These and Those

Musings from Students of the Pardes Institute of Jewish Studies in Jerusalem

[PEP Student] The Foundation of Faith

Posted on October 25, 2010 by Tamara Frankel

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Dear Friends,

I hope all is well with you and that your week has been a productive and uplifting one! Thank God, I can say that mine has been very busy — but with the best of things: Torah study, Torah study, more Torah study, spending time with family and friends and enjoying the beauty and thrill of living in the best place in the world, JERUSALEM!

Now, for some Torah….

My teacher, Zvi Grumet, gave a parsha class last week in which he collected many of the narrative sections regarding Avraham in order to sketch a clearer picture of our forefather and understand his character and legacy.

Lawrence Kohlberg, an American Jewish psychologist, said that a person can truly determine which values are most important to him/her when two of those values are in conflict with one another and a person is required to choose one over the other.

In Avraham’s case, we see through Lech Lecha, Ve’era and Chayei Sara that his two primary values are family and something godly–call it faith, ethical monotheism, awe of God or “justice and righteousness”. In the beginning of Lech Lecha we witness Avraham’s decision to heed God’s commandment and leave his home, his country and follow God “to the Land that I (God) will show you (Avraham)”. Yet, as we learn more about Avraham’s relationship with other family members, Sara, Lot, Hagar, his sons Ishmael and Isaac, we discover that he is not always completely loyal to his family.

For example, Avraham doesn’t want Sara to compromise his well-being when they go down to Egypt so he asks her to disguise herself as his sister, knowing that this could endanger Sara greatly if they were to be discovered. Avraham struggles to reconcile his love for Ishmael with God’s commandment (via Sara) to banish him and Hagar. Avraham is certainly torn. The pinnacle of this tension between family and faith–let’s call it–is expressed in this week’s parsha in the Akeida (Binding of Isaac). After all of the trials that Avraham has been through, all the battles he has fought with his family, kings of foreign lands and even arguing with God about saving Sodom, God asks Avraham to choose between these two values, family and faith, to demonstrate which is primary. This is a Kohlbergian nisayon (divine test) of sorts.

The outcome: Avraham proves to God that he is “a God-fearing man, seeing that you (Avraham) have not withheld your son (Isaac), your only son, from Me (God)”. (Genesis 22:12)

After this climatic moment in Avraham’s life, he attempts to return to ‘the real world’. However, the text seems to indicate that although Isaac and Avraham ascended the mountain to bind Isaac together, as it says “and they went the two of them together”, this father and son did not descend in unison. And yet Avraham tries to uphold his value of family by searching for a wife for Isaac and later in Parshat Chayei Sara mourning and burying his beloved wife in an appropriate plot.

The irony of this entire narrative is that it seems that God was trying to communicate to Avraham that just as he is a covenantal partner with God, he should engage with his wife, Sara, in this way. Avraham should deliberate with Sara; they should work together to achieve “justice and righteousness” in the world. And yet many of God’s trials for Avraham undermine that exact relationship of covenantal partnership between Avraham and Sara.

With all of this said, Zvi Grumet suggests that Avraham teaches us the following: based on the descriptions of Avraham in these parshiyot, Avraham teaches us that the foundation of faith must be awe/reverence or fear of God, while somehow still performing acts of chesed (loving-kindness), particularly to family.

The questions that remains for us are these: How do we emulate Avraham’s relationship with God? Or should we at all?! After all, look at what Avraham’s reverence of God cost him!

Is it even possible to maintain a deep connection with and loyalty to our families while still strengthening our relationship with God?

I’m not really sure….
Any thoughts?

Shavua tov,