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Parashat Vayera (Genesis 18:1-24)

“Then an angel of the Lord called to him from heaven:

“Abraham! Abraham! And he answered, “Here I am.” (Genesis 22:11)

Parashat Vayera includes the powerful and difficult story of the akedah (the Binding of Isaac).  Most commentators focus on Abraham’s willingness to sacrifice his son, Isaac, as a demonstration of his great faith in God.   Rabbi Bradley Shavit Artson (1959-; Dean of the Ziegler School of Rabbinic Studies at the American Jewish University) focuses instead on Isaac’s response.  Since Isaac doesn’t say anything at the time, Artson examines Isaac’s later life to see what he learns that day on the mountaintop.

Isaac does not go on to be a public figure like his father.  He is quiet and contemplative, “…communing with his heart and searching his soul.” (Psalms 77:7) Isaac is emotionally grounded; he loves Rebecca, his wife (Gen. 24:67) and enjoys their marital intimacy (Gen. 26:8).  His emotional connection allows him to empathize with Rebecca and plead her case to God when she is barren (Gen.  25:21).

Isaac is relationship-oriented.  When Philistine chiefs challenge his ownership of a well, Isaac gives up the well rather than lose the relationship.  Isaac digs new wells–three times (Gen.  26:17-22)–and becomes a friend and advisor to the Philistines.   Isaac also is steadfast in his relationship to the land; he is the only patriarch who never leaves the land of his birth.

Artson suggests Isaac’s near-death experience at his father’s hands convinces him power, glory, and material wealth are ephemeral; the only possessions of true and lasting value are love, connection to a community, and a sense of rootedness in a place.   JCCs across North America offer two out of those three every day (without knives, altars, rams, or drama!).

Gut Shabbos/Shabbat Shalom


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