Shabbat Shalom with a Heart-Healthy Dose of Torah – Vayeira
As much as I always thought that I would be a Dentist growing up, I hated going to the Dentist. I knew I was not going to get good news, and however many times I brushed the last two days before the appointment, it did not change the outcome. There are some things that one just cannot mask. Of course, as spotty as my oral hygiene was back then, it did not help that I had an oral surgeon named “Youngblood,” and an Orthodontist named “Maul.” I guess I really knew the outcome before sitting in the chair. Part of me kept waiting for either dentist to live up to their name … on me!
Mom knew that on the days I had to go see these guys, I was not going to be much company. I had too much on my mind. We would travel forever (or at least what seemed to be forever) to the office in dead silence. I either ignored her through my preoccupation or blew up at her, in fear of having to be accountable.
The Docs were nice guys (as best as I remember), but my struggle had everything to do with my fears of non-compliance, and the test of my integrity, as I had to own up to my relative progress (or lack thereof) in making the braces worthwhile. In fact, someone once reminded me that if I really insisted on getting my braces off quickly, all I had to do was stop brushing my teeth and they would fall off … with the teeth.
We all struggle facing reality. When obstacles to wholeness present in our lives, we can become experts of avoidance, doing everything we can to avoid having to deal with and through those obstacles. Often we become ostriches, putting our heads in the sand, somehow believing that if we can’t see the problem, or it can’t see us, that it will just go away.
Rabbi Bill Lefler is known to comment, “If you put your head in the sand, you have no idea who is trying to kick you in the rear or when it will happen.” We can pretend all we want, but the problem only magnifies as we ignore it. Whether it is the medical condition we were too afraid to get diagnosed, the problems in a relationship that we fail to accept, the assignment from work or school that we put off until the last moment in fear of its difficulty, or wars that begin because festering arguments are allowed to blow out of proportion. Where good people stand by and do nothing in the face of a challenge, the challenge wins, and often the results of our inaction are devastating.
Meet Abraham. Last week, we literally met one of the main figures in the Biblical narrative. He is the patriarch of patriarchs. We give him credit for being the first person to stand with God. God blessed him with two sons, and promised him that they would be the patriarchs of great nations. We watched him argue with God over the people in Sodom and Gomorrah, putting his fingers in God’s (virtual) face, telling God that God was unjust in his condemnation of everyone in both cities. He is a good man.
This week, God presents him with an ultimate test. “Take your son, your only son, the one you love, and go to a place I will show you … and make of him a sacrificial offering on the altar you will build there.” Abraham was to take the only son from his first wife–the one who was supposed to become a father of a great nation– Isaac, and burn him as a sacrifice … a pleasing odor to God.
Abraham, Isaac, and two servants travelled for three days in silence before getting to the appropriate place. Abraham wanted to please God …get the rewards for being obedient, but … it would cost him his son. In blind and silent obeisance, he prepared to do just that. Had the voice of God not screamed at him in the very last second, the Bible would look very different; there would be no Israel, no Judaism, no Christianity, and no Islam (for the Quran tells the same story about Ishmael – the other son).
I had Dr. Maul (and mom) to pull me (kicking and screaming) through the braces episode. Many of us have trusted confidents to hold us and help us in our most desperate times. More of us may have these resources, but are too afraid or stuck to reach out for them. These people are like Abraham. He had three days to ask God, “Why? What about your promise? Certainly, it is not blind obedience you seek? Help me ask the right questions?” I think God wanted him to say, “No!” God gave him three days in which to do so … and probably was in sheer disbelief up until the last moment, that Abraham would actually kill his son without asking a question.
In God’s disillusionment with Abraham’s failure, God never speaks to him again in the Torah. Four fifths of the Torah is about a guy name Moses who questions God all of the time … and is the only one who got to know God panim el panim – face to face.
I feel for Abraham. I have been stuck and afraid … and in sheer disbelief of what is happening around me, completely unaware that I had the power to stop it and right it … rewrite it. Raise your hand if you have been there. Some of us were helped out. Some of us were pushed through it. Some of us never found a way out of the madness.
We read the stories of the patriarchs and matriarchs to help us make sense out of living. Each has incredible tools, and each suffers from devastating setbacks. Knowing how deep people can go into this world of loss and depression, we have an obligation to do for the “Abrahams” what the Biblical God did not even do for him: Offer meaningful care, don’t stop at the first, “no,” but be persistent (not a nag) in letting people know that you care. Their future … and our future is at stake. Sitting by waiting for someone to see the light is itself a transgression.
“Tzedek, tzedek, tirdoff.” Deuteronomy is explicit; we pursue righteousness, not wait for it. Take stock of those who are in need around you.
Shabbat Shalom … may it be for so many more than it ever has been.