Tag Archives: Abraham

Roadmap to Reconciliation

2 Oct

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Dr. Erica Brown, a Jewish scholar and author, wrote a book called Happier Endings. Similar to a story I shared yesterday, she writes that a rabbi she knows shared with her the story of a dying man who was losing capacity to speak. He had an estranged son who hadn’t finished college. The father had disapproved of his son’s professional ambitions and lack of them. In his criticism of his son, the son pulled away. Now the father was dying and his wife went to the rabbi to express her pain over the estrangement between her husband and son.

What do you think the rabbi should do?

Today we reread Binding of Issac. It’s a story we think we know so well. Yet, by looking for some tiny clues, particularly from the aftermath of the story —we’re going to come up with what rabbi should do and then learn what he actually did do.

In our culture, we are used to Hollywood endings. The heroes overcome their challenge and ride off into the sunset. We know know that in the end Abraham does not kill Isaac on Mt. Moriah. The story, though, does not have a Hollywood ending. Have you ever noticed that Abraham and Isaac do not walk off together? Have you ever noticed that they never speak to each other again? After this episode, the very next piece of information we learn about the house of Abraham is that Sarah dies, presumably from shock over the news from Mt. Moriah.

There are tragic consequences to the Akeidah. More than a paradigm of faith, the Akeidah is the ultimate recipe for how to screw up a family. Within this complex story, though, or at least in its aftermath, we find a layer of hope and redemption. Who is the hero of the redemption of this family? Without a doubt, it is Isaac. This may come as a surprise. Because of his submission in the binding episode, we tend to regard Isaac as passive. A fresh reading of the text yields a new perspective of Isaac. The secret to understanding Isaac’s greatness lies in a map.

We know from the end of the Binding of Isaac narrative that Abraham travels to Beersheva, a distance of more than forty miles. This is curious because we are told in the next chapter that Sarah dies and is buried in Hevron, only 20 miles from Jerusalem. This suggests that Abraham knowingly bypassed Hevron on his way to Beersheva. He knew Sarah was there and would probably kill him if she heard about the Akeidah. We suspect word does reach her soon enough, and indeed she dies from the shock. Abraham retraces his steps and walks 20 miles back to Hevron to bury Sarah.

Meanwhile, Isaac is missing in action. He does not accompany his father to Beersheva and is not present at his mother’s funeral in Hevron. This is odd because we’re told later how sad Isaac was over the death of his mother and that he does not overcome his grief until he marries Rebecca. So where is Isaac? In the lead-up to Isaac’s marriage to Rebecca, we are finally told his location, Beer Lahai Ro’i (Gen 24: 62). This is an oasis deep in the Negev desert, perhaps another 40 miles from Beersheva. After the Akeidah, Isaac ran as far away as he could from his father and the life he knew. Except, there are two people in Beer Lahai Ro’i whom Isaac knows and knows well: Hagar, Abraham’s second wife, and Ishmael, Isaac’s half-brother. We read about their banishment from the house of Abraham on the first day of Rosh HaShanah. When we learn from the Torah that Be’er Lahai Ro’i becomes Isaac’s home, bells should go off in our minds that he went to live near Hagar and Ishmael.

Isaac probably heard stories from his father over the dinner table about how evil Hagar and Ishmael were, but after the Akeidah, Isaac sees the world differently. Isaac now understands what it’s like to be abandoned. Hagar and Ishmael are the only two people on earth who would understand the trauma he experienced with his father. Moreover, he understands what they went through when they were banished into the desert.

We have no record of any conversations in Beer Lahai Ro’i. We only know that when Abraham dies, Isaac and Ishmael bury their father together at the Cave of Machpelah. This often overlooked scene is one of the most powerful in the Bible: Isaac and Ishmael, sons of Abraham and fathers of two separate nations, stand side by side in brotherhood at their father’s grave.

Think about all that transpired beforehand. The family of Abraham had collapsed. Hagar and Ishmael had been banished, and Isaac had nearly been killed on the altar. Abraham feels he will never be forgiven and cannot face Sarah ever again. Sarah, to the extent she was able to process the events before her death, probably felt betrayed and abandoned. Five people, five lives, five hearts wracked by pain.

