Friday, November 14, 2008

Lessons of the Binding of Isaac

For those, like me, who are big fans of lists, I've come up with some lessons of the Binding of Isaac, based on various commentaries, along with my own thoughts. This list is a work in progress, so let me know what you think!

1) To teach that God does not want child sacrifice and explain why Israel does not engage in that practice.

2) To indicate that God is seen through life’s darkest moments, apparently instigating them, but in reality providing us with the keys to salvation (the ram). Was that original voice, then one that commanded Abraham, really God? Or just the last voice (the angel) In Genesis, there often is confusion between angels/God/ and (see Jacob and the beginning of this portion too)

3) Torah: shows epitome of commitment to and love of God. Part of our essence – (each of us is challenged in different ways through life. Individually and the Jewish people as a whole. Abraham’s merit saves us.

4) Isaac actually doesn’t return:
- Midrash: He dies and is brought back. This was comforting to Jews being slaughtered in middle ages. Jews saw themselves as being bound on the altar.
- Christian version: He is forerunner of Jesus. The father saves the son.

5) Have to be willing to risk all in order for life to have meaning. We do not choose our fate: God does.

6) Absurdity of life (1 chapter before this one, Abraham’s immortality is “assured”)

7) Sarah’s role – why does she let them go? Both she and Abraham are automata.

8) Abraham did lose faith after this (God went too far). He never “hears” God again (this “Lech Lecha” annuls the first/Sarah dies/Abe doesn’t trust God (Isaac) to find the right wife – sends Eliezer instead (whose name means “helper of my God”)

9) Arguing for oneself is self-serving. But is submissive faith what God wants? Abe failed the test.

10) Response to the Flood – from here on, God will save (but what of the Shoah?)

11) God is never too late (angel comes just in nick of time). In the case of the Shoah it is HUMANITY that arrived too late.

12) Norman Cohen: Isaac is our child – we do not see that we sacrifice children on alters of our careers, interests or principles. Isaac even carries the wood for his own sacrifice!!!

13) Isaac is really the victim nor martyr but protagonist, challenging his father as his father challenges God. (Oedipal interpretation) – result of infant primacy psychic conflict with father.

14) Received promises do not entail being protected in moments when those promises seem to be called into question.

15) What of the Ne’arim (the youths)? Why did they not protect Isaac??? (perhaps analogous to Jews in US during the Shoah)

16) The story explains the origins of Jerusalem and Mount Moriah as a holy spot. What makes it holy?

17) We shouldn’t worship our children – this is a lesson to Abraham that despite the fact that a son was what we cherished and wanted more than anything else, even that should not become an absolute.

18) Koran: God puts us in this world in order to test us.

19) God needs to learn something here – just how much is the human capacity to fear God / or to obey blindly.

20) People who claim to hear God’s voice directly are susceptible to succumbing to madness – it is dangerous.

21) Repetition of the verb “sees.” Place is called “God will see.” Faith is not blindness, faith is sight. God grants vision. (and Isaac, the son, ends up blind, and handicapped for life).

22) “This is the terror in God’s mysteriousness and inscrutability.” Job/Jonah: life isn’t fair.

23) The ram, the vehicle for redemption (shofar) is there from the 6th day of creation. The DNA of redemption is programmed in from the start.

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