Torah Thoughts for Today
Monday, January 19, 2004
#4 Isaac: Original Miracle Child & Ultimate Sacrifice
Isaac: Original Miracle Child & Ultimate Sacrifice:
Countering the Missionaries.
(Based on the weekly Torah portion of VaYeira (“Appeared”). Genesis, Chapter 18, verse 1 – Chapter 22, verse 24. English text and commentary at
http://bible.ort.org/books/pentd2.asp?ACTION=displaypage&BOOK=1&CHAPTER=18 Dedicated to my parents.)
Does this sound familiar to you? :
1. Three wise men appear to a suffering couple, bearing good tidings and spiritual gifts, as a star shines bright.
2. A prediction by God that a special child will be born to a Jewish family in ancient Israel.
3. God chooses this one special family that will welcome this child into this world.
4. A miraculous birth.
5. The dawn of a new age as a result of this birth.
6. A plea that the wicked should be forgiven for their sins since they know not how bad it is what they do.
7. The grown child is asked to give up its life.
8. It will be equal to the offering of a consecrated animal.
9. The willingness to sacrifice that special life so that multitudes will one day be forgiven and granted life.
10. A revival from death takes place.
11. The mother grieves bitterly for what transpires.
12. God tests Man’s belief in Divine Mercy.
13. A new dimension of Godliness is revealed.
14. A new and lasting religion is established through the new life of the special son.
15. God will always look at the sacrifice and consider it as an atonement for the sins of later generations
16. It will serve as a serious alternative to sacrificial animal offerings in the Jewish Temples.
17. The entire saga is recorded in a Holy Book and it is a central part of the new religion.
18. This amazing story becomes connected to the main message of a major religious holiday observed till this day.
19. Religious rituals are created so that it can be recalled and relived.
20. Without this information you cannot understand the religion it helps establish.
21. It is expected that you believe in the truth and accuracy of all this at the risk of denying your own religion or worse.
If you thought all along that I was referring to Christianity and its founding you are MISTAKEN, because it is the story of Abraham his wife Sarah and their son Isaac (Yitzchak), and it is to be found in the Torah portion of VaYera, in Genesis (Bereishis) Chapters 18 to 22. Read it for yourself (with a few classic commentaries if you can) and you will know of how Isaac was prepared to offer his life and be burned to ashes on an altar, a kind of God-induced, self-directed “burning at the stake”, of all things!
The idea of a miracle birth is well known about Christianity. What is not so well known or understood is that the basic idea was, one might say, “plagiarized” or “borrowed”, from a much earlier episode in the Torah in the lives of Abraham and his son Isaac (Yitzchak) more than 1,500 years BCE (Before the Common – Christian- Era)!
And for very good reasons, because this cycle of “birth-death-reincarnation-triumph of the Spirit” is one of the most powerful, moving, cataclysmic, and “burning” ideas known to humankind and will always reach the minds, hearts, and souls of most people. Billions and billions of them.
Lets review some of the above points and see how they apply to Judaism’s Isaac and how obvious it is that this is the source for the religion of Christianity which “took it over” and used it for its own purposes. You will see that Christianity’s claims are neither new nor unique and it is too bad that people are not aware of the story, the PRIMARY SOURCE as it was originally meant to be understood. It remains in Genesis, and classical Torah Judaism still believes in to this day with all its heart!
Ok, here we go…
1. “Three Wise Men”:
In Genesis 18 we are told how Abraham was sitting in front of his tent, and the SUN, our nearest star, was burning bright, when three mysterious strangers appear out of the desert haze. He hosts them and they pronounce several blessings, including: “I will return to you this time next year, said (one of the men), and your wife Sarah will have a son.” (Genesis18, v.10).
They are not ordinary men, as rabbinic commentators say they were three archangels. The angel Michael spoke; flanked by Gabriel and Rafael. [*1]
Truly God’s most venerable emissaries coming with joyous tidings!
