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News from the Plains: All the RED can make you BLUE

And what of the ram in the thicket?
by Barry Friedman

Something a little different today.

I am not an observant Jew. I use Yiddish words incorrectly, once calling a friend a hoyzen makher, which I thought meant a mess, when in reality I was calling him a pants maker; I had a non-kosher Bar Mitzvah where shell fish was served; and I once wished my first ex-wife a Happy Yom Kippur (Day of Atonement).

I add as much to the Jewish experience as does an episode of SEINFELD--less, actually.

With that said, I went to Rosh Hashanah services yesterday and heard, once again, for it is the custom on the Jewish New Year, the truly horrific story of Abraham's near sacrifice of Isaac.

Now it came to pass after these things that God tested Abraham, and said to him, “Abraham!” And he said, “Here I am.” Then He said, “Take now your son, your only son Isaac, whom you love, and go to the land of Moriah, and offer him there as a burnt offering on one of the mountains of which I shall tell you.”
What kind of loving God asks a father to sacrifice a son? This is how you test faith?
So Abraham rose early in the morning and saddled his donkey, and took two of his young men with him, and Isaac his son; and he split the wood for the burnt offering, and arose and went to the place of which God had told him. Then on the third day Abraham lifted his eyes and saw the place afar off. And Abraham said to his young men, “Stay here with the donkey; the lad and I will go yonder and worship, and we will come back to you.” So Abraham took the wood of the burnt offering and laid it on Isaac his son; and he took the fire in his hand, and a knife, and the two of them went together. But Isaac spoke to Abraham his father and said, “My father!” And he said, “Here I am, my son.” Then he said, “Look, the fire and the wood, but where is the lamb for a burnt offering?” And Abraham said, “My son, God will provide for Himself the lamb for a burnt offering.” So the two of them went together.

Make the father, who's about to kill his only son, deceive the boy, so the boy will know the last pair of eyes he sees will be that of his father, a liar, his murderer? Nice.

Then they came to the place of which God had told him. And Abraham built an altar there and placed the wood in order; and he bound Isaac his son and laid him on the altar, upon the wood.

At what point, if you're Abraham (or, for that matter, the woman in the Jonestown jungle who's been told to drink the KOOL-AID ... or the man about to get on the Westboro Church bus for the long ride to picket the soldier's or little girls' funerals) do you say to your God or his proxy ... NO!

And Abraham stretched out his hand and took the knife to slay his son. But the Angel of the Lord called to him from heaven and said, “Abraham, Abraham!” So he said, “Here I am.” And He said, “Do not lay your hand on the lad, or do anything to him; for now I know that you fear God, since you have not withheld your son, your only son, from Me.” Then Abraham lifted his eyes and looked, and there behind him was a ram caught in a thicket by its horns. So Abraham went and took the ram, and offered it up for a burnt offering instead of his son. And Abraham called the name of the place, The-Lord-Will-Provide; as it is said to this day, “In the Mount of The Lord it shall be provided.”

You mean after all that, after this torturous experiment (that Abraham passed!), this God still needed a sacrifice, still needed the adulation, still needed some kind of sacrificial pidyon (tip), as they say in Yiddish (I think)?

The Almighty's thirst for adulation is truly unquenchable.

And what of the innocent ram, first mysteriously stuck in the thicket, about to be set ablaze? It had to be thinking, literally, "For the love of God!"

And here's what happened next.

The account of Sarah's death closely follows the story of the Binding of Isaac. Hearing about Abraham's attempt to sacrifice Isaac was too much for Sarah; she did not even survive to hear the end of the story - G-d's command to spare Isaac - for immediately upon hearing of Abraham's attempted slaughter of Isaac her soul departed from her body.
As for Isaac
In the Torah, Abraham does not ultimately sacrifice his child ... If you read a little further on in the story, you’ll notice that while he and his father climb Mount Moriah together, Abraham returns alone! I guess they could not face each other after what had happened. Isaac does not return with his father and, from that point on, he is a shadow of a man. We are told, for example, that he re-digs his father’s wells. What a stunning metaphor. The trauma of the terror on the mountain is so great that Isaac is unable to build a life of his own. Rather, he is caught in the shadow of his father’s actions, a shadow of a man. In fact, we hear very little from Isaac. He is mostly silent, he goes prematurely blind, when he does speak, it is the language of a weak and feeble man, easily tricked and manipulated by his family.
So, what are we left with? An unspeakable act, a dead wife, a damaged son.

And this is our New Year's story!


Unless ... it didn't happen that way.

Rashi, a Medieval French rabbi, who was sort of the Floyd Abrams of his day, wrote that the whole episode may have been a translation error, a miscommunication.  

How could Hashem ask for human sacrifice when the Torah explicitly forbids this horrible practice? Hashem did not, in fact ask for human sacrifice. Hashem's word to [Abraham] was v'ha'alayhu, "bring him up." Rashi comments on this that Hashem did not say "slaughter him" because He did not intend for [Isaac] to be slaughtered, but only that he be brought up to the mountain and be prepared as a burnt offering. Once Avraham had complied literally and brought him up, Hashem told [Abraham] not to slaughter [Isaac].
I like that story better.

L'shanah tovah. It means For a good year. Or pants maker.

Floyd Abrams, Rosh Hashanah

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