translated- held back- your son from me." Simply read it would seem to indicate that there was indeed a divine command for Abraham to sacrifice his son. However in our neo-Hassidic reading we notice the word chasachta has a second meaning in Hebrew, choshech, or darkness. So the text might read "You have not darkened your son" by offering him as a sacrifice, for you were able to perceive that Elohim was really your own internal Yetzer Hara of repetition-compulsion masquerading as Elohim. Human responsibility to interpret the divine voice saves Judaism It is critical to note here that this radical reading is fully resonant with classic orthodox modes of interpretation! Indeed the core of this suggestion is found in the Zohar itself. I know that there are some readers who will suggest that it is absurd to suggest that a text which clearly says that God commanded something does not mean what it seems to mean, and that God is not really the one doing the commanding – because in doing so one may undermine the authority of the entire Torah. However such thinking, however well- intentioned it might be, goes against all the rules of sacred Orthodox interpretation. I want to say this gently, but forcefully; that kind of argument is simply based on ignorance of how interpretation works. One example will make the point clearly. In the book of Bamidbar the text reads "God spoke to Moses saying, send spies to spy out the land". The text clearly indicated that sending spies was an explicit divine command. However, a second text in the book of Devarim which recounts the story of the spies in retrospect describes what happened quite differently. "You all drew close to me" says Moses to the people, and you demanded that I send spies. Well, which version is true? Many major Orthodox interpreters of the text teach that there was never a divine command to send spies and that the major text is the Devarim text and not the Bamidbar text. Those interpreters must then answer a major problem; what do we do with an
explicit text in BaMidbar which says, "God spoke to Moses saying Send spies to spy out the land"? The answer, according to a whole school of Orthodox interpreters, is that when it says "God spoke", it is not actually god talking but rather the people mis-hearing their own desire to send spies as the voice of God. The point is very clear. Even if the text says "God spoke to Moses saying", we are still responsible to disambiguate the God-voice and determine whether this is really God talking or is it rather some split off internal human voice that we are for whatever reason projecting onto God. It is precisely this human responsibility to clarify and interpret the divine voice which saves Judaism from the terrible desecrations of God's name that has become one of the tragic hallmarks of religious fundamentalism world over. We need to be open to the divine voice at all times and in all places. And we must learn how to really listen to the deep well inside of each of us that holds the waters of the God, and the life essence that helps each of us to distinguish between the voice of God and the voices of the inclination. At this particular time in history, it is critical to look deeply and embark on the journey of deep, regular and intense spiritual practice to make ourselves worthy vessels to correctly perceive- receive- and interpret the word of God. Rabbi Mordechai Gafni - Teacher and student of Torah; Leader of Bayit Chadash Spiritual Community and Movement; Chair of Integral Kabbalah at Integral Institute of Ken Wilber The "Bayit Chadash" website: www.bayitchadash.org
Judaísmo - 25/10/2007
Interpretación y comentario Soren Kierkegaard, filósofo danés de fines del siglo 19, dijo que ``infinitas generaciones conocieron la historia de Abraham de memoria, palabra por palabra. Pero, ¿a quién de todos ellos esta historia les sacó el sueño?'' En su libro ``Temor y Temblor'', Kierkegaard destaca que existe una contradicción entre la disposición de Abraham a sacrificar a su hijo y la concepción ética aceptada. Queda claro que Abraham -y especialmente él- tenía una forma de razonamiento ética. ¿Cómo, entonces, puede ser que la orden Divina superó esa orden ética? Kierkegaard argumenta que existe una situación de fe que está más allá de todo razonamiento. El caso de Abraham no es igual al caso de Agamenón, que sacrificó a su hija para los dioses. Agamenón recibe la orden de los dioses de boca de los videntes. Él se encuentra frente a un dilema: el amor por su hija por un lado, y la salvación del pueblo por el otro. Cualquiera de las dos opciones es mala. Agamenón es un héroe trágico. El dilema de Abraham es consigo mismo. El conflicto es entre la orden Divina que le es dada sólo a él y la orden ética general, común a todos los seres humanos. El conflicto ocurre en el corazón del creyente, y él no puede compartir sus dudas con nadie. Abraham no comparte su angustia con Sara, no por el veto que ella pueda imponer al sacrificio de Isaac, sino por el hecho de que la orden Divina le fue dada sólo a él, y no puede haber socios en una orden