Vayeira -- Genesis 18:1-22:24

Adi_Holzer_Werksverzeichnis_835_Abrahams_OpferCrowned as the Knight of Faith at the close of Lech Lecha, Vayeira picks up just three days after Abraham’s circumcision, when his steadfast conviction affords him the ability to see the divine that is revealed in the mundane. At this moment of divine self-revelation known as a theophany, Abraham encounters three men, wayfarers approaching his tent — because of Abraham's insight, he recognizes them as angels. Amidst the radical hospitality extended to these guests, one of the three angels announces that Sarah will give birth to a son in exactly one year, to which she can only laugh.

Later in the narrative, as the remaining two angels arrive in the doomed city of Sodom, Abraham pleads with God to spare the city. Finally and most famously, Abraham’s faith is tested when he is commanded to sacrifice his son on Mount Moriah (the Temple Mount in Jerusalem), where Isaac is bound upon the altar. As Abraham raises his knife to slaughter Isaac, a heavenly voice intercedes. And so Isaac is unbound only because a ram, caught in the thicket by its horns, is then rebound and offered in Isaac’s stead.

This story, the Akeida, is a story of binding and unbinding. In a sense, it is the story of all religion — religio means “binding.” In obeying the divine command, Abraham takes on religion, binding himself and his son to Judaism, but it is the moment of unbinding that is truly religious, as each of us in our lives is free to choose anything, and thus we search for the divine beyond convention or expectation. In the unbinding, Isaac becomes a real person.

What is this process of unbinding ourselves from convention and expectation to become a real spiritual being? The renowned Czech-German writer Franz Kafka (1883 – 1924) offers a clue in his Zurau Aphorisms:

A faith like an ax. As heavy, as light.

If you dare look in the mirror, then you will realize how much faith oscillates — heavy and light, between faithfulness and faithlessness, between connection and disconnection. For such oscillation to be felt, our spiritual practices need to cultivate elasticity, I daresay, a knowing artistry of Judaism unbound in its binding that is flexidox!

- Rabbi Glazer

Image credit: "The Sacrifice of Isaac," by Adi Holzer, b. 1936

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Lech Lecha -- Genesis 12:1–17:27

Pieter_Bruegel_the_Elder_-_The_Tower_of_Babel_(Vienna)_-_Google_Art_Project_-_editedAgain this week, I turn to the renowned Czech-German writer Franz Kafka (1883 – 1924), who wrote in his Zürau Aphorisms:

The true path is along a rope, not a rope suspended way up in the air, but rather only just over the ground. It seems more like a tripwire than a tightrope.

Leaving home activates that tripwire, setting profound change in motion. The challenge of starting out on a new venture —- which is not limited to physical relocation —- is perennial. We are constantly setting off the tripwire of change. Nothing in life is permanent.

Little surprise then that the Hebrew Bible has no sense of permanence or place, be it with regard to an ancestral house or furniture. Rather, G-d commands Abram to relocate, to take leave:

Go forth from your land, your birthplace, and from your patrimony and go to the land which I will show you.” (Genesis 12:1)

With a Promised Land in the offing, along with the promise that Abram and his life partner, Sarai, will become a great nation, they depart, leaving everything behind, journeying to the land of Canaan with their nephew Lot. As the narrative unfolds, take note of how the accepted Near Eastern context of polytheism (multiple divinities ruling the world) shifts toward henotheism (many divinities in the pantheon, but ruled by a supernal deity) and eventually embraces a full-fledged monotheism (a singular divinity ruling the world).

Facing famine, they detour to Egypt, where Sarai is taken captive in Pharaoh’s palace. The escape is only possible because Abram and Sarai disguise themselves as brother and sister, which eventually leads to their release and compensation. Back in Canaan, Lot separates from Abram to settle in Sodom, but Lot is captured by the armies of Chedorlamomer. This unfortunate turn of events forces Abram to set out to rescue his nephew. In defeating the four opposing rulers, Abram is eventually blessed by MalkiZedek, the King of Salem, in powerful, henotheistic language:

Blessed be Abram in the name of the most Supernal God [El Elyon], maker of heaven and earth.” (14:19)

As one of many exemplary non-Jewish figures in the Hebrew Bible (including Jethro and Rahav), it is MalkiZedek who blesses this emerging Jewish leader and his mission of bringing divine awareness into daily living.

Upon completing the “covenant between the pieces” that envisions exile and redemption to the Holy Land, further transformations take place. The next covenant, this one of circumcision, is enacted by Abram upon himself and his son, Isaac, while Hagar is banished with Ishmael. In leaving home and beginning this new venture that comes to be known as Judaism, Abram becomes Abraham (“father of multitudes”) and Sarai becomes Sarah (“princess”). The journey continues…

- Rabbi Glazer

Image credit: "Abraham and Melchisedek," by Dieric Bouts, 1464-1467

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Noah -- Genesis 6:9-11:32

Pieter_Bruegel_the_Elder_-_The_Tower_of_Babel_(Vienna)_-_Google_Art_Project_-_editedFor ten generations, the descendants of Noah remained bound as a single people with a unifying language. Following the construction of the Tower of Babel, however, these seventy united nations are scattered, dispersed across the face of the Earth. Today, amidst so many interconnected but unique cultures and ethnicities, we continue our journey toward making sense of this diaspora.

The renowned Czech-German writer Franz Kafka (1883 – 1924) once quipped in his Zürau Aphorisms:

If it had been possible to build the Tower of Babel without having to climb it, that would have been sanctioned.

Is the dispersion of the diaspora something “sanctioned” by our own inability to live in a unified state, as Kafka slyly suggests, or should all of the Jewish people unite in Zion as we intone each year at the conclusion of our seder?

The story of the Tower of Babel, which comes at the end of this week’s reading, inspires us to revisit the parsha's opening story of Noah. Noah is the only righteous person left standing in a world bereft of morality, and so he is called upon by God to design and build a wooden ark to escape the deluge that is about to wipe out all of Creation. Noah gathers his family and two members of each animal species to ensure continuity after the flood. The ark settles on Mount Ararat after 40 days and nights of rainfall, which recedes 150 days later. From the window of the ark, Noah sends forth a raven, followed by a series of doves to find any traces of dry land. Finally Noah exits the ark, in a sense restarting the process of creation by repopulating the earth.

During this new beginning, a covenant of the rainbow is made by God, who testifies to never again destroy all of humanity. With the flood's dramatic destruction fresh in mind, it is decreed that, henceforth, murder is a capital offense, and flesh or blood taken from a living animal is prohibited (while properly slaughtered meat is permitted to be eaten).

Noah drinks from the first produce of his vineyard, and becomes intoxicated. Again, this righteous exemplar is being tested. This time, we see just how effective Noah has been as a paragon through the behavior of his offspring: Shem and Japheth cover their exposed father, while Ham takes advantage of his vulnerability.

Considering the Babel story again in light of Noah's tale, we see that the model for celebrating diversity amidst dispersion appears in the covenant of the rainbow rather than the bricks and mortar of Babel.

- Rabbi Glazer

Image credit: "The Tower of Babel," by Pieter Brueghel the Elder, 1563

Listen to the audio file of this d'var Torah below!
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