The story of the Akedah, the binding of Isaac, is one of the most powerful and enigmatic passages in the Torah. Why did God need to test Abraham’s faith in such a dramatic fashion? Why did Abraham heed God’s instruction to sacrifice Isaac without offering any resistance? Why did the angel of the Lord wait until the very last moment—when Abraham had a knife at Isaac’s throat—to intervene?
Angel for Shabbat
I have often told mourners: You never get over the death of a loved one; but you learn to get through it. We find consolation not by forgetting them, but by bringing them along with us every day of our lives. We find consolation through the power of love, the blessing of loving and being loved.
Forecasters and marketers have come up with a word to describe a current trend: cocooning. This term refers to a growing phenomenon in which people increasingly strive for a sense of personal space by cutting themselves off from the “outside world.” They avoid social interactions by enclosing themselves in their own private world to the extent possible.
Judaism that is based primarily on the “conservative” tendency becomes dry and over-ritualized. Judaism that is based primarily on the “restorative” element becomes quixotic and irrelevant. Judaism that is based primarily on the “utopian” element becomes deracinated, flailing out in various directions while disconnecting itself from the wellsprings of Jewish tradition.
Rabbinic tradition speaks of “teshuvah sheleimah,” a complete repentance. This entails not merely repenting for this sin or that sin, or asking forgiveness for this transgression or that error. It means transforming our personalities, transforming the way we lead our lives, seeing our lives organically, comprehensively, clearly.
Our great biblical heroes, as well as our great spiritual heroes of all generations, were real human beings, not plaster saints. They had real feelings, real conflicts. Many times they performed admirably; on some occasions they fell short. To suggest that anyone is “perfect”—totally devoid of sin and error—is to misrepresent that person and to misrepresent truth.
The story of Cain and Abel is deeply troubling. For some unstated reason, God accepts the offering of Abel and rejects the offering of Cain. In his bitterness and jealousy, Cain murders Abel, the first homicide.
As we enter the holy day season, it is important for us to remember that we each stand before the Almighty, who Alone knows the essence of who we are. The ultimate Arbiter of the value of our lives is the One to whom we are answerable. There is no point in pretending to be what we aren't, or in posturing to make ourselves more important in the eyes of others--God always knows the Truth about who we are.
Such is the nature of Godliness: to use our God-given talents to raise ourselves and others to a more spiritual level of perception. “Fraudliness” is —fraudulent. It is pretend religion. It is egotism dressed in the cloak of religion.
Professor Gershom Scholem wrote: “The Jewish mystic lives and acts in perpetual rebellion against a world with which he strives with all his zeal to be at peace” (Major Trends in Jewish Mysticism, p. 34). I think this statement is true not only of mystics, but of all truly religious individuals.