We are reading this week’s Parasha as we approach the finish line of the elections. So, we have grown accustomed to “spin.” We want our candidates extolled and our adversaries vilified. Can the same be said of how our sages describe the characters of the Tanach? I wonder that sometimes. Can we see these people for who they are—real people with real problems? Can we view their behaviors objectively or must we view them through the prism of an agenda? I struggle with that sometimes. Maybe it was how I was raised, but I feel uncomfortable, as if committing a heinous act, to criticize or question some of our ancestors behaviors. Do you ever feel that way? Fortunately, I am mostly over it.
It is actually a great tradition of our people to ask these questions—as long as we ask them in good faith. So here is my question for this Parasha. Are the characters of Torah there for the people they love and who love them? For instance, was Avraham there for Sarah when he asked her to identify herself as his sister during their travels? Was Avraham there for Sarah when he accepted her offer to take Hagar when Sarah experienced fertility problems? Was Avraham there for Sarah when Hagar gloated in her fertility? Was Avraham there for Hagar when Sarah ordered her out? Was Avraham there for his son Ishmael when he sent Ishmael away too? Was Hagar there for Ishmael when leaving him to his own devises when she ran out of water? Was Avraham there for Yitzchak when God asked him to offer Yitzchak as a sacrifice? Was Avraham there for Yitzchak when he raised the knife over his son’s head? Was Avraham there for Yitzchak when Avraham did not bargain for his son’s life as he did for the people of Sodom? Was Avraham there for Sarah when Avraham did not tell Sarah the nature of his journey with Yitzchak? Is it interesting to note that the Torah does not describe Avraham and Isaac ever speaking again after the akeidah experience or that Sarah dies perhaps in shock and fear over the event?
Our Torah is filled with difficult questions if we choose to consider them. Most important is that we realize that our heroes are not perfect, nor are we expected to be. The Rabbis teach us of the Torah—“Maasei Avot, siman l’banim.” We are to learn from the actions of our ancestors. We may not have acted differently than they, but we grow and benefit from learning about it.
This Shabbat we learn with Ruth Bergman and I am looking forward to it. 10:00 a.m. in the Shiffman Chapel. If you have not yet come for a Torah study, why not?