To be! Or not to be?

These were the High Holy Days, the Days of Awe, the time of the year when the descendants of Abraham who never have relied on evangelism to increase its numbers, once again sat to ask the “to be or not to be” question of Judaism. Rosh Hashanah was a day of remembrance, with the start of a new year. It is a day of remembrance about relationships. Fathers. Sons. The past with the present. The Days of Awe lasted 10 days. The Day of Atonement begins at sundown on September 27th.

To be! Or not to be? That was the question that was facing Isaac, dealing with the beliefs of Abraham. A lot like any son had to ask when his formal education was over to address his own inheritance. For an Irish Catholic, I have been thinking a lot during these Days of Awe about Isaac. About the different perspectives of the two men in the story.

Rosh Hashanah. I have been thinking about the comparative approach to life. Fathers and sons. And points of view. About binding. The reading on Rosh Hashanah was about the Akedah, the account in the book of Genesis, of the binding of Isaac. When Abraham, at the command of God, takes his son to be offered as a sacrifice. Because of a seasonal piece in America magazine about the Akedah, by Harold Kasimow, from his perspective, I have been thinking about the study of comparative religion.

The comparative approach is all over the use of the reading of the Akedah on Rosh Hashanah. Fathers and sons, and the different points of view on this offering as a sacrifice on Mount Moriah. What does it mean to be bound? Abraham, at the end of life, when he was losing everything. And you had brought a child into the world in old age, having experienced so much loss. What does it mean, what did it mean to Abraham, to be bound? Bound by certain depth of feeling, in a totally pagan world? What was one man’s point of view after living life, as compared to a son who was no older than thirty.

A day of remembrance for all descendants of Abraham to reflect on the meaning of the binding as they continue the line of Chosen People. Fathers and sons. Women and men. From age to age. In the time when there was blood in sacrifice. When in the modern day with a comparative approach, the young still question why the need for sacrifice? Women and men question. When bleeding for the most part hurt? When there was real hunger, why offer the best calf to this invisible God? When there was pain in sacrifice. How had it all come down to this? The fear. And the pain. And the suffering.

Crazy. This Abraham who had already decided, well before the Akedah, “Every male among you shall be circumcised. You shall circumcise the flesh of your foreskins, and it shall be a sign of the covenant between me and you. Throughout your generations every male among you shall be circumcised.”

Isaac was not Abraham’s oldest, only Sarah’s oldest child. Her only child. One son to Abraham, the Abraham who had already decided that a form of self-mutilation would be a sign of the unconditional love. Not just for him. But for his slaves. “Then Abraham took his son Ishmael and all the slaves born in his house or bought with his money, every male among the men of Abraham’s house, and he circumcised the flesh of their foreskins that very day, as God had said to him. Abraham was ninety-nine years old when he was circumcised in the flesh of his foreskin.” Crazy. Son Ishmael had been born thirteen years before Isaac. These crazy intimate self offerings to God.

Long before the Akedah, before sacrificing Sarah’s only child, these were the goings on. Long before, it was God who said to Abraham, “As for Sarah your wife, you shall not call her Sarai, but Sarah shall be her name. I will bless her, and moreover I will give you a son by her. I will bless her, and she shall give rise to nations; kings of peoples shall come from her.”

Reflecting on the meaning of making some kind of an offering to God, when your relationships, with God, with your kin, in sacrifice, were based only on blood. When the entire basis of your identity and the subsequent generations was to be based upon blood. Concerning the blood in the Jewish tradition, I recall a reference in the book From Beirut to Jerusalem by Thomas Friedman about the time spent gathering, following an act of terror, spilled blood in violent death by the orthodox.

Abraham who had already decided. His descendants would not go door to door, would not have radio shows. This relationship would be all about blood (which is why the Jewish tradition prohibits embalming — the blood is considered a part of the body to be buried with the deceased, along with any hair which comes loose while preparing the body, with every speck of blood, that is gathered in a linen bag and placed with the body in the casket.)

