Rabbi Dr. Yossi Feintuch was born in Afula and holds a Ph.D. in American history from Emory University in Atlanta. He taught American history at Ben-Gurion University.
Author of the book US Policy on Jerusalem (JCCO).
He now serves as rabbi at the Jewish Center in central Oregon. (JCCO).
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Our weekly Torah portion demands of us to ‘’love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your being and with all your might’’ (Deuteronomy 6:5). When we recall the highly dramatic narrative of the Binding of Isaac, it is quite apparent after a cursory reading of the text (Genesis 22) that Abraham loved his God even more than he loved Isaac, born to him and Sarah at an old age. We infer about Abraham’s seeming superior love for God over his love for Isaac by juxtaposing God’s own command to Abraham: ‘’Take, pray, your son , your only son, whom you love, Isaac, and go forth to the land of Moriah and offer him up as a burnt offering…’’ (Genesis 22: 2), and the significantly different message of God’s messenger to Abraham.
Indeed, before Abraham would slay his son in fulfilment of God’s command his hand is stayed by ‘’the Lord’s messenger’’ who tells him right after: ‘’...for now I know that you fear God, and you have not held back your son, your only one, from Me’’, even as the three words ’’whom you love’’ that God invoked when issuing His original command are glaringly absent from this text (Genesis 22:12). It seems as though God’s messenger omitted ‘’whom you love’’ in reference to Isaac because Abraham ostensibly was willing to slaughter his son in order to demonstrate his superior love for God.
Nevertheless, before we move and proclaim Abraham as a paradigm for one who loves God more than he loves his son, it is evident that Abraham effectively rescinded God’s direct command to slay his son; he opted to heed in its lieu the angel’s abrupt, yet total objection to any harm to the wellbeing of Isaac. In other words, though God never revoked His original command to slay, Abraham chose to revoke God’s command by heeding the counter command – ‘’Do not raise your hand against the lad’’-- of God’s angel whose divine authority was far inferior to God’s. Abraham thus demonstrated his love for another human being, even for Isaac, which he came, even if only at the nick of time, to identify with his love for God, and not its negation.
[Picture: God commands Abraham to offer his son Isaac as a sacrifice, Domenichino. This image was created and uploaded to Wikipedia by Domenichino - Museo del Prado, Madrid. This file is public domain]
And indeed, the command to love God appears chronologically late in the Torah. The command: ‘’And you shall love your fellow man as yourself’’ (Leviticus 19:18), like the command that follows it ‘’and you shall love him [i.e., an alien residing among the people of Israel] like yourself’’ (Leviticus 19: 34) appears not only much earlier but is an indispensable condition to loving God.
Yet, one can believe that his love for God is much superior to his love for his fellowman, and we need not go farther than Rabbi Akiva’s numerous disciples – who surely loved God and dedicated their time to the learning of His Word -- yet failed to love each other. They consequently died within a short time because they lacked respect for one another by deriding the others’ perspectives on the Torah (Yevamot 62:2). In contrast, the people who defied God’s first command to humanity to ‘’fill the earth’’ (Genesis 1: 28) ‘’lest we be scattered over all the earth’’, and consequently began to build in the land of Shinar (Babylon) ‘’a city and a tower with its top in the heavens’’ (Genesis 11: 4), were not physically punished by the God they did not love, or whose word they sought to nix. Their defiance of God's command was directed only at God, while they were amicable to each other. In contrast, the people of Sodom, who treated one another malevolently but did not intend or direct their defiance as such against God, were severely punished as God wasted their city for their interpersonal violence.
[Pictured: Sodom and Gomorrah. A painting by John Martin. The image is in the public domain]
The love for God that our weekly Torah portion requires cannot be fulfilled unless one first loved both his fellowman and the alien sojourning in his neck of the woods – requirements that precede the requirement to love God and constitute its part and parcel. Hence, the Decalogue that is featured anew in this weekly portion begins with ‘’I am the Lord your God’’ even as it ends with ‘’you shall not desire…anything that your fellowman has’’ (Deuteronomy 5:6, 18). The love for God is thus fulfilled by the love we accord one another – two loves that cannot be separated one from the other. It is woefully disheartening that many are those who exhibit in their words, religious attire and rituals a ‘’love’’ for God but deny their love, or the respect and dignity that earnestly manifest love, to those they choose to loath because they dare be, think or believe what they themselves are not or do not.