This Shabbat’s D’var Torah was given by Darren Marks.
Without doubt the most important aspect of this week’s portion is the binding of Isaac. This horrific story raises some very difficult questions like:
What kind of G-d tests a father by asking him to murder his son? And what kind of father would even contemplate doing such a thing, why doesn’t Abraham immediately challenge his instructions? Of course, as Masorti Jews we understand that although divinely inspired, the Torah was written by human beings, perhaps the word and will of G-d and Abraham has been misunderstood by those who transcribed the story?
In my work as a hypnotherapist every day I ask people to travel back in time to traumatic experiences in their lives to obtain new perspectives and understandings. When this is done correctly, fears, phobias and deeply ingrained habits and behaviours can effortlessly fall away. Sometimes it can appear miraculous that a seemingly intractable problem that has been with a person for many years can disappear within a matter of hours. But I liken this process to walking down a road. It can take many years to walk down the road, but it only takes a moment to turn the corner. And if a person is ready to make a change in their life and if they can connect to the process being used and the person they are working with then change can happen very quickly. It’s simply a decision, like a smoker who decides to quit and goes from 20 a day one day to none the next. It’s not always easy to change but with the right approach and attitude change can be facilitated and made much easier than it was originally thought to be.
There is no doubt that the alteration in perspective that allows Abraham to change course and avoid murdering his son is one of the most important moments in the Bible. In fact, if he had gone ahead and sacrificed the boy we wouldn’t be sitting here as Jews today.
In my practise I see many people who have suffered terribly from the abuse of those who were supposed to be protecting them. It is much more unusual for me to see abusers who want to change, but there is one case that stays with me as it both frightened and moved me in equal measure. Some years ago, a man came to see me, who I will call John, because he wanted to stop beating up his girlfriend. He was a well-built man with a very agitated demeanour. During our first appointment as I guided him into a relaxed meditative state his phone began to ring. Without opening his eyes he took the phone out of his pocket and hurled it against the wall with such force it broke into pieces. I decided the best course of action was to pretend this was a normal occurrence and just carried on “And take a nice deep breath and allow yourself to relax deeper” I said. As I came to know more about John I discovered that as a small child he had frequently watched his father beat up his mother and he was still raging at his inability to do anything to protect her at the time. He was very ashamed that despite hating his father’s behaviour he had found himself acting in the same way. I was deeply moved by his honesty and determination to break away from the inherited cycle of violence which could easily have come down several generations. He was very likely the first male in his family to recognise the problem and voluntarily decide to do something about it.
Although we don’t know all the back story it is certain that Abraham had suffered and experienced many traumas in his life and at that time sacrificing children to appease the gods was common practice worldwide. When we look at the story through that lens it is perhaps not surprising that Abraham has found himself in this predicament. I don’t believe that G-d really asked Abraham to sacrifice his son, but rather this was Abraham’s misinterpretation of divine will, based on his own life and experience of the world. The greatness of Abraham lies in his decision to break the cycle of abuse by choosing not to follow in the footsteps of his previous role models and sacrifice his son, but to find a new and better way to connect with creation and Creator.