2. “Special Child Coming”:
God predicted in the Torah beforehand that a very special precious child would be born to Abraham and Sarah. “God said, ‘Still your wife Sarah will give birth to a son. You must name him Isaac. I will keep My covenant with him as an eternal treaty, for his descendents after him’.” (Genesis 17, v. 19). Or, “Is there anything too difficult for God? At the designated time I will return, and Sarah will have a son”. (Genesis 18, v.14)
3. “A Special Family”:
“…God appeared to him and said, ‘I am God Almighty… I will make a covenant between Me and you, and I will increase your numbers …Your name shall become Abraham,…I will increase your numbers…and I will make you into nations – kings will be your descendents…I will be a God to you and to your offspring after you. To you and your offspring I will give the land where you are now living as a foreigner. The whole land of Canaan shall be your eternal heritage, and I will be a God to your descendents…Sarai your wife – do not call her by the name Sarai, for Sarah is her name. I will bless her, and make her bear you a son…she will be the mother of entire nations – kings will be her descendents.”
(Genesis 17, vs.1-15)
Their name change mandated by God are signs of their CONVERSION to the true faith of MONOTHEISM. They have become partners with God destined to change the history of the world and the fate of the Universe, and all the Celestial Spheres.
4. “Miraculous Birth”:
“Abraham …laughed. He said to himself, ‘Can a hundred year old man have children? Can Sarah, who is ninety, give birth?’…God said, ‘Still, your wife Sarah will give birth to a son. You must name him Isaac.” (Genesis 17, v.17). [Ed.: In Hebrew, Isaac is Yitzchak which is derived from the root “TO LAUGH”].
“Abraham and Sarah were already old, well on in years, and Sarah no longer had `female periods`. She laughed to herself, saying, ‘Now that I am worn out, shall I have my heart’s desire? My husband is old.’…God said to Abraham, ‘Why did Sarah laugh…’…Is anything too difficult for God? At the designated time, I will return, and Sarah will have a son.” (Genesis 18, vs. 13-14)…
“God granted special providence to Sarah as He said He would, and God did what He promised for Sarah.
Sarah became pregnant, and she gave birth to Abraham’s son in his old age…Abraham gave the name Isaac.
When his son Isaac was eight days old, Abraham circumcised him, as God had commanded.
Abraham was 100 years old when his son Isaac was born.
Sara said, ‘God has given me LAUGHTER. All who hear about it will LAUGH for me.’
She said, ‘Who would have even suggested to Abraham that Sarah would be nursing children? But here I have given birth to a son in his old age’.” (Genesis 21, vs. 1-7)
5. “New Era”:
The arrival of Isaac is considered to be the onset of the fateful exile of the Children of Israel in Egypt and their dramatic EXODUS. This will be the blueprint and proto-type of all subsequent exiles and events that will befall the Jewish People until the present time.
Earlier: “God said to Abram, ‘Know for sure that your descendents will be foreigners in a land that is not theirs for 400 years. They will be enslaved and oppressed. But I will finally bring judgment against the nation who enslaves them, and they will then leave with great wealth’.” (Genesis 15, vs. 13-14).
The duration of the Exodus is later reported as: “The lifestyles that the Israelites endured in Egypt had thus lasted 430 years. At the end of the 430 years, all of God’s armies left Egypt in broad daylight.” (Exodus 12, vs. 40-42). There is discussion among the sages that since the 400 years were counted from Isaac’s birth, and Isaac was born when Abraham was 100 years old, the 430 years had to have started earlier. Nevertheless most maintain that 400 years elapsed between Isaac’s birth and the Exodus, because since Isaac was 60 when Jacob was born, and Jacob was 130 when he came to Egypt the total number of years the Israelites were in Egypt was actually 210. [*2]
The Jewish sages say that the ultimate redemption in the end of days will not only parallel the first Egyptian Exile and Exodus, it will be far greater in scale, as it will be a sweeping global event that will include all humankind in one way or another.
6. “Forgive Them…”:
Of the three visitors that came to visit Abraham, after informing Abraham that he would have a son Isaac, the angel Michael departed. The arch-angels Gabriel (denoting God’s Power) and Rafael (the Healing angel), doing their Master’s bidding, move on to test the morals, and tragically destroy, the wicked cities of Sodom and Amora.
The angelic visitors are the two “guests” that Lot (Abraham’s nephew who had settled among the evil people of Sodom), tries to “rescue” from attempted homosexual gang rape in Sodom (hence the word “sodomy”) by the incensed Sodomites.
But it was Abraham who pleaded with God not to destroy the entire cities because maybe there were a few who were righteous and their merits should outweigh the evil. Abraham utters one of the profoundest requests of God “…Will You actually wipe out the innocent together with the guilty…to kill the innocent with the guilty, letting righteous and the wicked fare alike…Shall the whole world’s Judge not act justly?” (Genesis 18, vs. 23-25).
