Drash on Vayeira: Genesis 18:1-22:24
In this week’s Torah reading we move from Abraham and God’s relationships to the multitudes and to the individual:
First, God tells Abraham that God is going to destroy the cities of Sodom and Gemorrah because they are filled with wickedness, only wickedness. Abraham says to him “Far be it from You to do such a thing, killing innocent and wicked alike … Must not the Judge of all the earth do justly?” (Genesis 18:25). Abraham argues with God until they agree that if Abraham can find 10 just men, the cities will be spared.
Then, God tells Abraham to take his son Isaac, the son he loves, and sacrifice him on an alter. This time there is no argument: Abraham and Isaac go up to Mount Moriah; Abraham lifts his hatchet and is about to bring it down on his son’s neck, when God stops him.
We are stunned by this juxtaposition: Abraham will fight for those nameless people he’s never met, yet will kill his son without argument. I find this scary.
In the first example, Abraham acts to protect multitudes of strangers; in the second, he says not a peep to protect his own son. In the first, we have an intimate relationship between Abraham and God: they are talking, arguing; Abraham, with chutzpah, reminding God who God is! In the second, Abraham says nothing to God. Some commentators (myself included) think that this is actually Abraham testing God rather than God testing Abraham; however, even if that is the case, is there really any winner? Indeed, this is the last time there is any direct interaction between God and Abraham.
Abraham is often compared with Noah, who was “a righteous man in his generation”, as more righteous. He is not often compared to Moses, but we might look for a moment at the death of both Abraham and Moses: Abraham “breathed his last, dying at a good ripe age, old and contented, and he was gathered to his kin” (Gen. 25:8) and buried in the cave beside Sarah. On the other hand, God takes Moses up to Mount Nebo, shows him the land promised to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, and “at the command of God” (Gen. 34:5) dies there, and no one knows his burial place to this day. (Gen. 34:6).
There has been a long, deeply grounded relationship between Moses and God: we see the beginning of their relationship and we see its ending. Abraham’s relationship with God is different. In the end, they have grown apart. God is not there for Abraham. Or is it that Abraham and God parted ways on Mount Moriah, at the time he was commanded to kill his son?
So how do we use all this in today’s post-election world, which has many people terrified? We use it to remind ourselves that we must stay engaged; that building and maintaining relationships is paramount. We must keep relationships and dialogue alive, however painful and challenging.
May we use these days and months and years of Donald Trump’s presidency to work towards peace and kindness by engaging in dialogue and reaching out, even when we are afraid.
Rabbi Em Mueller
Sim Shalom On-Line Jewish Universalist Synagogue
November 15, 2016