As so we continue the demonstrations of “family values” in Genesis. This week, in Parashat Vayeira, we have instances of duplicity, pimping, seduction, incest, attempted second degree murder (more on that below), the expulsion of a woman and her son into the wilderness with little enough in the way of provisions that they almost die of thirst, and the utter destruction of two cities full of people – not by a flood, though, but by a raining of “sulfurous fire from the Lord out of heaven” (19:24). And Abraham just can’t seem to deal with having a wife and concubine (effectively, two wives) so he pretty much hides from them both.
OK, there are positive elements as well. Abraham, though recovering from his circumcision, eagerly demonstrates hospitality toward his angelic visitors. (Does anybody besides me think it’s weird that Abraham is directly told twice about the coming birth of a son, but Sarah just overhears an angel’s message?) Sarah gives birth to Isaac, whose name is related to “laughter,” perhaps Sarah’s disbelieving laugh at the prospect of having a baby at 90, let alone Abraham’s ability to father one; or perhaps embarrassment; or perhaps simply joy. Hagar and Ishmael survive in the wilderness, and Hagar is promised that Ishmael will be the father of 12 tribes. And Abraham doesn’t actually kill Isaac.
There are also incidents provoking mixed reactions. The destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah is used to test Abraham’s compassion and willingness to stand up to the Lord and question. But they are still destroyed. Lot also demonstrates the principle of protecting guests, but by offering the mob his young daughters instead. Lot and his family, except for his wife who is turned into a pillar of salt, survive. But his daughters get him drunk, seduce him, and become pregnant. Abraham and Sarah together lie to Abimelech about Sarah’s identity (20:2, 5, 12, 13, 16), then excuses that by revealing she is actually his half-sister, so they wasn’t really lying. But Abraham and Sarah are materially enriched by Abimelech upon leaving. And there’s that whole mess between Sarah and Hagar concerning Ishmael’s behavior with Isaac (This has been identified by some commentators as pedophilic incestuous sodomy, by others as merely shooting arrows at Isaac. Or Sarah may just have seen the two and wanted Ishmael out of the way to protect the much-younger Isaac’s rights). But, not only is there a good ending for Hagar and her son, but the Lord speaks with her in a way the Lord never speaks with Sarah.
The main event in the portion is, of course, Akedat Yitzhak, the binding of Isaac. Our modern reaction to Abraham’s following orders without protest is generally horror. Or, if we look at it allegorically, or cynically, we think, “So? Parents often sacrifice their children for their own (the parents’) ends.” However, as Rabbi Leonard A. Sharzer, MD (Associate Director for Bioethics of the Louis Finkelstein Institute for Religious and Social Studies, JTS) writes Ultimate Values and the Akedah Story, some Talmudic commentators felt Abraham didn’t go far enough, since he did not actually sacrifice Isaac (Babylonian Talmud Gittin 57b). And medieval commentators were familiar with many examples of men who had slaughtered their families and themselves during the Crusades. “For Jews in the rabbinic period and the Middle Ages, ‘their sufferings and sacrifices exceeded by far everything endured by the original Akedah’s father and son.’ (Shalom Spiegel, The Last Trial, 21) They were sympathetic mainly to Abraham’s being thwarted from demonstrating his devotion to God. “
On a lighter note here are some excerpts made from a trial of Abraham, staged by Eliot Spitzer as prosecutor and Alan Dershowitz s defense attorney:
Abraham Goes ‘On Trial’ for Attempted Murder (edited for length)
Hody Nemes November 17, 2014
On November 16, Jewish New Yorkers had a chance to decide the question once and for all, when Abraham was put on trial for child endangerment and attempted second-degree murder.
The trial, held at the historic Reform Temple Emanu-El, was presided over by New York federal judge Alison J. Nathan, who admitted to “having some serious doubts about my jurisdiction here.” Alan Dershowitz, the celebrated and bombastic Harvard law professor, won an acquittal for his client, Abraham, despite a strong prosecution by former Governor Eliot Spitzer, who represented the people of New York.
To convict a defendant of second-degree murder, the prosecution needs to show that the defendant clearly intended to kill, and engaged in conduct necessary to carry out the crime. In Spitzer’s view, Abraham clearly met both of these requirements.
He prepared his instruments of death and whisked his son into the wilderness, “in order,” Spitzer said, “that the act wouldn’t be seen by anyone.”
He bound his son to the altar and had “picked up the knife to slay his son,” in the Torah’s words. What more proof do we need that Abraham was about to kill Isaac?
Sure, at the last moment the murder was averted by an angel’s cry from heaven, but Abraham’s intentions were clear, Spitzer said.
The divine command complicates the story, however. If God ordered Abraham to kill his son, was he not simply being a faithful servant?