And indeed there is one righteous family that is saved in the midst of the holocaust that rained down on Sodom; it is the family of Lot, Abraham’s nephew. The archangel Rafael, with the power to Heal, saves Lot and his family from the midst of Sodom’s downfall. Lot is forgiven.
He will have his life, and that of his two daughters with him. [*3]
7. “Self Martyrdom”:
There is a misconception that Isaac was a “lad” when God calls on Abraham to offer him up as a sacrificial offering. This is a mistake.
It says, “When Isaac was 40 years old, he married Rebecca…” (Genesis 25, v.20). The great rabbinic commentator RASHI (Rabbi Solomon ben Yitzchak) who lived in the 1040-1105 (“AD” aka “CE” = “Common Era”), calculates that when Isaac and Abraham returned from the ultimate test that God put them through, “…Isaac was 37 years old, because at this time Sarah died at 127 years…when she was 90 she gave birth to Isaac, and she died at 127 as stated in Genesis 23, v. 1, …thus Isaac was 37 years old…” [*4]
Gods puts Abraham and Isaac to the ultimate TEST as mature ADULTS: Practicing the HUMAN SACRIFICE of your own special unique SON, first in Abraham’s union with Sarah.
God asks that His own Promised son To Abraham and Sarah surrender his life because it is God’s will and decree! :
“…God tested Abraham: ‘Abraham…take your son, the only one you love, Isaac, and go to the land Moriah. Bring him as an all-burned (“OLAH” in Hebrew) offering (sacrifice) on one of the mountains’
…Isaac spoke to Abraham: ‘Father…here is the fire and the wood. BUT WHERE IS THE LAMB FOR THE OFFERING?’
And Abraham said: ‘GOD WILL SEE TO A LAMB FOR THE OFFERING, MY SON’
…He bound his son Isaac, and placed him on the altar on top of the wood. ABRAHAM REACHED OUT AND TOOK THE SLAUGHTER KNIFE TO SLIT HIS SON’S THROAT.”
At that split second God’s angel is heard: Do not harm! Do not do anything!
Instead, Abraham: “...went and got the ram, sacrificing it as an all burned offering in his son’s place”( Genesis 22, vs. 1-19).
The deeper teachings of Judaism consider the entire process as one fait accompli continuum:
Since God commands the slaughter of Isaac, and Abraham obeys, but is suddenly halted at the last instant, and then a mysterious surprise ram appears and is offered up as the slaughtered sacrifice, it is thus considered as Isaac having had himself undergone this process. Isaac the lamb is at one with the offered ram. So therefore, the ashes of the burned ram are considered as the equivalent ashes of Isaac because in essence he unquestioningly surrendered himself to God’s inscrutable desire and command demanding Isaac’s life. Look carefully at the following quotation:
“Rabbi Judah said: ‘Isaac purified himself and in intention offered himself up to God, was at that time ETHERIALIZED and, as it were,
HE ASCENDED TO THE THRONE OF GOD like the odour of the incense spices which the priests offered before Him twice a day; AND SO THE SACRIFICE WAS COMPLETE.”[*5]
But at this point I have actually reached:
8. “Holy Offering”:
The specific name for the TYPE of “Sacrificial Offering” God wants Isaac to become, is the exact same name for those types of sacrificial animal offerings on the altar of the Tabernacle and in the two later Jewish Temples in Jerusalem, that are called “OLAH” (“raised offering”).
The OLAH sacrifices are also known as a “Burnt Offering/Sacrifice”, being burned to complete ashes. It is over 1,300 (BCE) years from the time of the Tabernacle till the destruction of the second Temple during which time myriads of Olahs were offered up.
Any word in the Torah with the same spelling and meaning is connected and is even the same subject in different formats, thus Isaac’s OLAH is parallel and connected to any kind of subsequent Olah. Designating Isaac as an Olah puts him at the top of an Olah hierarchy that is called “Holy of Holies” (“Ha-Olah Kodash Kodashim”)[*6].
The fact that the book of Leviticus (third of the first five books of the Torah), commences with the commands and descriptions of Olahs, indicates their pivotal significance. Olahs can come from cattle, sheep, goats, and doves. It opens with:
“God called to Moses…If the sacrifice is an OLAH (“Burnt Offering”) it must be an unblemished MALE…it shall then be accepted as an ATONEMENT for him. He shall have the young bull SLAUGHTERED before God…Aaron’s sons (the priests-“Kohanim”) shall place FIRE on the altar, and arrange wood on the fire…The priest shall thus burn the entire animal on the altar as a completely burnt offering to God, an appeasing fragrance” Leviticus, Chapter 1, vs.1-9.
