I have read all of the books that I had to read for my four-class lecture series: “Abraham, Then and Now.” I have already started the writing: a page down in the computer from a few days back, and three written pages which is where I began after I got all of the raw material into the living room. I am not going to have time to read some of the philosophical material I wanted to use (Maimonides, Buber and Brueggemann but also Whitehead, Hartshorne, Hegel), but perhaps after the series has been written I can read those things and then make additions and subtractions from the class I shall give at my synagogue.
You see, I have a theory about the Bible. It is that the meaning of the Bible changes overtime, so that the original meaning of Abraham’s story is perhaps no longer the “true” meaning of Abraham’s story. Perhaps Abraham’s story–which was surely told and retold among many different people at many different times for many different reasons–is really the lived in the life of the reader as they approach the Holy Bible with awe and reverence. Though it is not Abraham’s story, I will suggest it here: perhaps the bush Moses discovered had been seen by dozens of shepherds in the wilderness and they were unmoved, because the miracle occurred only for Moses. Well, the Call of Abraham–the story of God calling Abraham in a dream–perhaps if approached reverently, any reader can partake of the Call.
Perhaps all people who read it read it truly, even if they are like Elie Wiesel, who denounced the story because in his Holocaust experience he thought he saw the true cruelty of sacrificing a son to God. True, he thought he rejected the story in his head, but in his heart he could not, because Prophets of God–his book where he told Abraham’s story–is too in love with the scriptures to actually denounce them. In his last prophet–Job–he pleads his piteous case and proves it just: he cannot accept the second part of the book where Job acquiesces to God and embraces faith again. Wiesel accuses Job of cowardice. Yet he says he must have the first half of the book. His claim: I (we) was (were) good and God let us down. Yet I (we) believe in God’s goodness and want our answer. I (we, Jews) want to know why God allowed the Holocaust to happen to me (us). We pray, but we want our answer.
Well, Ellie Wiesel is dead, and yet I know he is in Heaven with his family. More, I know God has given him his answer. Yet I do not know what it is. I can only hope he is happy with it. I hope I am happy with it, when I get there. The irony, though, is that arguing with God, like Abraham, Moses and David, Elie Wiesel also could not give up on God or on his Bible. That is what the true Jew can never do–and perhaps not the true Christian or Muslim either.
I believe that when a person meets the “text” (I had a Catholic teacher in high school who hated calling books texts), the Torah breaths life but the there is a third “person” there: God. God speaks through the Torah. God speaks to anyone who is listening. Yet sometimes God is coy: it takes more than one reading to truly understand God or the Torah. Plus, it must not be seen as an onerous duty which one “does to go to Heaven.” It must be done joyfully, prayerfully. If it is seen as a kind of drudgery, the Torah will not give up her secrets. Now, let me be fair: I did know of one Christian woman who did not like reading, and who read the Christian Bible from the shortest book to the longest. This worked for her. She was even devout. Yet despite my genuinely liking this woman, I could wish–though it would do no good now–that some friend had invited her to a prayer group where they had read the Bible together, so that she had discovered through the camaraderie that the Bible was more than just a duty. That it like Wisdom was “a Tree of Life.”
All of this is why I am writing the lectures for my first class about Abraham. He is a beginning place for me. I know that despite only knowing a few words and grammatical structures of Hebrew, I know a great deal about Judaism. A friend of mine asked me about a figure in the Bible–the Behemoth, I believe–and I looked it up in the Sefer ha-Aggadah and told him what he said. Yet I realized that my knowledge was selfish. I have read the Bible and New Testament 4 times and the Quran 5 times. I have read other Jewish books, some of them multiple times. Yet I simply know the information and do nothing with it. Well, I am not rabbi material. Yet I went to my rabbi with the problem: is there a way I can impart my knowledge to others? And he suggested I teach a three-session class. He asked me what the subject should be. I decided to start short and simple: Abraham. And he agreed. So this is my first class… It will be January 16 (Sunday) and because I have increased it to four classes, it will end on February 3.