Divina dada de manera individual. La decisión si seguir o no la orden Divina particular o seguir la orden ética, es una decisión del individuo. Sólo el único y especial, sólo una persona como nuestro patriarca Abraham, podía saber si aquélla era una orden Divina y no de espíritus burlones que lo rodeaban. Sólo una persona del nivel de Abraham podía saber que ésas eran palabras del Dios Viviente, y no del Satán. No hay ningún tipo de criterio exterior en el cual el creyente pueda apoyarse en su decisión. Sólo su fe le sirve de guía. Según Kierkegaard, ``existe la anulación de la orden ética por causa de la orden religiosa''. S. H. Bergman, en su artículo ``El sacrificio de Isaac y el hombre de hoy'', compara la idea de la anulación de la orden ética por causa de la orden religiosa de Kierkegaard, a la idea de ``haremos y luego escucharemos'' del pueblo judío. Obediencia completa sin dudar ni vacilar. Esta actitud es peligrosa. Todos sabemos qué tipos de acciones terribles fueron cometidas en nombre de una obediencia religiosa ciega. Debemos analizar nuestras acciones usando nuestra razón. Nuestra capacidad de juzgar debe orientar nuestras vidas. No hay que anular el poder de la experiencia religiosa que llevará a la acción, pero el razonamiento, la crítica, la sensatez y la ética, deben guiar nuestras acciones. Bergman no juzga a Abraham, pero se puede aprender de sus palabras que la acción de sacrificio de Abraham no es un caso en el cual ``las acciones de los padres sirven de ejemplo para los hijos''. Shulamit Hareven dice que Abraham fracasó. Abraham no superó la prueba. El sacrificio de niños para Molej era una costumbre idólatra, y Abraham, el primer monoteísta, debía haberse negado a realizar la acción pagana. Según Hareven, Abraham aún no se había liberado del mundo idólatra del cual venía y en el cual vivió. El verdadero mensaje del relato surge de su final, cuando el ángel de Dios dice: ``No extiendas tu mano contra el niño'', lo que signfica la total anulación de los sacrificios de niños. Es difícil aceptar esta concepción sobre el relato del sacrificio de Isaac. En la tradición judía, este hecho fue la última y más grande prueba superada por Abraham. Es la parte de la Torá elegida para ser leída el segundo día de Rosh Hashaná. En el rezo de Musaf del mismo día, rogamos y decimos: ``Recuerda en nuestro favor Tu Pacto, Tu merced y la promesa que formulaste a nuestro patriarca Abraham en el Monte Moriá, cuando ató a su hijo Isaac sobre el altar, sobreponiéndose a su afecto y dominando sus sentimientos, para cumplir Tu
mandato con todo el corazón. Asimismo, Dios nuestro, supere Tu ternura a Tu ira''. Se supone que del relato del sacrificio debemos absorber fuerza y fe. Generaciones de judíos absorbieron del mismo, poder y autoridad moral cuando fueron expuestos a la hoguera para ``santificar el nombre de Dios''. ¿Será que podemos anular esta concepción enraizada tan profundamente en la tradición del pueblo de Israel y cambiarla por un pensamiento ``lógico''? No tengo respuesta. Para mí, la pregunta queda abierta y cada vez que leo esta parashá, debo enfrentarme a ella de nuevo. *Miembro de la Comunidad ``Masortit Mishpajtit de Beit HaKerem'', Jerusalén Texto dedicado a la memoria de mi hijo Rafi Berger, muerto en el atentado en el Tzomet Pat, el 8 de Tamuz 5762, 18 de Junio 2002. Editado por el Instituto Schechter de Es-tudios Judaicos, el Movimiento Coservador, la Asamblea Rabínica de Israel y la Unión Mundial de Sinagogas Conservadoras. Traducción: rabina Sandra Kochmann. Por Ruth Berger*
Mundo Judío - 25/10/2007
El sacrificio de Isaac
¿Un Dios cruel o un padre insensible?
El relato bíblico sobre el sacrificio de Isaac (Génesis 22) es sin duda una de las obras maestras de la creatividad judía. Desde tiempos inmemoriales hasta el presente, esta enigmática historia ha desafiado las mentes de teólogos, exegetas y filósofos: ¿Por qué Dios puso a prueba a Abraham con tan cruel ordenanza? ¿Por qué Abraham no se opuso a la demencial orden divina, al igual que lo había hecho en ocasión de que Dios le anunciara su decisión de destruir las ciudades de Sodoma y Gomorra (Genesis 18)? ¿Por qué Isaac no se rebeló contra la acción de su padre? ¿Por qué la ausencia de Sara? Según lo demostró brillantemente E. Auerbach en su ya clásico ensayo llamado ``La cicatriz de Ulises'' (en Mimesis. La representación de la realidad en la literatura occidental. Fondo de Cultura Económica, 1959, cap. I), el autor bíblico compuso una obra literaria compacta con sofisticados recursos literarios, destinados a esbozar de manera sutil ideas excelsas y sentimientos profundos. Algunos investigadores afirman que el objetivo original de la historia fue polemizar contra la práctica pagana del infanticidio (Deuteronomio 12:31; 2 Reyes 23:10), que se había popularizado en Israel (2 Reyes 16:3; 21:6:), descalificándola como una acción inmoral (ver también Ezequiel 20:31; Jeremías 7:30-31). Otros, como Y. Liebes (``El amor de Dios y sus celos'', Dimui 7, 1994, pp. 30-36, en hebreo), por el contrario, interpretan el texto bíblico como una