Drash on Parashat Vayera
Rabbi Richard G Lampert
North Shore Temple Emanuel, Chatswood NSW
This week’s sedra is replete with wonderful and confusing stories, ranging from the arrival at Abraham’s tent of three strangers (who eventually turn out to be two – who or where was the third?); the promise from these men that Abraham, at the age of 99 was to become a father through his wife, Sarah, who was aged 90; the discussion between God and Abraham about what was to be the fate of S’dom and Amorah (otherwise known as Sodom and Gomorah); the debate that raged between Abraham and God, when God said that the cities would be destroyed, and Abraham fought the Almighty, asking whether God would really destroy the good along with the wicked; the story of Lot and his wife, and then the story of Lot and his daughters; the birth of Isaac and the concomitant expulsion of the handmaid Hagar and her son, Ishmael; and finally, the Akedah – the story of the binding of Isaac in preparation for his intended sacrifice by his father, Abraham.
Wow! What a loaded portion of Torah! And what joy for the preacher! So many pegs on which to hang a sermon! I have decided to deal with the problems raised by the last topic mentioned above – the binding of Isaac.
As long as I can remember, Abraham has been portrayed and praised as a God-fearing, obedient committed man who was even prepared to slaughter his son to prove his fidelity and devotion to God. He has been held up as the epitome of the faithful man of God, fearless in his efforts to do God’s will with nary a thought of refusal. Abraham has been portrayed as a wonderful example of readiness to do whatever he believed was God’s will. Our sages have said that this was one of ten tests to which God submitted Abraham. They say he passed the test with flying colours.
And yet, the question can and perhaps should be raised – was Abraham right to act as he did, without any murmur against what must have been a terrible thing to do- sacrifice his only son through Sarah, a son for whom he had waited nearly a century to enjoy. After all, he had stood up to God about the fate of Sodom and Gomorrah, in fact, he chided, nay, he shouted at God: “Shall not the judge of all the earth do justly!?”
And yet, when it came to sacrificing his son, his only son, whom he loved, Isaac, he said nothing! Not a word, not a syllable! Surely this was not a passing of the test – surely it was failure of a test. Surely a pass-mark would have been gained had he objected to the ridiculous nature of the test! After all, think of it - “Take your son, your only son, whom you love, and sacrifice him to me!”
In my opinion, Abraham failed the test – a test to which he should never have been subjected. When we read the story in a few days time or on next Rosh Hashanah, let us ask ourselves, “Did our revered ancestor, Abraham, pass or fail that test?” I am not sure that all our answers will be the same. I know what mine will be! As a father, as a religious leader in the 21st century and as a human being guided by the teachings of Judaism, I think I know what my opinion will be.