By Rabbi Jennifer Weiner
Special to WJW
This week’s Torah portion is Vaera, Genesis 18:1–22:24.
Vayera is one of the most well-known passages of Torah, since it is also read by many on the first day of Rosh Hashanah. In the last part of the portion, known as Akedat Yitzhak or the Binding of Isaac, God tests Abraham and instructs him to sacrifice his son Isaac on Mount Moriah. (Genesis 22:1-19).
This passage is difficult to understand. It brings to mind questions that defy our modern sensibilities. How is it possible a father would follow a deity who commands him to take his beloved son up a mountain and sacrifice him in order to prove love of and loyalty to God?
According to many commentators, including Rabbi Harold Kushner, the test was not whether Abraham would follow the command but, rather, if Abraham would argue with God in order to save Isaac. After all, earlier in this portion, Abraham argued and bargained with God to save the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah for the sake of 50 of righteous people.
When Abraham realized that there were not even 10 righteous people, he gave up.
These commentators surmise that God was testing Abraham to see if he would argue for justice to prevail even if it meant going against God. It was to teach future generations to take a stance for righteousness even in the face of authority and great peril. Abraham
passed the test.
When it came to his own son’s life, though, Abraham did not protest. He took his son up Mount Moriah and placed him on the altar he built and took the knife in his hand to sacrifice Isaac. It was not until a voice cries out for him to stop that Abraham ceases from physically offering Isaac to God.
Some commentators have expressed the idea that this passage was a tale of heroism and willingness rather than justice and righteousness. Others insist that it is a morality play in which the main character made a mistake and should have insisted on justice for another human being out of compassion and concern. In other words, Abraham is either a great hero for following the instructions or failed the test.
Yet, there are commentators who state that Abraham knew he had already passed God’s test because God had promised Abraham that he would be the father of a great nation. Without Isaac, that promise would not come to fruition.
How should we stand up to injustice?
What can we do to right a wrong?
Perhaps the answer is that when we are faced with such adversity that all else fails, the answer is to stand up and demand justice.
Questions for discussion
In our world today, have you ever encountered a time in which you felt as if you were being tested by a higher being or force? When you hear of injustice in the world, is your faith tested? What injustice triggers you? Is it poverty, hunger, the persecution of minorities or the loss of civil liberties? When you are tested, how do you react?
Rabbi Jennifer Weiner is the director of congregational education at Bethesda Jewish Congregation.