I believe that Isaac earned his greatness as a patriarch by doing the quiet work behind the scenes to enable this reconciliation to occur. When Isaac emerges from the trauma on Mt. Moriah, he could have taken different routes. A more outward-driven personality might have seized the moment for PR. He could have broadcast his victimhood to the world. Had he been alive today he could have made millions off of a book deal or reality TV show. That is not Isaac’s approach. Rabbi Sharon Brous calls the aftermath of the Akeidah Isaac’s “birth moment of empathy.”

Isaac is not passive, but he’s also not a publicity hound. He actively works behind the scenes to change the picture. He broke with the script that we find in too many families. Instead of living with hurt and resentment, Isaac directs his pain towards a path of renewal. He taps into his pain to seek out an opportunity for reconciliation. Earlier, the pain was so raw he couldn’t even bear to meet his father at his own mother’s funeral. We might have forgiven Isaac if he had gone to live out his years as a hermit in a cave all by himself. Isaac understands, though, the need to connect. He may feel abandoned by his father, but he is not resigned to a life of abandonment.Through Isaac’s insight and courageous initiative, the sons of Abraham reconciled.
Isaac’s example provides an important guide for us today. We, like Isaac, feel a need to connect with others. Yet, like Isaac, we also feel the weight of baggage in our families. Many of us bear the weight of family narratives of the past. Some of us might broadcast how much we were slighted by someone else because we feel that victimhood brings us sympathy. In truth, we are only hurting ourselves by cultivating pain and resentment. There is a different path.

Healing takes place through quiet acts of kindness and decency. Our natural reflex from infancy is to think only of ourselves. However, when we learn how to turn towards others, we open ourselves to healing and wholeness that will enrich our lives.

Returning to the story of the rabbi and the estranged father and son, the mother desperately longed for her son and the father to reconcile before he died. She knew that the key would be for the father to apologize to the son so that he could go on with his life without such a heavy burden. She couldn’t bring herself to broach the topic with her husband, so she turned to the rabbi.

The rabbi goes in to speak to the father. He said, “I know you can’t speak much, but I need to know if you can say two words, ‘I’m sorry.’” The father said yes. Then the rabbi said, “I need you to say three more words: ‘I love you.’ Can you do that? That’s the only thing you need to do before you leave this world.” The father agreed. The rabbi called the son. He said he couldn’t believe his father wanted to speak to him, but the rabbi insisted that he really did. The son went ahead but wanted his mother to come with him. The mother pushed him into the bedroom alone. Forty-five minutes later the son came out, his face awash in tears. He said, “Dad said sorry, and Dad loves me.” The rabbi facilitated that moment because this family was stuck and couldn’t get there on their own. The mother is also a hero for recognizing the importance of reconciliation and seeking help to realize it. This moment was transformational for every member of that family, allowing the father to go in peace, allowing the mother to live in peace and allowing the son to not live with the burden of his father’s judgement.

Both father and son in this story could have protected their pride and avoided each other. Had that continued, they would have carried their pain and estrangement into eternity. Instead, they found a way to open their hearts to bring about healing and closure. This is the type of work we all should do now. Let’s not wait for death bed reconciliations. Instead, let us follow a roadmap to healing. Let this be the year we open our hearts to heal ourselves, our families and our world.

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Remembering Rabin 20 years later

30 Oct

 

 

 

On Yom Kippur, I reflected on my experience in Israel 20 years ago when the country went through the trauma of the assassination of Prime Minister Yitzchak Rabin. While Rabin’s yahrzeit already passed several days ago, this week marks the secular anniversary on November 4. Furthermore, President Bill Clinton in his eulogy of Rabin cited the very Torah portion that we read today, Parashat Vayera. President Clinton said:

This week, Jews all around the world are studying the Torah portion in which God tests the faith of Abraham, patriarch of the Jews and the Arabs. He commands Abraham to sacrifice Yitzhak. “Take your son, the one you love, Yitzhak.” As we all know, as Abraham, in loyalty to God, was about to kill his son, God spared Yitzhak.

Now God tests our faith even more terribly, for he has taken our Yitzhak. But Israel’s covenant with God for freedom, for tolerance, for security, for peace — that covenant must hold. That covenant was Prime Minister Rabin’s life’s work. Now we must make it his lasting legacy. His spirit must live on in us.

The Kaddish, the Jewish prayer for mourning, never speaks of death, but often speaks of peace. In its closing words, may our hearts find a measure of comfort and our souls, the eternal touch of hope.

“Oseh shalom bimromav, hu ya’ase shalom aleinu, ve-al kol Israel, ve-imru, amen.”

Shalom, haver.

On this twentieth anniversary of Rabin’s assassination, official memorials are taking place, including one tomorrow in Rabin Square in Tel Aviv at which Bill Clinton will be present. Yet, it seems that reflections on the Rabin assassination is rather subdued in the Jewish public square. Yehudah Kurtzer of the Hartman Institute  suggests in an op-ed three reasons for the muted commemorations:

  1. If Rabin’s assassination was a cautionary tale on the dangers of Jewish fundamentalism, its message has not been sufficiently heeded, particularly in the last year in which Jews have carried out horrific acts of violence.
  2. Rabin’s political legacy is complex. We will never know what would have happened if he had lived. Given where we are now, it seems Pollyannaish that he would have completed a peace deal and brought about the elusive two-state solution.
  3. The biggest obstacle to Rabin’s memory is that many Jews very reasonably have little appetite right now for the self-flagellation involved with a commemoration of Rabin. As Israel’s citizens are under attack, many of the country’s supporters feel that Israel’s primary enemies are from without and not from within. They argue that empathy with a society under attack dictates solidarity with the people rather than the bitter surfacing of a memory that signaled that society’s failure. If remembering Rabin is about signaling that we can be our own worst enemies, that message is hard for us to hear today. Rabin’s legacy, in other words, is hijacked both by the complicated political reality he left behind, and by the dominant lesson of his death as a warning about Jew-on-Jew violence. Rabin’s memory may be lost because it arises at an inconvenient time, or because it is thought to be a failure.

 

Just as Bill Clinton framed Rabin’s legacy 20 years ago through the lenses of  Parashat Vayera, we can do the same. The portion continues the story of Abraham and the dramatic accounts of how the father of our nation welcomed angels into his tent, argued with God over the justice of destroying Sodom and Gomorrah, the birth of Isaac in his and Sarah’s old age, the expulsion of Hagar and Ishmael and the binding of Isaac. We see Abraham as a great hero, yet one with human flaws. He and the other patriarchs and matriarchs are at once larger than life and very approachable. For centuries, people have attempted to get inside the minds of our ancestors and speculate on the details of their experiences and what they must have thought at the time. The art of Midrash is the attempt to have a conversation with the Biblical narrative and to imagine ourselves in the situations described.

Yehuda Amichai, the great Israeli poet who died in 2000, completed his last collection of poetry shortly before he died in a book titled “Open Closed Open.” Though he identified as a secular Israeli, much of his poetry, particularly in this volume, discusses Biblical figures and religious issues. Abraham and the story of the Binding of Isaac appear multiple times. The following poem is an example of the poet’s attempt to enter the minds of our ancestors and imagine them reflecting with nostalgia on the traumatic events of the Akeidah.

Taken from “Open Closed Open” by Yehuda Amichai

Page 119

Every year our father Abraham takes his sons to Mount Moriah, the same way that I take my children to the Negev hills where my war took place.

Abraham walks with his sons: this is where I left the servants, that’s where I tied the ass to the tree at the foot of the hill, and here, right at this spot, you asked me, Isaac my son: Here is the fire and the wood but where is the lamb for the sacrifice? A little further up you asked me again.

When they reached the top of the mountain they rested awhile and ate

And drank, and he showed them the thicket where the ram was caught by its horns.

And when Abraham died, Isaac took his sons to the same spot.

“Here I lifted up the wood and that’s where I stopped for breath, this is where I asked my father and he replied, God will provide the lamb for the sacrifice, and that’s where I knew that it was me.”

And when Isaac became blind his sons brought him to that same Mount Moriah and described to him in words

All those things that he may already have forgotten.

 

In this poem, Abraham behaves like we might behave visiting a historic site while on vacation, particularly while visiting places of battle. The poet likens Abraham to generations of Israelis who would often visit battle sites with a sense of nostalgia. We also see the contrast between generations. Abraham has his set of memories when he revisits the site with Isaac. But when Isaac takes his sons there, he remembers things differently. He acknowledges that while Abraham did not fully answer his question about where was the sacrifice, he understood that he was the intended sacrifice. Then, Isaac revisits the site years later when he is blind, perhaps a symbol of blocking out a memory that was too painful for him.

Amichai’s interpretation of the Akeidah is told from different perspectives. Similarly, this week we approach the memory of Yitzhak Rabin from different perspectives: what was, what is and what might have been. I believe many of us hold all three of these thoughts and memories of Rabin simultaneously. Abraham and Isaac were not perfect, and neither was Rabin.

On this 20th anniversary of Rabin’s assassination, I yearn for religious and political leaders who, like Rabin, are willing to take risks for positive change and who continue to envision a better future with both sincerity and pragmatism. This is how I choose to remember Rabin twenty years later.

To conclude, the Psalmist says (122:6):

 

ו   שַׁאֲלוּ שְׁלוֹם יְרוּשָׁלָם יִשְׁלָיוּ אֹהֲבָיִךְ: ז   … ח   לְמַעַן־אַחַי וְרֵעָי אֲדַבְּרָה־נָּא שָׁלוֹם בָּךְ: ט   לְמַעַן בֵּית־יְהֹוָה אֱלֹהֵינוּ אֲבַקְשָׁה טוֹב לָךְ:

Pray for the peace of Jerusalem; they who love the Lord shall prosper…For the sake of my brothers and sisters, I will now say Peace be within you. For the sake of the house of the Lord our God I will seek your goodness.

Amen.

 

#TieBlog #Vayera #TheScream

29 Oct
Edvard Munch's "The Scream" has multiple connections to Parashat Vayera.

Edvard Munch’s “The Scream” has multiple connections to Parashat Vayera.

When I found a tie with Edvard Munch’s “The Scream,” it was clear to me that it would be perfect for Parashat Vayera. The question is what specific connection or “tie-in” it has. The next question is what kind of a scream is represented? Is it a scream of terror or a scream of joy? If the latter, perhaps it’s the aged Sarah expressing her shock that she is going to give birth to a son. On the terror side there are multiple options. It could be Abraham hearing about God’s planned destruction of Sodom and Amorah and his righteous indignation that the just might perish with the wicked. It could be the wife of Lot gazing upon Sodom and Amorah as they burn from fire and brimstone. She turns into a pillar of salt from the shock. Or perhaps it’s Sarah upon learning of the near sacrifice of her son Isaac (Sarah dies at the beginning of the next portion). It could be all of these things, making this one loud, action-packed Torah portion.

Hitler’s war against the Jews is not up for revision

23 Oct

 

As I have noted on various occasions over the years, there is a trend among politicians that has become increasingly repulsive to me. That is when they exploit the Shoah to score political points.  I think this does great injustice to the victims. I’m very much influenced in this approach by Dr. Deborah Lipstadt, the renowned Holocaust historian, who wrote a sharp critique of remarks made by Prime Minister Netanyahu this week on the Holocaust that represent revisionist history. More about that shortly. We all know that invoking the Holocaust for political gain did not begin this week. At least two presidential candidates in America, Mike Huckabee and Ben Carson, did this recently and were widely rebuked by a cross-section of the Jewish community. We also know that the Holocaust is exploited at pro-Palestinian and anti-Israel protests where it’s common to see participants carrying placards accusing Israelis of carrying out a Holocaust and describing the current prime minister as the equivalent of Hitler or even his “clone.” One might totally disagree with Israel’s policies vis-a-vis the Palestinians. But to speak of a Holocaust or Hitler bears no relation to historical or contemporary reality.

 

Lipstadt notes that it’s possible to argue that since neither Huckabee nor Carson are well versed in the history of the annihilation of European Jewry, they should not be too roundly condemned for their cheap analogies. Similarly, one could say that anti-Israel protestors are so infused with hatred and anger that they too have lost sight of any historical reality. But what can one say when the leader of the Jewish state relies on this tactic?

