Tag Archives: va-yera

Isaac at Moriah and the Temple Mount

It’s no mystery that I love all the “begats” in the bible and I’ve built complex charts and relationship maps to tease out interesting details. (My family tree of every named individual in the Torah is completed, but I have to make it presentable and write up explanations for some of my choices.) I am now trying to pay more attention to the places in the bible and their connections.

Using my previous post on the Binding of Isaac as an example, the fact that Isaac lived at Beer-lahai-roi after his near-sacrifice deepens the text. Now, we as readers can connect that as where Hagar first met God and ponder its significance. While the book does not provide easy answers, we can ask new questions. Did he go there because it was hallowed ground? Was there a connection between him and Hagar or Ishmael at that spot? Could Isaac have gone there in search of God himself, as Hagar did when she ran away? There are no answers to these questions, but asking them brings us closer to Isaac and closer to the text.

As important as Beer-lahai-roi is, undoubtedly the most important place mentioned in the Binding of Isaac is Moriah, the region where he was to be offered to God. It may be the most important place in the while bible.

Read on for more.

Continue reading Isaac at Moriah and the Temple Mount

Abraham’s True Sacrifice – His Family

We’re up to one of those famous stories in the bible. The “Binding of Isaac”, as it is generally called, is almost as well known as Noah’s Ark or the Parting of the Red Sea and it does so without cute animals or Charlton Heston. In this story, God commands Abraham to sacrifice his son Isaac to Him, only to relent at the last moment and provide a ram to use instead. Because of his commitment to God, Abraham proves himself worthy again to be the patriarch of the future Israel.

This test and validation narrative is a good one, but a careful reading shows that God wasn’t demanding an empty sacrifice of Abraham. Although Isaac was spared the knife, God dealt Abraham a tremendous hidden sacrifice: a family, a father and son, walked up the mountain together but two strangers walked down. In one stroke, Abraham’s family was shattered. He, his son, and his wife would never be together again.

Read on for more.

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Abraham vs Abimelech Part II: The Peace at Beer-sheba

Some chapters are just action-packed: Genesis 21 is one of those. This chapter includes the birth of Isaac, the casting out of Ishmael and Hagar, and now a peace treaty between Abraham and Abimelech. You might remember that Abimelech had tried to take Sarah as a bride, only a chapter ago.

This story is a brief return, or perhaps a deliberate contrast, with the Abraham of Genesis 14. In that story, Abraham was a war-lord, a king in all but name. Abraham went to war against a host of Caananite kingdoms to rescue his nephew. Now, he’s suing for peace. Read on.

Continue reading Abraham vs Abimelech Part II: The Peace at Beer-sheba

Sarah’s Laughter – Isaac’s Name Pun

While I love the bible in translation, there are little moments that I miss for not being able to read the original Hebrew. All translations have to make difficult choices. Given a poem, for example, do we translate for the meaning or the meter of the verse? Should we fail at both and land in between? The bible contains poetry, of course, but these translation challenges happen whenever there is wordplay in the bible.

The birth of Isaac is one of the places where the humor, in this case the puns, simply don’t come through in our translations. In Hebrew, Isaac’s name means “he laughs”. (I have no way to verify this, but several of my bibles reference in this a footnote.) By a complete non-coincidence, the verb “laugh” happens all over the several chapters of Genesis that refer to Isaac. In fact, the verb appears in that story in Genesis more than it appears in any other book except the Psalms.

Sarah and Abraham Hosting the Angels
Sarah and Abraham hosting the angels, presumably right before he fell flat on his face. (source: Wikimedia Commons)

Let’s try an experiment. Let’s re-translate “Isaac” and “laughter” in the Isaac story as “Chuckles” (as a proper name) and “chuckle” (as a verb) and see what happens…

Then Abraham fell upon his face, and chuckled, and said in his heart: ‘Shall a child be born unto him that is a hundred years old? and shall Sarah, that is ninety years old, bear?’ … And God said: ‘Nay, but Sarah thy wife shall bear thee a son; and thou shalt call his name Chuckles;

Modified Genesis 17:17-19

Not too bad, right? Funny, but understated. The vision of Abraham “falling on his face” underscores the humor intended. Can a woman that old have a child? Preposterous!

Genesis 21 follows up and knocks this pun out of the park:

And Sarah conceived, and bore Abraham a son in his old age, at the set time of which God had spoken to him. And Abraham called the name of his son that was born unto him, whom Sarah bore to him, Chuckles. […] And Sarah said: ‘God hath made Chuckles [or chuckles] for me; every one that heareth will chuckle on account of me.’

Modified Genesis 21:2-7

Now, that’s funny!

(Thanks again to the Five Minute Bible blog which has inspired me to look for the humor in the sacred. Tim’s most recent post on Humor in the Bible is about the Book of Daniel.)

Up next: Something less funny.