Isaac’s committing himself to being a HUMAN burnt offering is the hidden essence impelling all subsequent animal burnt offerings, endowing them with their inner spiritual energies. Subsequently, with the BURNING of the Jewish Second Temple 2,000 years ago, myriads of Jews, the descendants Isaac, will become “KEDOSHIM” (“Holy Martyrs”), suffering punishments of burnings and annihilations during the long Exile.
It is ONLY because their forefather Isaac transformed himself into the first human Olah, that this spirit of self-sacrifice lives on whenever a Jew is called upon to make the ultimate sacrifice, even though there has not been a Temple for 2,000 years.
9. “Sacrificed Life Grants Eternal Forgiveness to Others”:
The notion that the self-sacrifice of a spiritual progenitor can, and does act as an “insurance policy” when things get rough for his spiritual heirs when they need to “call in the chips” of their great ancestor is found right here.
The classical texts say that it is Abraham who says to God:
“You know full well that when you asked me to offer my son up as a (Burnt) Offering I could have answered you that ‘Yesterday You told me that my seed shall be perpetuated through Isaac, and now You say offer him up as an Olah (Burnt Offering)’, BUT I suppressed my natural human reactions of mercy and kindness (to do Your command); So may it come to be in the future that when the sons of Isaac are in trouble and there is no-one to plead on their behalf and protect them, that You will provide their protection”[*7]
Abraham spells it out in very clear terms that he assumes that there will be a quid pro quo, and Isaac’s self-sacrifice will therefore remain as an ETERNAL guarantee of hope and forgiveness. This is how classical Judaism sees it. THE ultimate sacrifice of Isaac will ultimately forevermore be constant spiritual capital to rescue the seed of Isaac whenever they have their backs to the wall TILL THE END OF TIME.
It goes beyond merely remembering and considering what Abraham did and how Isaac cooperated. The so-called sacrificial “ASHES” of Isaac are always in front of God. He cannot and does not ignore it at any time whatsoever. This is a fundamental pillar of the Jewish faith, no holds barred.
That this is so, is very dramatically expressed by a profound statement recorded in the Oral Law:
“Why does Scripture NOT use the word ‘remember’ in connection with Isaac’s name (when his ‘remembrance’ would help the Jews)? Because this is unnecessary for God says, as it were:
‘THE ASHES OF ISAAC ARE ALWAYS VISIBLE BEFORE ME AS THOUGH THEY WERE HEAPED UP LYING UPON THE ALTAR’!”[*8]
10. “Return from Death”:
In some of the profoundest teachings of Judaism it states: “When Abraham put his knife to Isaac’s throat, Isaac’s soul DEPARTED FROM HIS BODY…When Isaac heard the words ‘Do not touch’ him, HIS SOUL RETURNED TO HIS BODY…Abraham untied him and Isaac got up. When he stood on his feet he recited the blessing ‘BLESSED ARE YOU GOD , WHO REVIVES THE DEAD’!”[*9]
It’s reported that there are people today who claim that they have had “out of body” experiences during a severe physical accident. They claim that they felt as if they had “left their bodies” and were now “looking down” on themselves as their bodies lay helpless and seemingly lifeless. Some who have been near death and have “come back” from the brink of death claim to have seen great light and even to see special people long gone come and greet them to the after-life. This is today! It’s fair to say that Isaac experienced something of a “Life to Death and a Death to Life Experience” on a colossal “Biblical scale”.
Something supremely transcendental occurred to Isaac as Abraham’s slaughtering knife sliced through the rarefied air of Mount Moriah, the site of the future Temple Mount. It’s shrouded in great mystical secrecy. But as the above quotes show Isaac, somehow transmutated through the ram, is considered to have been reduced to ashes and his essence, his soul was elevated spiritually by submitting to the “trial by fire”.
Thus when Abraham is subsequently told to keep his hand away and not to harm his son, Isaac in effect set’s in motion what Judaism teaches as one of its cardinal Thirteen Principles Faith as formulated by Maimonides: Revival of the Dead “Techiyat HaMeitim”:
“I believe with complete faith that there will be a resuscitation of the dead whenever the wish emanates from the Creator, Blessed is His Name and exalted is His mention, forever and for all eternity”
In this, Isaac is not just the first human Sacrificial Lamb, but he is the one and only proto-type for Revival from the Dead embedded in the spiritual genetics of Judaism and the Jewish people.
