Howie Beigelman has formerly served as the Director of State Affairs for the OU's IPA (Institute for Public Affairs). Each week, he takes a look at the parsha and discusses it in a way you may never have seen. Any hashkafic, halachic or political opinions are personal and do not reflect the official psak or policy of the OU.
These articles now appear on Mr. Beigelman's new Politics and Parsha Blog, and have been reprinted with permission. Archives of Mr. Beigelman's articles from the past year are still available at http://advocacy.ou.org/category/blog/
“What did you always call it, Clark? The Never Ending Battle?” – Bruce “Batman” Wayne, to Superman
Jewish tradition commonly assumes Abraham faces ten trials. Not all are explicit in the biblical text but the rabbinic tradition, through midrash and Talmud fill in the gaps. There are some differences of opinion on the list but certain episodes always make it on. The akeidah, the binding of Isaac and bris milah, circumcision, both universally make the final cut.
Nearly all commentaries conclude the ten with the akeidah. But Rabbeinu Yonah (d. 1263), commenting on Ethics of Our Fathers/Pirkei Avos, lists that as the penultimate test. The final trial was Sarah’s burial.
Abraham – poor father Abraham – is not exactly the type to keep his head down – smashing idols, defying and battling despotic kings, challenging Sodom, rebuking Avimelech and hosting angels. But he does remarkably well at keeping his eye on the prize, even as G-d continually moves the goalposts. Settle in Canaan. Actually, go to Egypt. Isaac is your legacy. Sacrifice Isaac. Scratch that. This land will be yours eternally. But, buy this gravesite for an exorbitant sum.
Through it all, if Abraham questions, he never complains, and never stops pushing towards wherever the goalpost is at that time. That is the lesson Rabbeinu Yonah teaches us – and the lesson Abraham models – with the death & burial of Sarah as the tenth test.
Abraham – and we – would be forgiven for thinking that after this man, now approaching a century and a half on Earth, willingly brings his only heir to the sacrificial alter at G-d’s command would finally earn some welcome respite – if not rest (see G-d’s response to Jacob on his looking to retire).
But no. He is again challenged. Again he must rise to the occasion. Like a spiritual equivalent of Wile E. Coyote, he gets up again and tries to do what G-d wants. No matter how many times that anvil smacks him, the dynamite explodes, how many cliffs he falls off or how many trains run him over, he dusts himself off and goes back in the field (or desert) and pushes on.
And just like Abraham, no matter how big the battle we just won, the next day, there’s another. And we need to keep at it.
Words to consider. Ideas to ponder. Politics & the parsha.