manifestación plástica del carácter mitológico del Dios de Israel, quien afectado por sentimientos de celos y de amor exclusivos hacia su ``persona'', exige del creyente o ``amado'' el sacrificio de un hijo como expresión de una total sumisión a sus exigencias (ver Deuteronomio 6:5; Jueces 11:30-36). Por los serios problemas teológicos provocados por este desafiante relato, los antiguos pensadores judíos se pusieron como objetivo ``eximir'' a Dios de la responsabilidad por lo ocurrido, echando la culpa al Satán por la prueba impuesta a Abraham. Un ejemplo claro en este sentido lo encontramos en el Libro de los Jubileos (una obra apócrifa escrita en hebreo probablemente en el siglo II a.e.c. en Palestina, pero preservada íntegramente en etíope clásico o Ge'ez): ``En el séptimo septenario (...) se dijo en los cielos de Abrahán que era fiel en todo lo que se le ordenaba. Dios lo amaba, pues había sido fiel en la adversidad. Llegó el príncipe Mastema (un apelativo del Satán en esta obra. A.R.) y dijo ante Dios: `Abrahán ama a su hijo Isaac y lo prefiere a todo. Dile que lo ofrezca en holocausto sobre el altar y verás si cumple esta orden. Entonces sabrás si es fiel en todo tipo de pruebas''' (17:15-16). Como se puede ver, una ``solución'' concebida en términos similares al relato presente en el Libro bíblico de Job (caps. 1-2). Otra estrategia la hallamos en la literatura rabínica, en donde también los antiguos maestros recurrieron a la figura del Satán, pero en este caso para ``absolver'' a Abraham de una irracionalidad e impetuosidad imposible de concebir en el padre de Israel: ``Samael (nombre del Satán en las fuentes rabínicas. A.R.) abordó al patriarca Abraham con estas palabras: `¿Qué significa esto, anciano? ¿Has perdido el juicio? ¡Vas a matar a un hijo que te ha sido dado a la edad de cien años!'; `Pese a todo, lo haré', contestó. `¿Y si Él te pide una prueba aún mayor, la soportarías?', replicó ... `Más que eso', repuso. `Mañana Él te dirá: eres un asesino, y eres culpable'. 'A pesar de ello estoy conforme, dijo...''' (Génesis Rabba 56,4). A pesar de los graves interrogantes sin respuestas convincentes y de los dilemas morales sin resolución presentes en el relato, la historia del sacrificio de Isaac ha jugado desde la antigüedad hasta nuestros días un papel central en la liturgia judía. Ya que no sólo su lectura forma parte del ritual cotidiano de oraciones en algunas de las congregaciones de Israel, sino que además este capítulo del Génesis es la lectura obligatoria en el segundo día de Rosh Hashaná, uno de los días más sagrados del calendario hebreo. Y si a ello le sumamos el hecho de que durante esta celebración se toca el shofar en recuerdo del carnero sacrificado por Abraham en lugar de su hijo, entonces queda en claro que esta narración está ligada umbilicalmente con la naturaleza de esta celebración.
La razón de ello se debe a que los sabios de Israel, presuponiendo la realidad histórica del hecho relatado en la Biblia Hebrea, veían en el acto de fe del patriarca un mérito apropiado de recordar en el Día del Juicio celestial: ``Recuerda en nuestro favor Tu Pacto, Tu merced, y la promesa que formulaste a nuestro patriarca Abraham en el Monte Moriá, cuando ató a su hijo Isaac sobre el altar, siguiendo Tu mandato, sobreponiéndose a su afecto y dominando sus sentimientos'' (Musaf para Rosh Hashaná). Otro testimonio de la presencia constante del relato en la conciencia del pueblo judío es el hecho de que representaciones de la historia pueden hallarse en las paredes y en los pisos de sinagogas antiguas. Sea en los frescos de la sinagoga de Dura Europos (siglo III e.c.; noreste de Siria) o en los mosaicos de las sinagogas de Beit Alfa (siglo VI e.c.; valle de Esdrelón) o Zippori (siglo VI e.c.; Baja Galilea), los artistas (¿judíos o paganos?) plasmaron en coloridas imágenes la escena del sacrificio, dejando así grabado este momento dramático en la memoria colectiva de la nación. Y una última observación. Es un ``hecho'' aceptado por todos los creyentes, que el sacrificio de Isaac llevado a cabo en el Monte Moriá ocurrió en el mismo sitio en que siglos después se habría de construir el Templo de Jerusalén. Sin embargo, esta tradición no aparece en el relato de Génesis. La misma está mencionada al paso y de manera indirecta en el Segundo libro de Crónicas 3:1 (una obra relativamente tardía de la colección bíblica, probablemente editada en el siglo V a.e.c.), y por primera vez formulada de manera clara y sin ambages en una tradición presente en los escritos del historiador judío Flavio Josefo (siglo I e.c.): ``Los siervos marcharon con él dos días; al tercer día, cuando vio delante de sí a la montaña, dejó en el campo a los siervos que lo acompañaban y siguió adelante con su hijo. Era la montaña en la cual el rey David levantó después el Templo'' (Antigüedades Judías I, xviii, ii). De aquí la prueba, pues, de cómo un desarrollo exegético o midráshico puede convertirse con el pasar del tiempo en una ``verdad'' religiosa. ¡Shabat Shalom! Dr. Adolfo Roitman
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