11. “Mother’s Grief”:
The whole episode of God commanding Isaac’s sacrifice literally shocked the living daylights out of Sarah, who died of shock, when she found out what was really happening. This is what all the Oral Torah commentaries state. They derive their proof from the fact that the episode of Isaac is followed by the Torah portion dealing with Sarah’s death, tying the two events together proving that one traumatic near-death experience resulted in a real death experience.
Was Mary this shocked?
Sarah was the first “Yiddisher Mama” and she proved the depth of it by passing out permanently when she heard about her son’s ordeal.
12. “Divine Mercy Tested”:
In Judaism, each of the three forefathers, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, have unique characteristics that ultimately embody specific Divine Attributes. Abraham is the foundation of it all. His attribute is Loving-Kindness or Mercy. The entire foundation of the world is based on this fundamental sine qua non, that human existence is impossible without Divine Mercy, which needs to be inculcated into human behavior.
The depictions of him rushing to welcome and host unknown guests, or pleading on behalf of strangers who deserve to be punished, or caring for his wayward son Ishmael, is not mere narrative. It is the living “core” of his and ALL humanity and is its DEFINITION. It is God’s way of “bringing to life” and “embodying” in real terms, in real time, God’s own Divine attributes through these three unique patriarchs.
Isaac is the pillar of Judgment-Justice or Fear. He surrendered himself to God’s inscrutable decree that asks for his life as a sacrificial offering. He proves that God’s laws are irresistible and supra rational. The rule of law, of submission and “fear” of “judgment” and “justice” in society is based on the Divine origin of the concept of Judgment and Justice. When Isaac takes it upon himself to submit to God’s Will, he is enshrining within the core of humanity that like him, we are all ultimately bound to FEAR God and accept the JUSTICE of his JUDGMENTS, as harsh as they may sometimes seem. The hardest “Judgment” for us to accept of course, is our own mortality and death.
Finally there is Jacob, who embodies TRUTH, which according to Judaism is the perfect balance between Mercy and Justice. Truth is the “hand” that holds and weighs the scales of both Divine Justice and human justice on the one hand, and Mercy and Kindness in the other hand.
So it is no surprise that this whole episode of Isaac’s life being requested as an offering is the ULTIMATE TEST for Abraham, because he is being asked to turn his own quality of Love into seeming “cruelty”. How could a Good and Merciful God expect his very own standard-bearer and chosen role model to deny his own instincts and qualities?
But this is exactly what happens because it is God’s Will, and Abraham’s reward is that God establishes an eternal covenant with him and his descendants stretching all the way through history as Divine Mercy is granted to the Jewish people in all their travails in time.
13. “New Dimension of God”:
Abraham and Isaac marching in unison to do God’s Will are the real “Father and the Son”. Abraham’s name actually means “Father of many nations”, which he earns because he actually did give his one and only true son, Isaac, as a holy sacrificial lamb and whose merits serve the world for the best, till the end of time. Abraham the father and Isaac the son are united with and through God and allow the Holy Presence of God to come and dwell in this world.
Judaism refers to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob as God’s “CHARIOT” that carries His Ways and Message to all humanity who are, after all, created in the Image of the One and Only God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.
14. “New and Lasting Religion”:
Abraham brought Ethical Monotheism into the world. Isaac showed that life on Earth is transcended by Self Sacrifice, that there is a God of both Mercy and Justice, and that our existence on Earth is subject to these attributes, and that even though God created life in this world, He can only be known in the World to Come as His ways on Earth are inscrutable. It must be accepted that the God of Abraham, Isaac, (and Jacob), is a Divine Power devoid of all body who has the power to both reduce a person to ashes and simultaneously grant eternal life. A great seeming paradox, but Abraham and Isaac, through their tests and travails establish God’s sovereignty in a way that can never be uprooted from human destiny. Their actions and examples will ultimately triumph over all over false beliefs through a faith today called Judaism.
Maimonides does write that these ideas are derived from Abraham, and animate Christianity and Islam, who are only leveling the way for the ultimate Jewish Messiah. Obviously, it’s not what they think, but they are ultimately only pale imitations of the real thing.
15. “Atonement for Generations”:
(See point 9 above).
