Special needs adoption from a Jewish perspective.

Special needs adoption from a Jewish perspective.

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Haftorah Beam - Toldot

This week's Haftorah is a bit disturbing, from a special-needs perspective.  The prophet Malachi decries the people dishonoring G*d by offering "imperfect" animal sacrifices:
 7 You offer defiled food on My altar. But you ask, "How have we defiled You?" By saying, "The table of the Lord can be treated with scorn." 8 When you present a blind animal for sacrifice-it doesn't matter! When you present a lame or sick one-it doesn't matter! Just offer it to your governor: Will he accept you? Will he show you favor?-said the Lord of Hosts. 9 And now implore the favor of God! Will He be gracious to us? This is what you have done-will He accept any of you?
and again a bit later:
13 You say, "Oh, what a bother!" And so you degrade it-said the Lord of Hosts-and you bring the stolen, the lame, and the sick; and you offer such as an oblation. Will I accept it from you?-said the Lord.
14 A curse on the cheat who has an [unblemished] male in his flock, but for his vow sacrifices a blemished animal to the Lord! 
How does this square with a vision of universal divine love, and acceptance of all?  This passage is certainly more in line with the pagan notions of examining entrails of sacrificed animals.  How do we read this in a more elevated interpretation, consistent with modern sensibilities?

I struggled with this for a while, but then I looked back to the Torah portion. This is, after all, the story of Jacob and Esau competing for the birthright and their father's favor. Isaac directed Esau to "make him an offering" not unlike the ones offered to G*d in the Haftorah:
1 When Isaac was old and his eyes were too dim to see, he called his older son Esau and said to him, "My son." He answered, "Here I am." 2 And he said, "I am old now, and I do not know how soon I may die. 3 Take your gear, your quiver and bow, and go out into the open and hunt me some game. 4 Then prepare a dish for me such as I like, and bring it to me to eat, so that I may give you my innermost blessing before I die."
Jacob, at the direction of his mother Rebekah, brings a dish of prepared goat under the pretense of being Esau.  Although Isaac seems suspicious, he does in fact give Jacob the blessing intended for his brother.  This is but one in a string of deceptions which characterize Jacob's life.  Is he in fact the "cheat" referred to in verse 14 above?
14 A curse on the cheat who has an [unblemished] male in his flock, but for his vow sacrifices a blemished animal to the Lord!
Granted, there is no reference in the Torah reading to blemished animals.  However, Jacob's offering was clearly NOT what his father had requested!  If he wanted to usurp his brother's place, should he not have at least earned it by hunting down game as Esau was bidden to do?  At the very least, should he not have prepared the meal himself rather than have his mommy do it for him?! Certainly seems like the spirit of the cheater who takes the easy way out of fulfilling his duties.  And yet, he received his father's blessing.

The Haftorah asks several times, "Will such an offering be acceptable?"  This is presented as a rhetorical question, and yet, the very beginning of the reading states,
2 I have shown you love, said the Lord. But you ask, "How have You shown us love?" After all-declares the Lord-Esau is Jacob's brother; yet I have accepted Jacob 3 
G*d has already accepted Jacob's offering! In spite of all his faults, Jacob is beloved.  The answer to the seemingly rhetorical question is, surprisingly, YES.

The real question is not "Will G*d accept disabilities?" but.... Will we?


  1. Yes, on the face of it this is disturbing. But perhaps we can look at it differently -- not as "did he (horror of horrors) offer up a blemished animal before the Lord", but "did he offer the best of what he has"?

    After all, in days of old, your flock was your livelihood -- and the weaker members of the herd would quickly become prey to wolves or other predators. If you offered up your weaker animals as a sacrifice, wouldn't that be seen as you "getting rid" of the ones who would soon die anyway? (I'm reminded of a child who, when expected to share or to sacrifice, gives up something he didn't want anyway. "But I am sharing the sled with my little sister", he says; "I get it all the way down the hill and she gets it all the way up".)

    The way I see it, God expects us to contribute the best of what we have, and the best of ourselves -- by our lights. If we prize the unblemished livestock, then they are the ones we contribute. When we donate to the poor, we don't just give away the things we ourselves don't want anymore -- we give the poor what they need, even if it's still of value to us.

    In the end, it's not about God, and it's not about the sacrifices. It's about us. God wants us to be the kind of people who will sacrifice what is valuable to us when we're called upon to do so.

    1. Yes, but the point is still that if some sacrifices are seen as more prized than others, then that will send a certain message, no? When we tell kids that they can have some reward when they do their chores, we are really telling them that the chores are not worth doing for their own sake. My ex-MIL was really clever about this, and charged the kids money (nickels and dimes) for teaching them stuff. This communicated to them that learning was valuable.


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