The Sequel


The Da Vinci Code. Living in the world with a comparative approach to life. It used to drive a mother crazy.

The author of The Da Vinci Code released a new book Friday, the third in a sequence, with the same cast of characters as The Da Vinci Code and Angels and Demons. Dan Brown tried quite successfully, based upon the number of books sold, to incorporate the comparative approach of religion into his fiction.

Rosh Hashanah. And the comparative approach to life. Fathers and sons. And points of view. The reading on Rosh Hashanah was about the Akedah. In the book of Genesis, the Akedah is the account of the binding of Isaac, when Abraham, at the command of God, takes his son to be offered as a sacrifice on Mount Moriah.

I read a piece in America magazine Thursday night about the Akedah by Harold Kasimow who has senior faculty status at Grinnell College in Grinnell, Iowa. According to his curriculum vitae, he teaches a course on the Jewish Tradition in the department of religious studies, and his research interests include comparative religion and Jewish studies. He seems bound by the philosophy of the department of religious studies at Grinnell College, and the promotional ideas of how to attract students to classes there.

Rosh Hashanah. It is a day of remembrance about relationships. Fathers. Sons. In a then totally pagan world, the account of the binding of Isaac. With the intervention of an angel preventing the murder of Isaac, Harold Kasimow interpreted the significance of the story as a protest against human sacrifice. He writes that “a civilization is judged by the way it treats its children.”

A day of remembrance. I am not sure why Jews, with the start of a new year, need to be reminded that a civilization is judged by the way it treats its children. This point of view, focusing totally on the future and not the past, seems to miss any comparative approach. In a tradition that was all about a covenant of the past with the present day.

A day of remembrance. At the start of a new year. Fathers and sons. Bound in relationships. Chosen People.

There must have been a reason, something very great, that God above all others chose Abram in the first place, the just man of his generation. In a conflicted world. There was a depth of feeling between fathers and sons, in a conflicted world, that seems to have been overlooked by Harold Kasimow. What does it mean to be bound by depth of feeling in a totally pagan world, on a day of remembrance for all descendants to reflect on the meaning as they continue the line of Chosen People?

Rosh Hashanah is either the end of one or a start of yet another year. What did it mean in this Akedah story for Abraham, an old man late in life given finally a child, a son, but asked to kill Isaac, facing the end of his line? Or at least the end of Sarah’s line? In a totally pagan world, what was the point of view of the participants? With this comparative approach, of a father when as a young man leaving a place of comfort to go to an unknown place. Abram gave up a lot at a young age to acquire a kingdom, an unknown of some kind. With this comparative approach, in this scene — in a totally pagan world except for Abraham — was Abraham no better than any other pagan making a sacrifice?

The Akedah

The Akedah and authentic parental authority. What did it mean to Isaac for his father, for this father of a Chosen People, to consider sacrificing his only son? Or it should be said, the only son of Sarah, the woman he truly loved. In the eyes of Isaac, “ME!” As a grown son, leaving a place of comfort, to go to an unknown place with his old father. At the beginning of his adult life, at an age guestimated to be between 22 and 34, Isaac was no longer a child in this story. How did Isaac view his role in the Akedah, as the sacrifice? He certainly knew the story of his own birth. He certainly had heard how long Abram and Sarai had waited for his coming, of the covenant, and of the name changes.

In a polytheistic world. In a world full of polygamy, his father’s world, how did he get here? Isaac, in this family? And how had it all come down to this? In a totally pagan world that never before had instruction on how to pray properly, what exactly was the purpose of this sacrifice, of prayer, to this one God? In a world for Isaac, without as much delayed gratification as Abraham had had, was parental love just a joke? Or was Abraham’s love just a fraud? And this love for God? When for most young men his age, the lesson that life and death were no joking matters was learned over the long haul of life.

To have been a son of a woman who waited so long for a son, how did he belong here? On Mount Moriah? In search of God? What exactly was going on? So what exactly does sacrifice really mean? How was this a sacrifice except from the perspective of Isaac? So to live a life of sacrifice, does any child ever really know? Does any child ever really know the fear of a parent, and these fears which were alive as their kids? Or a least until a child graduated with a great deal of debt in a time of great economic fear? In a world with so much instant gratification.

“Where is the lamb for a burnt-offering?” Where is the sacrifice? What does it really mean for a people, for the next generation, to be bound in their prayers to this Creator? And what did it mean for a living ram to be caught up in all of this, bound in fear in the nearby thicket? A wild animal, catching the fire of the one lighting the sacrifice? Mammals and their fears surrounding the decision about sacrifice. With all the surrounding fear of wild animals, when bound up. Mammals in this evolutionary process, with decisions about sacrifice and the method of prayer.

