Abraham and the Impossible

Prof. Paul Eidelberg

The Torah tells us that Abraham was extremely old and that Sarah was beyond child-bearing age. Indeed, the Gemara says she had no womb! The distinguished Rabbi Akiva Tatz, a physician and a philosopher, offers a familiar as well as unfamiliar commentary:

“When these two people, totally devoid of any possibility of having a child, were told that they would in fact have a child, they laughed. And a child was born. And his Divinely-given name was “Yitzchak”—Hebrew for ‘He shall laugh.’ Is this a clue to the extraordinary tragedy-preceding triumphs of the Jewish people over their adversaries during the past millennia?

Jews begin where the impossible ends. This tells about Jewish faith or trust in God, because that’s precondition of achieving the impossible. Unfortunately, most Jews today are trapped in the language and limitations of politics, which of course precludes the impossible?

Ever since Aristotle, pundits have defined politics as the “art of the possible.” However, what is deemed possible depends very much on the intellectual and moral character of the politician. Polls in Israel indicate that 80 to 90 percent of the Jews in this country regard Israeli politicians as “corrupt,” by which they mean that these politicians pursue their personal or partisan interests at the expense of the national interest (an old story antedating Machiavelli). In other words, Israeli politicians are little men whose horizon extends no further than the next election. Thoughtful Jews place no faith in politicians. Let’s return to Abraham and the Torah.

The akeida (the binding of Yitzchak recounted in Genesis) reveals Abraham as the prince of faith, of unsurpassed trust in God. Abraham, the first Jew, was tested as no other human being. His test, to paraphrase Rabbi Tatz, was to sacrifice his son for whom he had waited into extreme old age, and in whom he saw the ascendancy of a great and noble people. This same Abraham, after teaching the world that human sacrifice was wrong—Abraham, whose entire personality was loving kindness—how could he possibly slaughter his beloved son? “Beyond the emotional level, the intellectual level was no less difficult—it made no sense, and Abraham, the discoverer of ethical monotheism, was a man of supreme intellectual power. God (HaShem) had promised him progeny from Yitzchak—how could there be a contradiction in the Divine?”

The Kabbalah expresses an even deeper problem. As Rabbi Tatz puts it, “Avraham knew that HaShem did not want this sacrifice (as the verse states: ‘V’lo alsa libi—which I never intended’) as one knows the mind of the beloved—and he was correct. In fact, ultimately, HaShem prevented him from carrying it out! So he had all levels of his consciousness crying out that this action could not be done, and HaShem said to him, in effect, ‘Yes, all that you feel and say is true, but kill him anyway’! That’s a test!? That’s facing the impossible! And Abraham proceeded to do the impossible.

“The result? The impossible occurred, the miraculous manifested. We are told in the Torah that Yitzchak was spared, he climbed off the altar, and a ram was offered in his stead. But we are told in the Midrash: ‘Efro shel Yitzchak munach le’fanai—the ashes of Yitzchak lie before Me’; in a higher dimension, he was sacrificed! Not the ‘ashes of the ram’ but the ‘ashes of Yitzchak’. He became an ‘olah temimah’—a pure, burnt offering.

“The impossible paradox—a man who lives physically in this world, but spiritually in the next, simultaneously! And the qualities of the father and the son live on in the Jewish people—the ability to yield the emotions, the intellect, the entire personality to HaShem in emuna (faith), and the gift of being able to live in a physical world and transcend it at the same time.”

This is Not blind faith. This faith springs from recognizing God as the Creator of heaven and earth, hence from rational trust in His providence. From the father of the Jewish people we learn that whatever the ordeal or suffering is inflicted upon us, it is intended for our ultimate good by a just and gracious God. We must bear in mind that suffering is the spur of self-examination, reflection, insight, and transcendence. The heights of human perfection are not a gift but an achievement requiring the greatest trials of the human spirit.

What is true of the individual is true of the nation. The ordeal of the Jewish people appears endless. Two thousand years of dispersion, persecution, and Holocaust issuing in the rebirth of Israel, but an Israel tormented by bloodthirsty Arabs who, aided by virtually the entire world, are dedicated to Israel’s annihilation. Yesterday by war, today by a deadly “peace process.”

After centuries of Jew-hatred still rampant in the democratic world, only shallow, effete, and “Establishment” Jews can ignore the genocidal war being waged against Israel. Iranian president Ahmadinejad is only the most conspicuous instrument of anti-Semitism: Eisav sonei Yaakov. Even nations in the democratic world have honored this murderous tyrant.

How can Israel stand up to this worldwide hatred of the people who gave mankind the Book of Books? How can Israel withstand such envious and implacable animosity?

Our Prophets and Sages tell us that this period will be one of great trials for Israel. But soon Israel will break the Covenant of Death of which Isaiah speaks. Soon the lies of the “peace process” will be swept away and the truth will emerge from Zion. Only keep faith with the God of Abraham. Sacrifice your doubts and fears and dare the impossible. Soon we shall have the last laugh on our enemies!

Internationally known political scientist, author and lecturer, Paul Eidelberg is founder and president of the Israel-America Renaissance Institute (I-ARI) with offices in Jerusalem and Philadelphia.

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