Abraham and his reaction. The original ROFL, falling on his face, laughing. He said to himself, “Can a child be born to a man who is a hundred years old? Can Sarah, who is ninety years old, bear a child?” And Abraham said to God, “Oh that Ishmael might live in your sight!” God said, “No, but your wife Sarah shall bear you a son, and you shall name him Isaac. I will establish my covenant with him as an everlasting covenant for his offspring after him.”

Isaac had to wonder, with a contemplation over point of view, with a comparative approach, when the young always have questioned, “Why did no one else? Why did my friends not have parents like this? What kind of nut case were these parents, my parents, Abraham and Sarah?” Why were only these Jews making sacrifice? Isaac HAD to wonder.

Amidst the descendants of Abraham who never have relied on evangelism to increase its numbers, this was the story of how Isaac for his own descendants discovered inheritance. In sacrifice, and with the story of sacrifice. With blood, enhancing connected-ness. As his father was prepared to give everything that was important away. When it looked as you were giving everything away? EVERYTHING! In sacrifice? In a world with hunger. In a world filled with fear. In an abrupt end. A lot like the way life could end so fast. Why?

What does it mean for the next generation to be bound to parental authority and the authority of God, whose ways often seemed so strange? Amidst a people who never who have relied on evangelism but concentrated on this thing called physical and spiritual love to change the world. Amidst a people who never who have relied on evangelism but concentrated, at least for males, on circumcision. And on blood. What did it mean to be a Jew? What did it mean when prophets climbed mountains, hoping to elevate a people or a nation while sacrificing Sarah’s only child?

This article on comparative religion had, after a lot of thought, moved me. The comparative approach to religion. The piece really about perspective in a story. On the eve of Yom Kippur, the Christian world hears a reading from the Book of Numbers. When God tells Moses to select seventy elders who would receive the same spirit of holiness which God had shared with Moses and Joshua. “This anointing would be given to them to assist him and help carry the burdens. Ah, but two of the elders were inside the camp and not in the exact and proper place to receive the blessing. Never-the-less these two were found prophesizing in the camp, “though they were not in the official starting lineup,” writes Larry Gillick. “Joshua, son of Nun, who from his youth had been Moses’ aide, said: “Moses, my lord, stop them!”

To move the next generation. How to move males? Who focused so much in their lives on games. Sports mostly. Men and games. Using power. Amidst a conflicted pagan world, even today. In the higher tech world. Of speed and power. In a world with so many lifting weights, power lifting. In a world of all the fast megabytes of Apple computers, without as much delayed gratification as Abraham had once had. This was the world when people who did not worship one God, my God, were thought to be pagan. How to keep something alive about the past, so that God would never forget Abraham. NEVER forget.

Thus the strange story of the Akedah. The story about sacrificing the next generation, in the name of God. The story about keeping something alive with sacrifice, with passion, concentrating on this thing called physical and spiritual love, so that God would never forget.

Without a comparative approach to religion, the Christian world loses the importance of these stories. Where the focus was on Sarah. “Sarah shall be her name. I will bless her, and moreover I will give you a son by her. I will bless her, and SHE shall give rise to nations; kings of peoples shall come from HER.”

When you prayers were so alive. And you wanted others, never-the-less, to have the same experience.

The Akedah. When God had instructed Abraham to name Sarah’s son Isaac. The story was was really about Sarah and Isaac. “I will establish my covenant with him (Isaac) as an everlasting covenant for his offspring after him.” Bound to God in family. In this fertility story.

So begins Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement. To see how those bindings have been holding up. At harvest time. For the Chosen People. This year.