What does it mean for the next generation to be bound to parental authority and the authority of God? Rosh Hashanah 2009, with the delayed gratification of Abraham thousands of years ago? Was it a time of great economic fear? Was it a time of war? To hear any story of true sacrifice and not appreciate the surrounding fear is to miss a point of view, the most significant tension in the story of decisions about sacrifice. About any sacrifice, in a conflicted world.

What was Isaac’s view of the meaning of things from the past, from a father whose ways seemed so strange? How in the name of God could his father have bought him to this scene? In a world with a no sense of the manner how to pray correctly, how did he belong in such a world? To such a tribe?

Taking the time with a day of remembrance, on Rosh Hashanah, in a totally pagan world, to reflect on the significance of the meaning for a son, for a people, to be bound? Unconditionally? To God? What does it mean to reflect on the meaning of life, in a day of remembrance about relationships…. Fathers … Sons … G*d. The past with the present, fathers and sons, and points of view, about the future. Why all THIS sacrifice? Why all this delayed gratification, like Sarah had had, waiting for a son, with Abraham.

The real comparative approach, to point of view, for Abraham, for Isaac, is how the next generation takes things from the past, and makes personal sacrifices now. People and institutions, in times of great fear. Taking all of this so personally, what does it really mean for a son, for a people to be bound? in a sterile world? For a son to be bound to these stories hundreds of years old? For a son to be bound to these stories 70 years after the start of World War II? Speaking of holocausts.

In a conflicted world with this lost sense of belonging for so many, in a world filled with deep fear? What does it mean in facing death, to keep making sacrificial offerings? In the story of decisions about sacrifice, what does it cost to keep giving to charity in harsh economic times, to those causes with great personal meaning? In a academic world with a new comparative approach, to point of view, losing the next generation focused so much on individuals and individual rights until the tribe was threatened. In a world with a lost sense of belonging? What was the comparative approach to life, when facing death? For institutions? For individuals?

I don’t really buy the analysis that “a civilization is judged by the way it treats its children.” I am not sure a civilization ever faces judgment. Another civilization declared bankrupt, in all of human history, barely is worth writing about. For me the most significant theme of the Akedah is the tension in the story on how to pray properly, with great passion when the prayers involve your own kids. In the never ending tension between fathers and sons. Between husbands and wives.

There is more and more this comparative approach to life used to attract the next generation. In the age of relativism. The comparative world looks too much at what our neighbors were doing, as seen on MTV. In an increasingly secularized world, in the world of reality television comes the celebrated substitution called diversity for the God of Abraham. Until you wondered what anyone believed in any more. Until you wondered what was worthy of sacrifice. For me a comparative approach to religion stated in the philosophy of the department of religious studies at Grinnell College falls more than a bit flat, in trying to attract young people to the traditions of the past. In a modern world that struggles with the search for truth, in a pluralistic world made for TV that embraces the word “diversity,” the comparative approach by an institution seems to ring hollow.

What was Isaac’s view of the meaning of his role in the Akedah, as both he and his father struggled to learn, with their different points of view, how to pray correctly? Rosh Hashanah seemed more like a day to reflect upon the quiet struggle to understand both parental authority and the authority of God. To struggle to understand sacrifice. To be personally touched by sacrifice. The quiet delayed gratification in having had sons and daughters in an instant gratification world. For me, the Akedah is ultimately about how alive your prayers can be when personally touched by sacrifice. A lesson taught amidst great personal fear.

“Where is the lamb for a burnt-offering?”

Sons who followed fathers. Generation after generation, the conflict in the story is between the unrecognized sacrifices by Abraham, in times of great fears, with a son/a daughter coming to an understanding, an awareness, of his/her role of sacrifice in God’s world. In hearing Isaac pose the above question, I think it more likely he came to a quick recognition that “…a son, a daughter is to be judged” by the way he/she treats and revers past tradition, studies past civilizations, respects authority, and make it into his/her own.

Crazy. Sons who followed fathers. A husband who could drive a mother crazy. Hey! Where was Sarah in this story? How did the mother to Isaac allow this entire scene to unfold? Without her?

Speaking of lost, that Dan Brown book just out — in sequels to stories about passing on power — was called The Lost Symbol.

 

http://carmenpampafund.org/

 

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