Torah Reading for Week of October 25 – 31, 2020
“To Be Blessed With Everything”
By Rabbi Tal Sessler, PhD, AJRCA Professor of Jewish Thought
The views expressed in this drash are those of the author. We welcome Torah insights and teachings from all viewpoints, and encourage dialogue to strengthen the diversity of our academy.
The Torah states that “God blessed Abraham with everything.” One way to understand this statement, is that Abraham lead a multifaceted existence, in which he experienced all the highs and lows of the human condition. On the one hand, Abraham is admired by his contemporaries as a veritable living legend. His neighbors see him as a “prince of God in our midst.” Abraham also amassed a great fortune as a self-made businessman, and achieved for himself a celebrity status in the ancient Near East. Abraham was a revered and admired philanthropist. To the external and undiscerning eye, Abraham lead an ideal and pastoral existence, a life in which he achieved what many people covet – fame, fortune, and societal admiration and approbation. But when we look deeper at Abraham’s life, we see the darkness underlying the façade. We see a man who, with his spouse, knew the alienation and solitude inherent in late-life immigration. Abraham also saw his family disintegrate, when, to his chagrin, God ordered him to heed Sarah’s demand to expel his first-born son, Ishmael, from his home. In the words of the Torah, this tragic family rift and breakup was “exceedingly bad in the eyes of Abraham.” In addition to his first-born son leaving home abruptly, Abraham’s relationship with his second son, Isaac, was also fraught with tension. According to the midrash, what ensued after the binding of Isaac, was a lifetime of estrangement between father and son, between Abraham and Isaac. Notice that after the binding of Isaac, there are no more direct dialogues in the Torah between Abraham and Isaac. They never speak to each other directly again. Furthermore, according to Rashi, the foremost of rabbinic commentators, Sarah died as a direct result of having heard about the binding of her son Isaac, by her husband Abraham. According to Rashi, the horrific news about her husband almost killing her son, literally killed Sarah. And so we see that Abraham, like all of us, knew not only the exquisite taste of triumph and achievement in his life, but also the crushing bitterness of loss and defeat.
When the Torah states that “God blessed Abraham with everything,” it implies that Abraham, like all of us, was “human all too human,” in Nietzsche’s words. That in his lifetime, Abraham knew and experienced all the tumultuous vicissitudes of human sentiments and dispositions. He knew elation, but he also knew depression. He knew the banality of the mundane, and also – the sublimity of the ecstatic. He knew moments of achievement and self-overcoming, but he also knew failure and mistake. To live a full life, reminds us the sacred Torah, is to experience the human condition in all its glorious and wondrous manifestations. No relationship is bereft of pain and conflict, and no human life is utterly devoid of painful episodes of darkness and suffering. To be human is to be blessed with everything, and to savor and cherish life in all its volatile and turbulent complexities and upheavals. To be human is to reconcile ourselves to that inevitable duality inherent in our fate and destiny. And that precisely, is what makes our disparate existential journeys so powerful and so gripping. So human, and so real. In the words of Richard Nixon, an American president who was forced to resign from office after facing devastating corruption charges: “Only if you have been in the deepest valley, can you ever know how magnificent it is, to be on the highest mountain.”