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1 comment so far

  1. paperlessworld on

    As a result of the Akedah, Isaac became a weak adult son of a strong father as well as a weak father of two strong sons who never sought a wife, but accepted a wife who his father’s servant brings back (the same servant who who went with Isaac to the Akedah). So Rebekah came from the same homeland, just like Sarai had, where Abraham had originated. The fear was should Isaac ever marry a Canaanite. Eliezer was Isaac’s protector because of the PTSS after the Akedah; this was of course the fault of both the Abraham and the God of Abraham. “This severe disability impaired Isaac’s judgment and perhaps his own critical thinking. With an inability to be assertive and limited functionality, Genesis 24:6-8 demonstrates Abraham’s fear of of sending Isaac to his kindred; “Abraham did not trust Isaac to choose or even being involved in the process.” Isaac married Abraham’s niece Rebekah, chosen by his father’s servant.

    “Isaac marries a powerfuland independent woman. Prior to her meeting with Isaac, the narrator states that Rebekah is the daughter of ‘Betuel who is son of Milkah, wife of Nahor, brother of Abraham. Rebekah’s mother’s name is never mentioned; her mother is not of Abraham’s family, though both grandparents are. When Eliezer ask if he may drink, she gives him her pitcher, draws water from the well to fill her pitcher for all ten camels until they had done drinking. The young woman shows significant energy and aggressiveness. The overlap of a female with an aggressive personality may have been required in this marriage, given Isaac’s trauma and passiveness. He asks her who are you? She responds: ‘I am the daughter of Betuel, son of Milkah, wife of Nahor’. She does not mention her own name nor her mother’s name. Rebekah is asked her view of the impending marriage. Historically and sociologically women in that society were rarely asked their opinion, especially about betrothal. Four times Rebekah is referred to by a word which in Hebrew means young man. (Despite the Jewish tradition to read it as young woman.) The calling of Rebekah four times “na’ar”, is not a scribal error but implying that she has a tendency towards a male aggressive personality. Most extraordinary is the fact that Rebekah was consulted not ordered if she wished to marry Isaac. It is most extraordinary to be told that her wishes were asked and respected.”

    Reference: http://www.moshereiss.org/messenger/03_rebekahandisaac/03_rebekahandisaac.html

    Rosh Hashanah in 2013 is a celebration of that kind of deep inter-connectedness and inter-dependence which begins in New York City in about five minutes, and where I live in 60 minutes. In a modern story of conversion, Rosh Hashanah was a day of remembrance, much more important than the day coming up in seven days, about what happened in 2001. The themes of both dates seem to be the inter-connectedness of sacrifice to annihilation, involving the future and my personal fertility.

    I think it fair to deduce that those brought up in a Universal church were supposed to believe in Universal law. For everyone. This was the theology of the Catholic church that many Catholics had a hard time swallowing — social justice for everyone. There are various degrees in belief, like in Sharia law, if you believed in the eye-for-an-eye justice. Or that Syria should be punished in their own Civil War between the Sunnis and the Shiites.

    After the story begins with Creation which is the story of the acts of distinguishing one thing from another, here now is Abraham as THE heroic human figure in the Bible, after the Second Creation. It is of note that God uses story to communicate from age to age, from east to west. So on another Rosh Hashanah, what exactly had Abraham ever really given up in the story of The Akedah? In his entire life, what had Abraham really ever given up? Here was a man so concerned with the purity of his lineage, before he ever had kids, who had gone looking within his father’s home for a bride. Why had he moved away from home in the first place? Clearly movement was part of his life – the prime part of his life. So at one point he wanted his own homeland? Why?

    To have to write it all down: the sequence, in a modern story of conversion, that your reach should exceed your grasp. Not unlike the spirituality of bees, there were homes and homelands as well as nomads like me who never wanted be weighed down. That was the inner struggle of a nomads — until you had a girl, who might have told you she was pregnant.

    With how my contemplation has gone over the past four years, Rosh Hashanah asks the question once again, WHAT ARE YOU DOING with my tradition? Did you belief that morality was universal, or did you believe, like I believe, that morality was relative, like in the stories of the Hebrew Bible (the Old Testament)? As your interest in the past is supplanted by your fascination with the future, which you made claim to through fertility, which Abraham made claim to through his son, with both of his sons. Like God made claim to, if you were Christian, through His son.

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