Saturday, November 03, 2007

DVAR TORAH S2: Chayei Sarah (Meester Eesaak! Meester Eesaak! Save the Isaac, save the world)

We now reach the transition between the stories of Abraham and Jacob. But wait, what about Isaac? Isaac gets very few verses that are about him and that do not either relate to his father or his son. Just to present an analogy as SAT season hits critical mass: Shavuot/Hanukkah:Talmudic mention of Festivals::Isaac:Patriarchs. The Talmud only has a page in a half about Hanukkah and practically nothing about Shavuot whereas Sukkot and Pesach have entire tractates dedicated to them.

In his biggest story he isn't even the main-character. Isaac is a key player, unwilling and unwitting though he is (debatable) in one of the most infamous stories in History: His sacrifice. I mentioned last week the Akedah, and Isaac's pseudonym in poetic literature as HaBen HaNe'ekad, The Bound Son. This is what people remember about Isaac, helpless and tied to an altar.

His other "major" story is when he is tricked by his son Jacob into giving him the greater blessing. Now Issac is the decrepit, blind, and gullible old coot.

This week mentions the only part of the narrative that is somewhat in his court, when Sarah dies and Abraham sends Eliezer his Damascan servant to find a wife for Isaac. In this story, however, Eliezer is the one with the active role in finding the wife, not Isaac (and Eliezer even gets his own Shalshelet trop; check it out!)

Maybe the Torah doesn't give Isaac enough credit. However, I realized that Isaac does not need additional storyline. His silence may be more powerful than any words he could have spoken. The Akedah can be regarded as the most important event in Jewish history prior to the Exodus from Egypt. The Paytanim, the medieval poets pick up on this and assign to him the saving of the Jewish people through the grace of God. The most important part of the Selichot services of the High Holidays center on the recitation of a penitential poem known as the Akedah which appeals to God to save us for the sake of the young lad, Isaac, who was bound on the altar. Many Orthodox Jews recite the Torah verses of the account of the Akedah at the very beginning of morning services daily. Isaac has also been unfortunately the paradigm of the slaughtering of Jews throughout history, and the aforementioned liturgical additions were very likely in response to the Crusades when Jews were murdered, when the survivors poured their hearts out to God to save them as He saved Isaac as he was on the verge of being slaughtered. Finally a mysterious acronym that might be from a more familiar prayer, the very beginning of the Shacharit service of Shabbat, Festivals, and the High Holidays:

בְּפִי יְשָׁרִים תִּתְהַלָּל,

וּבְדִבְרֵי צַדִּיקִים תִּתְבָּרַךְ,

וּבִלְשׁוֹן חֲסִידִים תִּתְרוֹמָם,

וּבְקֶֽרֶב קְדוֹשִׁים תִּתְקַדָּשׁ.

Notice the acronym of how God will be praised? Those that praise him, ישרים, צדיקים, חסדים, קדוֹשים is an acronym of יצחק. Still not convinced? On the High Holidays, when both the birth of Isaac and the Binding of Isaac are the central stories presented in the Torah service (the Annunciation of his impending conception reportedly made a year before his birth on Rosh Hashannah), we reorganize the ways in which God is praised

בְּפִי יְשָׁרִים תִּתְרוֹמָם,

וּבְדִבְרֵי צַדִּיקִים תִּתְבָּרַךְ,

וּבִלְשׁוֹן חֲסִידִים תִּתְקַדָּשׁ,

וּבְקֶֽרֶב קְדוֹשִׁים תִּתְהַלָּל.

The codifiers of the liturgy reorganize the arrangement of the words to form the acronym רבקה, Rebecca, the wife of Isaac, to always dwell by her husband. Isaac may not possess the nickname of his father Abraham, Eitan, the Mighty One, but rather is the Ben HaNe'ekad, but not only bound to the altar in Jerusalem, but is tied to each and every Jewish person who identifies with his plight as their own. Just as God saved Isaac, so may He save us.

Shabbat Shalom.

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