There are several points in the Torah where it is predicted that the Children of Israel, meaning the Jewish people, will stray from the way that God had wanted them to follow. Then they will be afflicted by tests and troubles, wars and plagues that will seem to show that their God has abandoned them.
However, in the final analysis when it comes down to the bottom line, the bond between the Jews and God will never crumble. It is a bond that has been guaranteed by the Patriarchs themselves.
God will look at the self-sacrifice of Abraham in leaving his birthplace and trekking into the unknown, facing conniving and destructive enemies and finally being called to give up the greatest gift God ever gave him, his special son Isaac, which also cost the life of Sarah. This will be remembered as a merit for all subsequent generations coming from Abraham’s marriage to Sarah.
Isaac’s self-abnegation and complete submission to his seeming fate, and his transcending the normal material world becoming the arch-martyr, will serve as a constant source of atonement for his children through Jacob.
For example, look at this analysis of the verse:
“You will thus be destroyed among the nations. The land of your enemies will consume you…But when the time finally comes that their stubborn spirit is humbled, I will forgive their sin. I will remember My covenant with Jacob as well as My covenant with Isaac, and my covenant with Abraham I will also remember”(Leviticus 26,vs. 39, 41-2.)
The rabbis ask, why does it specifically use the word “remember the covenant” in connection with Abraham and Jacob, but does NOT mention that God will remember any covenant with Isaac, just that “and my covenant with Isaac”, meaning that God does not need a “reminder” about his covenant with Isaac? Why is that so?
The answer is that with Isaac it is different, because he was willing to become a Burnt Offering, an Olah, therefore God considers it as if his actual ashes were actually on the altar right in front of Him CONSTANTLY. There is no need for a “reminder” when the actual subject is ALWAYS obviously visible.
God looks at those sublime ashes created by Isaac’s “life-defying” act and that is the very substance that moves God to transform His Anger and grant Forgiveness and Atonement to those who have wronged Him.
No mention of crucifixions and discussions with co-prisoners on another deserted mount.
Isaac’s Offering stands alone and forever, with no addendums or alterations to the agenda or the requirements of his own self-sacrificial act.
16. “Alternative to Temple Sacrifices”:
(See point 8 above).
Christian missionaries like to argue that since the onset of Christianity about 2,000 years ago, which coincided with the destruction of the Second Temple in Jerusalem, there has been no need for further animal or human sacrifices because their founder became the substitute sacrificial victim, claiming that his blood atones for all humanity’s wrongdoings.
But as has been pointed out above, this was very much a “Johnny come lately” false assertion. Judaism claims and still maintains that it is Isaac alone who has any claim for achieving anything on this scale. Not only that, but the details of Isaac’s origins, birth, his surrendering to God’s will, and self-sacrifice on the altar will always transcend any animal offering that were subsequently practiced in the Temples.
The Temple sacrifices were perhaps later animalistic manifestations of Isaac’s willingness to be the ultimate human sacrifice, they never take the place of his act, as we have seen the sages say that his “ashes are always on the altar before God”! Always, means always.
With or without the Jewish Temples, Isaac’s ultimate self-sacrifice stands on its own forever. It can never be replaced by anyone else’s acts or deeds because the power and profundity of what Isaac, and Abraham, did on that Mount Moriah more than 3,600 years ago is far reaching and can never be over-shadowed by anyone without exception.
When Jews give their lives for their faith, called “Kiddush HaShem” (Sanctification of God’s Name), they are NOT surpassing Isaac, they are being led by him, following in his footsteps and utilizing the road that he trail blazed, that a Jew should always be ready to give up his life if that is what the circumstances that God has put him in demand, be it Inquisition, Siberia, Jihad, Holocaust, or hospital death bed.
17. “Part of Holy Book & New Religion”:
(See point 14 above).
The noun “Bible” is a rather innocuous sounding word, which means “Book” in Greek. But that one word has the insidious effect of smothering diametrically opposed world-views into one tome.
This point is rather very obvious. In Judaism there is ONLY the Torah, which means “Teaching” or “Law”, and which records the lives, deeds, and personal sacrifices of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, and their children. This is contained in the first book of the Torah, Genesis, which is the literal foundational book of the entire Torah that follows. It tells why God created this world, and the roles of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob in correcting and perfecting it.
Christianity introduces the notion of an “old testament” under the rubric of “Bible” when in actual fact there is no such thing! As far as Judaism is concerned there is but one and only Torah, it has NO “new testament” attached to it.
