Close your eyes, breathe in deeply, now exhale slowly… That was easy, wasn’t it? Not for everyone…
The key narratives of the Torah are there to teach us that G-d is the ultimate owner of all.
* * * In the ancient world, up to and including the Roman Empire, children were considered the legal property of their parents. They had no rights. They were not legal personalities in themselves. Under the Roman principle of patria potestas, a father could do whatever he wished with his child, including putting him to death. Infanticide was well known in antiquity. (It has even been defended in our time by the Harvard philosopher Peter Singer, in the case of severely handicapped children.) That, for example, is how the story of Oedipus begins, with his father Laius leaving him to die.
It is this principle that underlies the entire practice of child sacrifice, which was widespread throughout the pagan world. The Torah is horrified by child sacrifice, which it sees as the worst of all sins. It therefore seeks to establish, in the case of children, what it establishes in the case of the universe as a whole, the land of Israel, and the people of Israel. We do not own our children. G-d does. We are merely their guardians on G-d’s behalf.
Only the most dramatic event could establish an idea so revolutionary and unprecedented – even unintelligible – in the ancient world. That is what the story of the binding of Isaac is about. Isaac belongs to neither Abraham nor Sarah. Isaac belongs to G-d. All children belong to G-d. Parents do not own their children. The relationship of parent to child is one of guardianship only. G-d does not want Abraham to sacrifice his child. G-d wants him to renounce ownership of his child. That is what the angel means when it calls to Abraham, telling him to stop: “You have not withheld from Me your son, your only son.”
The binding of Isaac is a polemic against, and a rejection of, the principle of patria potestas, the idea universal to all pagan cultures that children are the property of their parents.
* * * Seen in this light, the binding of Isaac is now consistent with the other foundational narratives of the Torah, namely the creation of the universe and the liberation of the Israelites from slavery in Egypt. The rest of the narrative also makes sense. G-d had to show Abraham and Sarah that their child was not naturally theirs, because his birth was not natural at all. It took place after Sarah could no longer conceive. The story of the first Jewish child establishes a principle that applies to all Jewish children. G-d creates legal space between parent and child, because only when that space exists do children have the room to grow as independent individuals.
The Torah ultimately seeks to abolish all relationships of dominance and submission. That is why it dislikes slavery and makes it, within Israel, a temporary condition rather than a permanent fate. That is why it seeks to protect children from parents who are overbearing or worse.
Abraham was chosen to be the role model for all time of what it is to be a parent. We now see that the binding of Isaac is the consummation of that story. A parent is one who knows he or she does not own their child.
Adapted from “Covenant & Conversation,” a collection of Rabbi Jonathan Sacks’s parshiyot hashavua essays, published by Maggid Books, an imprint of Koren Publishers Jerusalem (www.korenpub.com), in conjunction with the Orthodox Union.
Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks, chief rabbi of the British Commonwealth since 1991, is the author of many books of Jewish thought, most recently The Koren Sacks Rosh HaShana Mahzor (Koren Publishers Jerusalem).
About the Author:
If you don't see your comment after publishing it, refresh the page.
Comments are closed.
By internalizing the Exodus, it is as if we ourselves were redeemed from Egypt.
Each Shabbos we add the tefilla of “Ritzei” to Birchas HaMazon. In it we ask Hashem that on this day of Shabbos He should be pleased with us and save us. What exactly do we want to be saved from? Before we answer this question, let’s talk about this Friday, the 15th of Av. Many […]
Amongst the greatest disagreements in Judaism is the understanding of the 1st of the 10 Commandments
The director picked up the phone to Rabbi Dayan. “One of our counselors lost his check,” he said. “Do we have to issue a new one or is it his loss?”
Six events occurred on Tu B’Av, the 15th of Av, making it a festive day in the Jewish calendar.
Why would Moshe Rabbeinu have thought that the vow that disallowed him to enter Eretz Yisrael was annulled simply because he was allowed to conquer and enter the land of Sichon and Og?
Question: When a stranger approaches a congregant in shul asking for tzedakah, should the congregant verify that the person’s need is genuine? Furthermore, what constitutes tzedakah? Is a donation to a synagogue, yeshiva, or hospital considered tzedakah?
Snow in Jerusalem! For many New Englanders like me, snow pulls at our nostalgic heartstrings like nothing else can.
Man has conflicting wishes and desires. Man has forces pulling him in competing directions.
Perhaps the admonition here is that we should not trivialize the events of the past by saying that they are irrelevant to the modern Jew.
One must view the settlement of Israel in a positive light. Thinking otherwise is a grievous sin.
Reaching a stronger understanding of what Moses actually did to prevent him from entering the land
Anti-Zionism, today’s anti-Semitism, has gone viral, tragically supported globally & by many Jews
“Dano” was wounded in action. The Multinational Force turned to a Hebrew University veterinarian.
Israeli physician Dr. Yuval Rabinovich reviews possible reasons ‘why we have never met aliens.’
Students from around the world participated in a Jewish Roots art project; winners gathered in Tel Aviv on Sunday.
Widening “Highway 1″ has unearthed the church, oil lamps, a mosaic floor and mother-of-pearl shells.
Bennett preached unity, but Herzog scolded him for crossing the “red line” in the elections.
Iran tried to buy UN-banned products in the Czech Republic but was caught and stopped, Reuters reports exclusively.
Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/judaism/torah/the-art-of-gratitude/2011/11/12/
Scan this QR code to visit this page online: