Monday, January 16, 2006

The Akeidah and Me


1 And it came to pass after these things, that God did prove Abraham, and said unto him: 'Abraham'; and he said: 'Here am I.'
2 And He said: 'Take now thy son, thine only son, whom thou lovest, even Isaac, and get thee into the land of Moriah; and offer him there for a burnt-offering upon one of the mountains which I will tell thee of.' (Genesis 22)

The story of the Akeidah – Abraham’s task to sacrifice Isaac – occupies a central place in orthodox thought and emblemizes the power and supremacy of faith. This is Abraham’s final test of faith, it is this act of supreme belief and devotion which solidifies God’s pledge to Abraham and the Jewish People:

15 And the angel of the LORD called unto Abraham a second time out of heaven, 16 and said: 'By Myself have I sworn, saith the LORD, because thou hast done this thing, and hast not withheld thy son, thine only son, 17 that in blessing I will bless thee, and in multiplying I will multiply thy seed as the stars of the heaven, and as the sand which is upon the seashore; and thy seed shall possess the gate of his enemies; 18 and in thy seed shall all the nations of the earth be blessed; because thou hast hearkened to My voice.' (Ibid)

I had always found this story inspiring – and it all made perfect sense to me, both the story itself and all of the many midrashic explorations. Abraham, had not only longed for many years for a son who would succeed him, but had devoted his entire life to renouncing the local pagan worship, especially it’s most odious form – human sacrifice. His triumph is the struggle to overcome his native emotional instincts to fulfill God’s will.

As we say on Rosh Hashanah: "Master of the Universe! Just as Abraham our father suppressed his compassion for his only son to do Your will with a whole heart, so may Your compassion suppress Your wrath against us, and may Your mercy prevail over Your attributes of strict justice."

It is difficult, from the orthodox starting point, to gain some independent spiritual perspective on this. This is excerpted from something that I recently wrote:

“One of the facets of being religious (at least ‘frum’) is the idea that the moral code is completely proscribed by God. “The only free person is he who is immersed in Torah.” (Perek, 6:1). Our job is to free ourselves of the need to make independent moral choices. There is no stronger message than the Akadah. If God commands Avraham to sacrifice his son, his challenge is to suppress his innate sense of morality in favor of the divine decree. If you can do this, you are truly religious. You may be able to achieve happiness and serenity, and a sense of meaning and purpose in your life. The only problem, however, is that you’ve slain your son in the process.

To put it in less macabre terms (although, it wasn’t me who wrote Bereishis), you have given up your prerogative (and perhaps, ability) to develop your own sense of right and wrong. If the world is fortunate, the dogma to which you subscribe is magnanimous and humanistic. If less fortunate (as history has unfortunately demonstrated) it is prejudiced and brutal. Probably – if the Torah is any indication – it is a mixture of both

Whether or not there is a God, the one thing that I believe is that we are born with an innate sense of justice and morality. That sense is compromised throughout our lives by the dogma and socialization to which we are born. Our supreme moral challenge is to re-connect with that sense within us all - that inner voice which has been drowned out by dogma, by social stigma and by prejudice. What we arrive at may not be perfect, but it paves the way for those who will come to take the next steps. That is my definition of “Tikun Olam”, and that is what we sacrifice when we choose to remain believers.”

8 Comments:

Blogger Zeh Sefer Toldot Adam said...

Daas,

I appreciate your thoughts, but I can't agree that being orthodox requires you to give up the responsiblity of independent thought. If you want to read an ortho-rabbi who writes clearly and beautifully about this exact point, pick up "to heal a fractured world" by Chief Rabbi J. Sacks from any barnes and noble.

in the first chapter he writes exactly that you have to see things according to human justice and not give up on our own morality.

January 19, 2006 1:45 PM  
Blogger dbs said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

January 20, 2006 12:31 AM  
Blogger dbs said...

Thanks for a very thought provoking comment. I think that there is much encouragement for independent thought, but strictly within the bounds of the Torah. Man’s thoughts on morality are viewed (in my opinion) as being relativistic and biased, while the Torah is an objective reflection of God’s eternal will. In any case, my post reflects how I personally internalize the message. And, I do think that the Akeidah is a lesson in faith over thought. I will look for the book.

January 20, 2006 12:33 AM  
Blogger anonymous said...

"Man’s thoughts on morality are viewed (in my opinion) as being relativistic and biased, while the Torah is an objective reflection of God’s eternal will."

I think less so than generally thought. A sanhedrin could theoretically overturn any d'oreisas that are learned from droshas, and of course d'rabbanons and gezeiras.

January 31, 2006 12:16 PM  
Blogger Ben Avuyah said...

>>>I think less so than generally thought. A sanhedrin could theoretically overturn any d'oreisas that are learned from droshas, and of course d'rabbanons and gezeiras.

but the prerequisite to being on the sanhedrin is buying into a system that considers human morality a mere shadow of absolute godly morality.

February 09, 2006 9:40 AM  
Blogger Foilwoman said...

Daas: I'm not Orthodox or even Jewish, but the story of Abraham and Isaac was always deeply troubling to me and is one of the sources of my rejection of a literal reading of any part of the Bible. What kind of deity makes that sort of request as a proof of faith? Any entity that requests proof of my willingness to kill my offspring for any purpose (or asks my parents to do that to me), I would hope be exposed for the sick monster that it is. You explain the idea of submission to faith (actually, in a very Muslim way, ironically) wonderfully, but I just don't see how one can do that in the face of actually human feeling and need (much less the lifeblood of one's own child).

Anyone want to explain to me why the Abraham/Isaac story doesn't mean that the god of that story is a manipulative psychopath?

February 09, 2006 11:27 AM  
Blogger dbs said...

Foilwoman:Anyone want to explain to me why the Abraham/Isaac story doesn't mean that the god of that story is a manipulative psychopath?

I’ll give it a shot: God knew that Abraham’s children would sin, and be deserving of punishment. He therefore tested Abraham, knowing that Abraham would pass the test, thus creating a ‘merit’ which would help atone for his wayward children. It’s also helpful to understand that, from the orthodox perspective, death – while a bummer – is not really so bad.

February 10, 2006 8:50 AM  
Blogger Foilwoman said...

DBS: Still doesn't work for me. Anybody who willing kills their kid on command from anyone/anything is not doing something meritorious. Unless of course, one views the child as merely chattel rather than a person with humanity and the right (probably such a concept didn't exist in Abrahamic times) to exist, to not be harmed, blaah, blaah, blippity blaah. Since I reject the notion of inherited sin or merit, the whole idea of Abraham earning merit for his potential descendants by agreeing to kill one descendant off just seems sick to me.

I understand the values then were different, and that human sacrifice was not unheard of then, but a god that requires such a thing, even just conceptually and not in actually really doesn't rate too high in my book. Actually, it seems rather Jim Jones-ish (or pick your favorite cult). You know: "Do you love me (god)? Do you really, really love me? Well, prove it. Here's your child. Kill him because I ask it of you." That's really what's being said. When Abraham proves that he's nuts enough to do it, god let's him off. That's not a loving story. That's not a loving god. That's a story about control, withholding, and abuse (and if the reprieve hadn't come, murder).

That story stops me in my tracks every time. There is no way I have found to read it which doesn't make me think that the god of that story sounds like an abusive and not mentally well cult leader. Judaism, Christianity, Islam all tell versions of this story and they all make my blood run cold.

February 10, 2006 11:00 AM  

Post a Comment

<< Home