Tuesday, June 29, 2010

The Akeida In Context?

My Sefardi spiritual advisor got me thinking today.

It seems fair to ask how Avraham could challenge God on the suffering of the righteous when he is told about the impending destruction of Sdom, but not do the same when told to sacrifice his son. The question isn't new, but today, in our discussion about moral authority, I was led to ask whether the two stories are placed near each other precisely because they represent different approaches to moral authority?

In fact, in the one story that separates Avraham's brazen challenge to God from his unquestioning submission to God's will is another story about moral authority. And in this story, it is Sarah who's authority wins the day.

So in short, I wonder if there is a structure here:

1) Avraham and Sdom represents man's own notion of right and wrong.

2) Avraham, Sarah and Hagar represents societal values and their influence on personal decisions

3) Avraham at the Akeida represents total submission to God's will.

Perhaps these are the three influences on our lives when it comes to moral authority. Our own sense of right and wrong, our environment, and God's will.

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Micah 6:6-8

A bold reminder from this week's haftarah reading - Micah 6:

6 With what shall I come before the LORD
and bow down before the exalted God?
Shall I come before him with burnt offerings,
with calves a year old?

7 Will the LORD be pleased with thousands of rams,
with ten thousand rivers of oil?
Shall I offer my firstborn for my transgression,
the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul?

8 He has showed you, O man, what is good.
And what does the LORD require of you?
To act justly and to love mercy
and to walk humbly with your God.

The Hebrew words "Laasot Mishpat" are translated above as "to act justly". (This JPS translation offers "to do justice"). There are different words for rules in the Torah (e.g. chok, mishpat, torah) , so the word mishpat isn't so easy to translate. It seems, however, to be closely linked to laws that are concerned with justice.

Parshat Mishaptim (Exodus 21:2 -23:33) seems to support this, as we are given a list of laws that overwhelmingly are concerned with justice between people. It should be noted, as and side, that there are other laws in this Torah portion that don't seem primarily to concern justice, such as the celebration of festivals which thank God for acting in history for Israel.

JPS says that Micah was written around the 7th century BCE, around the time of the collapse of the northern kingdom of Israel. I wonder if when Micah uses the word "Mishpat" in 6:8, the reference is to the rules in Exodus?

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Quick thought

Interesting that in Parshat Balak the Torah tells us a story about a king who attempts to defeat Israel spiritually - not only militarily - by having the nation cursed by Bilam, who has a close connection to God....