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Behar-Bechukkotai

“And I will remember my covenant with Jacob, and also my covenant with Isaac, and also my covenant with Abraham will I remember; and I will remember the land” Leviticus 26:42

    This verse reverses the order of the forefathers. If Abraham always preceded Isaac, and if Isaac always preceded Jacob, then you might come to think that Abraham was more important than Isaac, who was more important than Jacob. But chronological order should not be confused with order of importance.

    We tend to see ourselves in terms of our historical context, and where we come in the order of our family. Indeed, we are supposed to have respect for our elders, and a sense of responsibility and hopeful aspiration, for those that come after us. But God knows us differently.

    He understands our historical context, but he also values us and our forefathers, for who and what we are, in and of ourselves. According to the Midrash, that’s why this verse subverts the order. The order wasn’t too important to God.

    In this verse, Jacob and Abraham get their own mention of the word “remember”.

    Isaac, by contrast, is included with the words, “and also”. The Midrash explains: Isaac’s ashes remain on the heavenly altar. God doesn’t need to remember Isaac. Isaac is always there.

    But the Midrash knows that Isaac wasn’t really killed. That’s not how the binding of Isaac ended. Isaac was set free. Judaism repudiates human sacrifice. Rather, in the Jewish tradition, to be a human sacrifice should never be to die for God, but to live for him; to be willing to dedicate all of one’s powers to serve the greatest conceivable good.

    That’s the (metaphorical) sense in which Isaac was a burnt offering. Not because he died for God, but because he lived for him with complete dedication. God needn’t remember a life that’s lived like that. Instead, God beholds it constantly, and forever.

    Rabbi Dr Samuel Lebens

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