Casting out Ishmael

God was very hard on Abraham’s relationship with his kids. Despite the fact that he would be “a great nation”, the choices (and commands) that God gave Abraham only served to separate him from his family. While the story of the near-sacrifice of Isaac is better known, it must have been all the more heart-wrenching to Abraham for one often overlooked reason: he had already sacrificed his fatherhood for his real first-born son. When God commanded him later to “Take now thy son, thine only son,” when he took Isaac up the mountain, those words must have stung twice over: both with regret for the son he had already lost, as much as for the one that he knew he was soon to lose.

After a long break with posts about holidays and marriage, I have returned to the Genesis stories. (The last was the second wife-sister story, where Abraham first meets Abimelech.) This will begin a short cycle (with one intermission to return to the Abimelech story) that will ultimately result in the loss of everything Abraham ever loved: Hagar, Ishmael, Isaac, and finally Sarah.

Read on!

Continue reading Casting out Ishmael

Va-Yera – Abraham vs Abimelech: Part I.

Stop me if you’ve heard this one… Abraham and his wife travel to a foreign country. They’re enjoying the sights, sampling the exotic food, but it doesn’t look good to be attached and so he asks his wife if she can, you know, pretend to be his sister for a few days… And then the leader of the country falls in love with her, abducts her, gets punished by God for his sin, and the couple get out as fast as they can. The end. Some jokes never get old.

We’ve reached the second of the three wife-sister narratives in Genesis. The first wife-sister narrative was in Genesis 12. This time, the guilty party is Abimelech, the King of Gerar.

Biblical Canaan was not a place for tourists. Abraham comes off as being weak-kneed. Read on for more.

Continue reading Va-Yera – Abraham vs Abimelech: Part I.

Va-Yera – Lot’s Final Indignity

Lot is the Rodney Dangerfield of early biblical figures: he really gets no respect. Only a few verses after Lot flees from the burning ruins of Sodom and Gomorrah, his story ends. Not with a triumph. Not even with any dignity. No. Lot gets raped by his daughters who, apparently, are tremendous idiots.

More after the break.

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Va-Yera – Justice in the Torah (So Far)

Obviously, my posting schedule has not been what I would hoped it would be. But, I have promised a friend that I would post weekly again and so I will desperately try to do that, despite whatever other challenges life throws at me. And to start, I’m picking up where I left off: a brief survey of justice in the bible prior to Abraham.

As I said in my previous post, the genius of Abraham was not just that he argued with God’s punishment (the first biblical figure to do so), but rather that he seemed to articulate a UNIQUE (to Genesis) view on justice. Up to that point, I postulated, all punishments and rewards were to families and clans rather than individuals. With one huge exception, that’s true. His view was that a small number of good people could keep from punishment a larger number of bad people. What he didn’t do was what we really might wish he had done: request individual justice. Save the good people, punish the bad ones. That’s what we all look for in divine justice, isn’t it? Sadly, it wasn’t to be. But, this is the closest we come up to this point, so that’s something. “Sins of the father”, or clan-guilt, is never fully expunged from the Bible, though later passages will also stress individual justice and the Book of Job will suggests that not all apparent punishments are for crimes anyway.

More after the break.

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Va-Yera – A Tale of Two Dinners

Where we left off, Abraham and Ishmael had just been circumcised, accepting the covenant with God. The following chapters (summary after the break) paint a complex story of punishment, of two men’s relationships with God, and how sometimes a weaker man can do more than a strong one.

This story also marks a turning point: The first time that a man (Abraham) argues with God and wins. It is also the moment where it appears that God’s vision of justice begins slowly to turn from the clan- or family-based justice to individual justice. It won’t get there until the Book of Ezekiel, but it’s a good start. More on that in the next post.

But what do you say about a man who selflessly puts his own butt on the line (rather literally) while trying to save a group of strangers from a rape gang? If he’s Lot, you call him a buffoon.

More after the break…

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Va-Yera – “And He Appeared”

Va-Yera is the fourth weekly Torah portion, spanning Genesis chapters 18 to 22. This portion continues the narrative of Abraham and his family through two huge events: the destruction of Sodom and Gemorrah and the Binding of Isaac, where God commanded Abraham to sacrifice his second son as a test of his loyalty.

The name “Va-Yera” means “And He appeared”, after the first several words of the portion. One can argue that these names are meaningless because the first words are chosen rather than a description, but the textual breaks are flexible enough that the rabbis who codified the names had a great deal of control over what each was called. In this passage, the “He” of course refers to God in his meeting with Abraham while en route to Sodom and Gomorrah. But on a more spiritual level, this portion shows God appearing in a way that He had not in previous sections of Genesis: he is showing his authority and power in a very public way that is as much a warning to others as it is a direct punishment for misdeeds. When God punished mankind in the flood narrative, the punishment was so universal that almost no one could have taken it as an example to do better. When God assisted Abraham in his struggles against Egypt and Chedorloamer, he did so privately and without spectacle. In that way, this portion shows the first time that God has “appeared” before all mankind.

More after the break.

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