To consider any “new testaments” would be to deny the vital constant dynamic centrality of the Torah’s eternal and immutable teachings and buy into the deceptive claims of another religion.
Judaism does have an Oral Torah that twins with the Written Torah, the trusted repositories of ancient teachings, and together they continue the religious direction that Abraham, Isaac and Jacob set into motion, and that can NEVER be superceded by anything “newer”.
18. “Part of a Religious Holiday”:
The Torah readings for the services on Rosh Hashanah (The Jewish New Year) are taken from these sections dealing with the prediction and birth of Isaac and ending with the final Test in Genesis Chapters 21 and 22.
The connection with Rosh Hashanah is central.
As the name implies, Rosh Hashanah is the actual beginning not just of a new year, it also commemorates the first act of Creation that took place on that day. Some say Rosh Hashanah coincides with the creation of Adam on the sixth day because the world only took on meaning with the arrival of man and woman.
Adam and Eve were given a mandate, not to eat from the Tree Of Knowledge of Good and Evil, and they failed.
It then becomes the role of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob to set right what Adam ruined. (He ushered in Death, they on the other hand usher in Life).
The classic commentaries say that Sarah conceived on Rosh Hashanah and that the actual “Binding (and Burnt Offering) of Isaac” (“Akedat Yitzchak”) also took place on Rosh Hashanah.
According to Judaism, Rosh Hashanah is THE Day of Judgment, when God judges all of humanity. Who will be born and who will not. Who will live and who will die. Truly a day befitting such a momentous proclamation and arrival of a great Jewish forefather, and his father’s actions, and their super-human Olympian feats on Mount Moriah, and NOT Mount Olympus!:
“On the second day of Rosh Hashanah we read the Torah’s account of the Akeidah, the Binding of Isaac, in which Abraham and Isaac demonstrated their willingness to comply with God’s will, and which (according to the commentary Pesikta Rabbasi) took place on Rosh Hashanah…In return for Abraham’s superhuman dedication to God, he was given the promise of Jewish survival and triumph that sustains us to this day. The prayers of Rosh Hashanah are filled with references to the Akeidah; so central is its place in our faith. This (subject) constitutes the very reason for Israel’s existence in God’s eyes. It has therefore (also) become part of our daily prayers…”[*10]
19. “New Religious Rituals”:
If it’s not a pine tree, and not a bush, not a reindeer, not a cross, and not an old man with a white beard dressed in red, and it doesn’t jingle, then WHAT IS IT?!
One of the greatest all time symbols and rituals of Judaism is the SHOFAR, the blowing of the ram’s horn at the high point of the Rosh Hashanah services. The piercing sounds of the Shofar are meant to make us hear a sound that awakens our deepest connections to God’s mercifulness. It is meant to highlight the covenant between the Jewish people and their God.
It is precisely because it was a ram that was used as the “substitute” Olah Offering in place of Isaac that it evokes that episode directly. It is meant to do that because on Rosh Hashanah we are evoking God’s mercies in order to be judged favorably to the maximum, and we are instructed in the Torah to blow the ram’s horn, which is a remembrance of Isaac’s sacrifice on the altar.
It is OUR way of welcoming in OUR New Year.
But what is really at work here? Like in all things, there are many deep lessons. One of the profoundest is a teaching from the famous “Ethics of the Fathers” (“Pirkei Avot”). In Chapter 5, (8) there is an esoteric teaching that says that: “Ten things were created on the Sabbath eve (of Creation) at twilight…Some say also the ram of our forefather Abraham…”
The ram that appeared to Abraham at the last moment and was offered up as the burnt Olah was thus very unusual. It’s not just an incidental male sheep that happened to have had the misfortune of bumping into Abraham and Isaac’s saga as it was blissfully grazing on a wind-swept hill.
Some commentators say it was created and “suspended in time” for two thousand years till it could fulfill its role in the sacrifice of Isaac. Another, the Maharal of Prague, say that it was decreed and determined that a specific ram be used eventually. What they want to point out to, is the significance of it being created during “twilight” on first Sabbath Eve of Creation. Adam and Eve were created on the sixth day, however soon after their appearance they are undone by their own folly of eating from the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil with the inducement of the evil Serpent.
The world that Adam and Eve found themselves in was originally created by “Ten Utterances (by God) of Creation”, also stated in Ethics of the Fathers, Chapter 5 (1). The powerful “utterances” that God used to create His world at Creation were polluted by Adam and Eve’s disobedient act of eating from the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil.
