Special needs adoption from a Jewish perspective.

Special needs adoption from a Jewish perspective.

Monday, October 14, 2013

Haftorah Beam - Vayera

In my Torah Connection on this last year, I focused on the story of Sodom and Gomorrah.  But the Haftorah links to the other major theme in this week's parsha -- the binding of Isaac.

Actually, there are 2 parallel stories of near child-death in this parsha.

First, Abraham sends away his firstborn son, Ishmael, and Ishmael's mother Hagar.  Wandering in the desert, the young boy nearly perishes of thirst until Hagar prays to G*d, who shows her the way to a spring of water so the two of them revive themselves and receive G*d's blessings.

Then, the famous story of the Akeidah, where Abraham himself takes Isaac up Mount Moriah, binds him on an altar, and prepares to sacrifice him before an angel of G*d intervenes to save Isaac and a ram is substituted.

Now, to the Haftorah.

Here, too, are 2 parallel stories.  The first one is a short story which seems to connect both to the Hagar story and, interestingly enough, to Hanukkah, which is coming up next month:
1 A certain woman, the wife of one of the disciples of the prophets, cried out to Elisha: "Your servant my husband is dead, and you know how your servant revered the Lord. And now a creditor is coming to seize my two children as slaves." 2 Elisha said to her, "What can I do for you? Tell me, what have you in the house?" She replied, "Your maidservant has nothing at all in the house, except a jug of oil." 3 "Go," he said, "and borrow vessels outside, from all your neighbors, empty vessels, as many as you can. 4 Then go in and shut the door behind you and your children, and pour [oil] into all those vessels, removing each one as it is filled."
5 She went away and shut the door behind her and her children. They kept bringing [vessels] to her and she kept pouring. 6 When the vessels were full, she said to her son, "Bring me another vessel." He answered her, "There are no more vessels"; and the oil stopped. 7 She came and told the man of God, and he said, "Go sell the oil and pay your debt, and you and your children can live on the rest."

The parallel theme is that the resources we need to save our children are right there, and we just need to (a) pray, (b) open our eyes, and (c) be a little resourceful in order to make use of them.  This is a valuable lesson to remember when we commemorate the Hanukkah miracle of the sufficient jug of oil (which, coincidentally, falls on Thanksgiving this year!).

The second story in fact parallels the Isaac story, and is quite a bit longer.  Like Sarah, the Shunnamite woman in this story is elderly and barren.  Like Sarah, she offers hospitality to a stranger who promises her a baby boy one year hence. Like Sarah, she assumes he is mocking her, and yet his prophecy is fulfilled.

The child grows, and we learn,
18 The child grew up. One day, he went out to his father among the reapers. 19 [Suddenly] he cried to his father, "Oh, my head, my head!" He said to a servant, "Carry him to his mother." 20 He picked him up and brought him to his mother. And the child sat on her lap until noon; and he died.
Where in the Isaac story we read in great detail the father's (Abraham's) point of view, here we see a different perspective.  The child went to his father, and suddenly suffered an unidentified trauma to his head. Did he have a stroke or other medical injury? Was he struck by a weapon? or perhaps, by a farm implement? Did he have an accident? We do not know. The father delegates one of his servants to take the boy to his mother, who holds him till noon, and he dies.  At this point, we see the mother's reaction:
21 She took him up and laid him on the bed of the man of God, and left him and closed the door. 22 Then she called to her husband: "Please, send me one of the servants and one of the she-asses, so I can hurry to the man of God and back." 23 But he said, "Why are you going to him today? It is neither new moon nor sabbath." She answered, "It's all right."
She does not tell her husband what happened, but she puts the dead boy in the prophet's bedroom and calls upon her husband to get her a donkey so she may go fetch the prophet.  We see her negotiating with the prophet and his servant, doing whatever it takes to bring the boy back to life.  She shows perfect faith and level-headedness as she does this, putting on a face of "everything's ok" to everyone until she speaks to the prophet himself. She recognizes that the G*d who gave her this child would be perfectly capable of reviving him, and she places her trust in this.  How does the husband feel about all this?  We do not know.

What did Sarah do when Abraham went to the mountain with Isaac?  We do not know.  The Torah is silent on this.  Some commentators take a guess based on the observation that after the Akeidah, neither Sarah nor Isaac ever speaks to Abraham again.  In fact, the very next chapter Sarah herself dies.

The Akeidah is one of the most disturbing passages in the Torah, read each year on Yom Kippur when we see ourselves in both the role of Abraham and Isaac.  But where is Sarah is the story?  What is her role?  Do we, in fact, have to wait for this Haftorah many centuries later to redeem her? And why are these men so callous?  Don't they love their sons as much as the mothers do? Surely that is not the message we should take from these passages!

And yet, from Abraham's point of view,
9 Sarah saw the son whom Hagar the Egyptian had borne to Abraham playing. 10 She said to Abraham, "Cast out that slave-woman and her son, for the son of that slave shall not share in the inheritance with my son Isaac." 11 The matter distressed Abraham greatly, for it concerned a son of his. 
Here we see Sarah as self-centered, concerned about Isaac at the expense of Abraham's other child.  Abraham is clearly trying to balance the needs of the whole family, and he is "greatly distressed" about it.  Incredibly, G*d directs him to disregard these concerns, and to listen to Sarah instead:
12 But God said to Abraham, "Do not be distressed over the boy or your slave; whatever Sarah tells you, do as she says, for it is through Isaac that offspring shall be continued for you. 13 As for the son of the slave-woman, I will make a nation of him, too, for he is your seed."
The Torah is mostly written from a masculine point of view, and yet it is clear that there is more going on here.  Did Sarah know what Abraham was up to with Isaac? If she suspected, the what did she say to him? If she said something, would G*d have told him to heed her, as He had with respect to Ishmael? Was the Akeidah preventable?  Should it have been, or was it necessary for the spiritual development of the Jewish people? Also, what does this say about what the woman ought to do?  Should she speak up, or defer to her husband? How does the Haftorah answer these questions?

Clearly I'm reading all this as a woman......

1 comment:

  1. If I'm not mistaken, God never speaks to Abraham after the Akeida either. This leads some commentators to believe that the Akeida was a test, all right, but that Abraham flunked it.

    It's a difficult question, all right. We should keep in mind that the virtues we prize today are not necessarily the ones most respected 4,000 years ago. The willingness to die for the King, for example, was considered a noble sacrifice, and the King's motives in such things were not questioned. (This would change -- witness King David with Bathsheba, and his subsequent confrontation with Nathan.)

    Judaism would establish itself as respecting the rights of the individual... but it was with Abraham that this all started! Certainly there are examples aplenty of Old Testament figures who argued openly with God's orders.


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