Thursday, November 12, 2015

The Transcendent Hum - Reflections on Parashat Toldot 5776

(Genesis 25:19-28:9)

This week's parasha opens with a famous riddle.

"And these are the generations of Isaac the son of Abraham; Abraham fathered Isaac."

Skreech, skid to stop. Back up a little. What?

When the verse opens with, "And these are the generation of Isaac" we expect to hear all about the descendants of Isaac, not his forbears. It's like saying, "let me show you some pictures of my kids" and then pulling out faded pictures of your grandpappy. What gives?

Rashi comes to our rescue, as usual. He fills in the blanks and explains the correct way to read the verse:

"And these are the generations of Isaac, son of Abraham [whom we'll get to in a minute in great detail, but for all you naysayers out there who doubt that Abraham and Sarah had a miracle baby in their dotage, I'm here to tell ya that] Abraham fathered Isaac."

But let's torque down on the unique structure of this verse, because it's not at all random:

"And these are the generations of Isaac the son of Abraham; Abraham fathered Isaac."

Isaac son of Abraham Abraham fathered Isaac.

Isaac Abraham Abraham Isaac Isaac Abraham Abraham Isaac Isaac Abraham Abraham Isaac 

The architecture of the verse creates a sine wave:

And a sine wave that repeats continuously creates the infinity symbol:

This makes perfect sense: as my distinguished mentor, daily study partner and dear friend Rabbi Mordechai Eskovitz points out, the birth of Isaac reinvigorated Abraham, giving him a new sense of purpose, clarity, and direction in his life. Finally, at the ripe old age of 100, he could begin to see the glimmer of hope in the fulfillment of Gcd's promises to him. Taken in this way, it is fair to say that Isaac fathered Abraham just as much as Abraham fathered Isaac. 

Isaac Abraham Abraham Isaac.

A sine wave is a signal; a hum, a sound that reverberates through the cosmos. The Torah is transmitting a message through the Abraham/Isaac sine wave, one that transcends time, one that goes on forever. What is the nature of this message?

To decode it, we must understand Abraham and Isaac: who they were, what they stood for, what values they embodied.

Abraham was the paragon of Gemilut Hasadim, of kindness to others. We are taught that his tent had openings north, south, east and west, ever open to welcome friends, guests, strangers, sojourners. He delighted in making people feel welcome, wanted, and important. He embodied the character trait of the highest service to his fellowman. Through his living example of a kindly, dignified, devoted life, his guests came to discard their narcissistic paganisms and adopt Abraham's compassionate, ethical monotheism.

Isaac embodied the character trait of Avodah, of service to the A-lmighty. Having willingly exposed his own neck to be offered on the altar (Genesis 22), he was forever sanctified, a living symbol of the need to subordinate our capricious human will to the benevolent, enduring will of Gcd.

All the mitzvot of the Torah can be categorized as being either mitzvot between people, and those between Man and his Maker.

Examples of the former: caring for the poor; refraining from gossip; always giving the next guy the benefit of the doubt; never embarrassing anyone; hospitality; greeting everyone with a smile; visiting the sick. These are mitzvot of Gemilut Hasadim, the mitzvot symbolized by Abraham.

Examples of the latter: keeping kosher; keeping the Shabbat and festivals; wearing tefillin and tzitzit; prayer. These are mitzvot of Avodah, the mitzvot symbolized by Isaac.

The message of the sine wave is: Gemilut Hasadim combined with Avodah is the infinity secret of Jewish survival.

Isaac Abraham Abraham Isaac - Avodah Gemilut Hasadim Gemilut Hasadim Avodah.

The verse states:
On three things does the world stand: on Torah study, on Avodah, and on Gemilut Hasadim. [Avot 1:2]
These are the "ABC"s of Judaism: Torah study, Avodah and Gemilut Hasadim. They cannot be teased apart; they are an integrated whole. 

As long as the Jewish People are committed to the "ABC"s: studying the Torah; acting compassionately towards our fellow humans; and deepening our dveykut Hashem, our "Gcd consciousness"; then passionate, transformative Judaism will survive forever. The transcendental sine wave will successfully transmit from Abraham to Isaac to the next Abraham to the next Isaac.

Sad to say, 9 out of 10 of American Jews no longer have much use for the fundamentals of the Jewish faith. We have discarded the "ABC"s in favor of the "EFG"s: Environmentalism, Feminism and Gay Rights.

Behold the pillars of the New Judaism, the gods we have fashioned in our own image.

Parents and grandparents burst with pride as their little Einsteins boldly tell us in their Bar and Bat Mitzvah speeches how they doubt the existence of Gcd, and how the Torah is pretty much irrelevant to their lives. What a tour de force of intellectual integrity and post-rational skepticism!

We can give ourselves a grand pat on the back: these [very expensive] Bar Mitzvah mills have produced, not another committed Jew, but a dedicated trash recycler and future Prius owner. 

Gcd is out, Gaia is in. Toyota will be so pleased.

Dissociated as we are from the ABCs, is it any wonder that Judaism in America is rapidly disappearing? How did we so lose our way? 

And while we're pushing our brains together to make one good one, wonder you this: what might suggest itself to you as a solution to our collective hari kiri? 


Shabbat Shalom.

FYI: To read an earlier insight on this parasha, click HERE.

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