But they were to be given a second chance to “repent” and to be forgiven, and it happens. It is in this world of Adam needing God’s forgiveness, that a new set of elements are introduced into the world which relate to Adam’s finding solace in a now imperfect world. And one of those items created is the ram of Abraham and Isaac.
Only when that ram is finally put into use, in those fateful moments on Mount Moriah when Isaac’s life was hanging by a thread, does that ram from Creation appear and it will be part of a perfect Offering, and thereby help the world overcome the lingering effects of Adam’s disobedience.
And it is from that same species of animal, the ram, that a horn is taken to be used by us today in our own Rosh Hashanah rituals as we contribute our share and input in the perfection of God’s world on the fateful day of Rosh Hashanah.
So the scope and significance of the ram’s horn and its sounds are cosmic in nature. And the role of the Jews on Rosh Hashanah remains a constant centrality to this day. No subsequent religion can therefore claim this unique mission for itself.
20. “Importance of the Sacrifice to the Religion”:
If you have read this far and absorbed the lessons and teachings of what Judaism has to say about the ultimate sacrifice that Isaac and Abraham had to make, then it should be clear that it is in fact impossible to appreciate, understand, or even begin to grasp what Judaism is meant to be without knowing of the centrality of the great acts of the patriarchs, with Isaac’s self sacrifice standing at its head.
Grasping this, it is thus absolutely absurd to accept any similar sounding, our outwardly compatible claims by a rival faith.
Without Abraham/Isaac/Jacob, there is no Judaism. Not then, not ever.
That is why they are the first ones mentioned in the thrice-daily prayers of the Amidah – “Standing,” (Shemoneh Esrei – “Silent Prayer”) printed in every Jewish prayer book that Jews use for their own personal and public prayers to this very day.
21. “You Must Believe This”:
Some secular Judaic scholars have added fuel to the flames by tearing at Jewish religious life by buying into the notion that Genesis is no better than a book of fables, myths, and hocus pocus. They prefer to dig into the ancient hardened mud of Mesopotamia, Egypt, or Canaan, the lands of the Fertile Crescent and see what “evidence” can be extracted from dust to support the claims of the Bible that Abraham, Isaac and Jacob even existed. They don’t often dig into the dry mud beds of Rome to see what can be gleaned about ancient Christianity, because there are billions of Christians in the world to validate a faith, whereas there are a just a couple of million Jews around, and very few of those have any serious connection to the faith of their forefathers. These are just some of the things we have to live with in our modern world.
For modern secular people, it takes super-human efforts to even begin to make out the contours of an ancient Biblical reality and how it would be relevant to modern times. It takes light years of mental adjustment to begin to appreciate the existence of a God and His connection to a small group of people called “The Jews”.
Without appreciating the significance and scope of the religious teachings in Judaism about the roles and sacrifices of Abraham/Isaac/Jacob and attaching oneself to them, then automatically one becomes vulnerable to be duped and ensnared by those who want to sell you heavily recycled and laundered goods!
Do NOT let it happen to YOU !!!
Please let me know what you think!
[*1] ‘The Midrash Says’ in English on (Genesis) Beraishis, p.160, based on Beraishis Rabbah 48, par. 9.
[*2] Notes by Rabbi Aryeh Kaplan in the name of: Hirsch; Mechilta; Megillah9a; Seder Olam; Pirkei Rabbi Eliezer 48;Josephus. In ‘The Living Torah’, pp.314-315.
[*3] ‘The Midrash Says’, Beraishis, p.165.
[*4] RASHI commentary, Genesis 25, v. 20.
[*5] ‘The Zohar’ on Genesis. The Soncino Press, English translation, (Volume I), 120a-b, p.375.
[*6]Mishna Zevachim, Ch.5,(4), ‘Artscroll’ Prayer book, p.46.
[*7]‘Torah Temimah’ Hebrew commentary, pp.203-4, on Genesis 22, v2, citing Jerusalem Talmud, Tractate Ta’anit.
[*8]‘Pentateuch with Rashi’ English translation, Rosenbaum & Silberman, Leviticus 26, p.129.
[*9] ‘The Midrash Says’, in English, pp.199-203, citing Medrash HaGadol 22 (12).
[*10] ‘Rosh Hashanah Machzor’, Artscroll English prayer book, p.402.