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עשה תורתך קבע – אמור מעט ועשה הרבה

וַיֵּרָא – Parshat VaYera – Why do we Eat our Young?

Posted by rabbiart on November 4, 2009

In the space of one parshah Avraham Avinu is promised a son by Sarah, celebrates the birth of Isaac, institutes brit milah and then… some time later… takes his son, his only son, the son that he loves, Yitzhak, to be sacrificed. As every reader knows, Yitzhak is saved by a messenger of YH-WH, and Avraham Avinu escapes the necessity of sliding the ma’achelet across the throat of his only remaining son. A mystery for the ages? Yes. It is.

According to Midrash, Avraham responds by attempting to negotiate with HaShem and avoid signing up for this terrible and terrifying journey. You can read Rashi’s version of the Midrash here. Can we trust Avraham when he says – in reference to Ishama’el and Isaac – “I love them both”?  Did Avraham display love for Ishma’el when he banished him and his mother? We wonder, but that’s a different exploration.

Midrash Tanhuma tells the story of the Devil himself trying to stop Avraham from carrying out this dreadful and terrifying mission. Satan puts up one obstacle after another, finally forming himself into a river that Avraham must cross, so deep that the water rises to his neck. Even Satan knows eating our young is a very bad idea.

Yet Avraham perseveres until he reaches that mysterious mountain of which HaShem will tell him.

In just five chapters Avraham is gifted with two sons. He manages to chase the first out of his household and almost completely out of the Torah. He almost kills the second. In each case he believes himself to be doing “what G-d wants”.

How much do we believe it is safe, advisable or admirable for individuals to act based on our belief that we know what G-d wants? My Hebrew name is Avraham, but I am not Avraham Avinu. Neither is anyone else. How can any human say “I know what G-d wants” and I will kill and kill because I – and only I – have this unique knowledge.

Some commentators have suggested that Avraham simply mis-understood HaShem’s command.


וַיֹּאמֶר קַח-נָא אֶת-בִּנְךָ אֶת-יְחִידְךָ אֲשֶׁר-אָהַבְתָּ, אֶת-יִצְחָק, וְלֶךְ-לְךָ, אֶל-אֶרֶץ הַמֹּרִיָּה; וְהַעֲלֵהוּ שָׁם, לְעֹלָה, עַל אַחַד הֶהָרִים, אֲשֶׁר אֹמַר אֵלֶיךָ.

The customary translation of the operative phrase is “…and offer him there for a burnt-offering upon one of the mountains which I will tell you of”

The word “olah” comes to mean a “burnt-offering” when the sacrificial laws are given.  Did it have this meaning in our story?  Impossible to know.  But judging from Avraham’s reaction, he knew this command was a bad idea.  His instincts led him to immediately demur.

Avraham Avinu almost kills his son. It is impossible to read this parshah and not think about all the sons – and daughters – being sent to death because parents or commanders “know” they are right. What guidance can we take from Parshat Vayera on this matter?
Perhaps these are the lessons we can draw from Akedat Yitzhak.

  1. Trust our instincts.  If a proposed cause of action feels wrong at a deep emotional level, it probably is.
  2. Be cautious in killing our children. Be very cautious.  When a voice says “we must send our children to die” because the world will be better for it, we should ask lots of questions, demand compelling answers, and then find more questions to ask.

Whether it is “send our sons and daughters to depose a dictator”, or to fight the terrorists, or to kill the innocents in the name of our cause, we must ask the simplest more powerful question of all… “Why?”.
We must be the messenger of HaShem and call out to stop the killing.  This is the call to which we must answer “Here I am!”

No more estrangement between father and son.

No more walking on separate paths.

No more killing.

No more hatred.

The intent of the Torah is the words we proclaim when we put the sacred scroll back in her holy container. etz chayim hi l’makhazikim ba…v’chol netivotehah shalom! She is a tree of life when we hold on to her…therefore all her paths are peaceful.

There must be a better way. Our sacred mission is to find it.

Shabbat Shalom.

 

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One Response to “וַיֵּרָא – Parshat VaYera – Why do we Eat our Young?”

  1. Shirley Gould said

    The awful question that arises: How can we each, as individuals, act to bring about this solution?

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