As those keeping track know, I have been reading the Sefer ha-Aggadah. Right now I am on page 503, and there are 816 pages of the book. I am hoping that–somehow–I can read the final final 300 pages of the book by next Sunday. However, in studying the Sefer ha-Aggadah I found a defect in my character described as the person who studies but never does anything with her knowledge:
He who studies Torah but does not teach is like a myrtle in the wilderness [from whom no one benefits]. He who studies Torah and teaches it in a place where there are no disciples of the wise in like a myrtle in the wilderness, which is particularly precious, because whoever wishes to take instruction from him can do so. (Sefer ha-Aggadah page 114, #118)
On reading it I felt I was robbing God. As much as I read books like the Sefer ha-Aggadah, I rarely discuss them with anybody. Of course, they might not listen to me. I can’t very well teach hard core Judaism at Breakthrough: I don’t want to impose my religion on a captive audience, and the people there are largely Christian with a few atheists or agnostics thrown in. Yet as much as I read the Torah, surely I should be teaching it—to somebody.
Well, I talked the matter over with my rabbi. We discussed my teaching a three-session class on Abraham. At first I thought I would teach about the sources of his story–Biblical, Midrashic, historical critical, fictional. But then I came to the conclusion that I would put together, using these sources, the life of Abraham:
- The Call–Lekh-Lekha–Abram has a dream. He and his wife Sarai and his nephew Lot travel forth to find the promised land. In this section I will include the Midrashic stories about Abraham as a boy; how he was the son of an idol-maker and discovered monotheism. Also included in this section is the part where Abram pleads with God to save the City of Sodom.
- Sarah–This part is about the seamy side of Abraham’s seedy side. First: Abraham passes Sarah off as his sister to “marry” Pharaoh and Abimelech; Second) Sarah, Hagar, and Ishmael. Third: The visitors and the renaming of Abraham and Sarah. Levenson and the claim that the three monotheistic faiths have fought for the status of the “beloved son” of Abraham. Other authors who claim that Abraham can bring the three faiths together. The complex picture of the Bible: ultimately Isaac and Ishmael will bury Abraham together.
- The Akedah and It’s Aftermath–One: the Binding of Isaac: heroic climax or tragic mistake? Two: Sarah dies shortly after what happens. Three: Ellie Wiesel’s comment on the deed. Four: Sherwood Anderson’s story from Winesburg, Ohio, “Holiness.” Five: Open class discussion about what the Abraham story has to tell us today.
I actually find the story of Abraham compelling, but like any good story, it is a “double-edged sword” as Jesus said in the New Testament. (I hope it is okay for a Jew to quote Jesus.) There is something deeply moving about Abraham’s willing to sacrifice his son, but also something disturbing. Are there some things too precious to destroy for any reason? Like a son? Or do the ends justify the means? Is the story itself sure that Abraham should have hearkened to God’s voice. Of course, one of the names of God afterwards would be “The Fear of Isaac.”