Spitzer dismissed these concerns as a “mundane defense.”
“’Voices told me to do it, God spoke to me’…Really?” Spitzer asked incredulously, to laughter. “So we have heard from too many defendants over the years.”
Perhaps Abraham invented the whole divine command story as a pretext for killing his son, and God never told him to kill Isaac. Alternatively, Spitzer argued, Old Abe did hear voices, and should plead not guilty by reason of insanity and be remanded to the care of the state.
Ultimately, Spitzer reminded the jury, motive is irrelevant to the verdict. If Abraham really did believe God had told him to kill his son, his sentence, not the verdict, should be more lenient.
“We might ask for a non-jail sentence and a mere 2,000 years of community service,” Spitzer said, “with the proviso that any future walks with Isaac be in the company of a court officer.”
Dershowitz, however, argued persuasively that Spitzer, his former law school student, had a confused reading of the text. God had already promised Abraham unequivocally that Isaac was to be a great nation, so Abraham must have been certain that God would stop the charade before Isaac died.
God and Abraham both knew that neither would actually condone the sacrifice of Isaac, Dershowitz said; they were simply engaging in a game of “theological chicken,” waiting to see who would blink first.
When the ballots were counted, Abraham — and Dershowtiz — were vindicated, barely: 687 jurors voted to acquit Abe of attempted murder, versus 590 who voted to convict. The margin was higher for his acquittal on child endangerment (748 to 529).
Despite the passage of time, the Binding of Isaac still has the power to stir up powerful emotions…and even voter fraud. As she exited the synagogue, one elderly attendee unabashedly admitted to stuffing the ballot box with a few extra “not guilty” ballots in order to clear Abraham — and the Lord — of any wrongdoing.
All Funny Business: New Law Requires Argentina Hospitals to Hire Clowns
Clowns Gonzalo Amor, from left, Romina Amato, and Erika Veliz perform for Alejo Lacone, at a pediatric hospital in Buenos Aires, Argentina NATACHA PISARENKO/AP
BY KELLI BENDER @kbendernyc 06/08/2015 AT 04:30 PM EDT
Argentina is stocking up on the world’s best medicine: laughter.
A new law in the country’s largest province, Buenos Aires, requires that all public hospitals have clowns available on staff to help cheer up child patients, reports the Associated Press.
The law was passed last month and will be implemented in Buenos Aires’ 70 public hospitals over the next several months.
Pediatrician Andres Kogan said clowns are an amazing asset when it comes to treating kids: The goofy entertainers make the hospital environment seem less threatening and also help shy and abused children open up to their doctors.
Clowns Romina Amato and Erika Veliz, perform for patient Dylan Robledo at a pediatric hospital in Buenos Aires, Argentina Natacha Pisarenko / AP
At the Central Hospital of Pediatrics, three clowns who come by every Thursday have helped Alejo Lacone, a 9-year-old who was paralyzed in a car accident, find his smile again.
“Since the clowns began coming, the nurses have noticed a difference, and so they have asked that they come more frequently,” Ludmila Arredes, Alejo Lacone’s 19-year-old cousin, said.
While the new law requires that hospitals have clowns available, it leaves room for the establishments to decide how many clowns they want to hire and how often the entertainers visit the hospital.
The 70-Year-Old Mother
Thanks to the miracle of fertility treatment, a woman was able to have a baby at 70. When she was discharged from hospital, her relatives came to visit.
“Can we see the baby?” they asked.
“Not yet,” said the 70-year-old mother.
Fifteen minutes later, they asked again. “Can we see the baby?”
“Not yet,” said the mother.
Another quarter of an hour later, they asked again: “Can we see the baby?”
“Not yet,” answered the mother.
The relatives were growing impatient. “Well, when can we see the baby?”
“When it cries.”
“Why do we have to wait until the baby cries?”
“Because I forgot where I put it.”
From Silvio Famularo, Hilarious Jokes You Can Tell Anywhere, pp. 172-3
It was a bible class for beginners. The teacher asked his class to note down the distance in miles from Dan to Beersheba.
“Are Dan and Beersheba the names of places?” asked one of the less knowledgeable of the beginners.
“Yes,” replied the teacher.
“Well, blow me down! I always thought they were husband and wife, like Sodom and Gomorrah.”
Sodom village gone
The following is supposedly a true story.
February 1, 1993
The Associated Press reported that the village of Sodom, Conn., disappeared, like its biblical namesake.
Though it appears on maps, the AP writer interviewed residents of Sodom Road and the Sodom Corner intersection, both hallmarks of the village of Sodom, and discovered that everyone claims now to live in North Canaan. [Can you blame them? IGP]