 

Earlier this week, Prime Minister Netanyahu told the World Zionist Congress that the idea for murdering the Jews was the brainchild of Haj Amin al-Husseini, the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem.  According to Netanyahu, when Hitler and the mufti met in November 1941, Hitler had not yet thought of exterminating the Jews but simply wished to expel them. When Husseini complained that expelled Jews would all come to Palestine, according to Netanyahu, a perplexed Hitler asked, “So what should I do with them?” The mufti supposedly responded, “Burn them.” And so the Holocaust ensued.

 

 

Lipstadt writes: This claim doesn’t make sense. The murder of the Jews began in the summer of 1941, five months before this meeting. By the time Hitler and the mufti had their tete-a-tete, hundreds of thousands of Jewish men, women, and children had been shot. At Babi Yar alone, the Germans murdered 34,000 Jews in September 1941, over two months prior to the meeting, without any encouragement from the mufti. Gas wagons were already in use prior to this meeting. Someone who wishes to only expel a people does not rely on mass shootings and gas wagons.

This is not the first time Netanyahu has made this assertion. Lipstadt brands him a revisionist. Netanyahu’s revisionism, reassigning blame for the Shoah from Hitler to the mufti, is to score political points.

 

Lipstadt notes that the mufti was no innocent, and enthusiastically supported Hitler. Al-Husseini unambiguously encouraged his audiences to murder Jews. In December 1942, at the opening of the Islamic Institute in Berlin, he declared that the war, which had been “engineered by the Jews,” gave Muslims a “unique” opportunity to “get rid of their enemies.” In a March 1944 radio address he exhorted Muslims to “kill the Jews wherever you find them.” He assisted the Nazis in organizing Bosnian Muslims into a unit of the Waffen-SS. While historians may differ on the degree of influence he wielded among Nazi leaders, they do not question his delight that Jews were being annihilated.

 

Netanyahu, however, did not paint him as a supporter of the genocide of the Jews. He credited him with coming up with the idea. There is a vast difference between the two. Historians continue to debate who originated the idea of the Final Solution. No serious historian, however, has ever laid the decision at the feet of the mufti.

 

Netanyahu’s remarks this week came in the midst of a serious security situation in Israel in which Palestinians have gone on a rampage attacking innocent Jewish civilians for several weeks. I spoke last week about Palestinian lies about the situation including Abbas’s claim that Israel killed a Palestinian teen who actually was alive in Hadassah Hospital after he had gone on a stabbing rampage. There is evidence

that the Palestinian leaders are being called to account for their blatant lies, even in media outlets not traditionally recognized as pro-Israel. So, it was a blow to pro-Israel advocates to have to shift attention this week to Netanyahu’s ill-considered remarks. But we cannot ignore them. We cannot demand truth from our enemies without demanding truth from leaders of our own people.

 

Our Torah portion today reminds us that our leaders are not infallible. They are human. They make mistakes. We must learn from mistakes and not repeat them. Parashat Lekh Lekha, introduces us to Abraham, a great but imperfect leader whose flaws the Torah does not try to hide. Immediately upon settling in Canaan as God had instructed, Abraham uproots himself and brings his household to Egypt. The text says vayered Avram Mitzraymah, Abram went down to Egypt, suggesting that he lowered himself to the moral level of that society. What happens next is particularly disturbing. Abraham is afraid that the Egyptians will kill him and take his wife Sarai and ravage her. What does he do? He says that Sarah is his sister. She would be vulnerable to being kidnapped and assaulted, but at least he would live. This is not a shining moment of chivalry in the life of our patriarch. Clearly, in this environment of danger and depravity, we can understand Abraham’s fear that led him to deceive others to save himself. While we can understand his fear, we cannot justify his actions, and that is the Torah’s point. As Rabbi Harold Kushner writes, the Torah continually portrays its leading figures with all of their flaws, perhaps to teach us that we too can be good people without being perfect people. Look throughout the Bible and we find one hero after another, each of whom we meet as flawed human beings.

 

The Torah was not given to angels. It was given to human beings with the intention that we would be inspired by its teachings to improve ourselves and our world. The major characters of the Torah are flawed human beings who, despite their limitations, or perhaps because of them, are able to succeed despite their natural human fears and desires. We can and should condemn individual acts of behavior that get in the way of bringing godliness into the world.

 

These are scary days in Israel. Arabs, some of whom have been incited to act by religious and political leaders, have stabbed, hacked, and stoned Jews. Others have mowed them down with cars. As Deborah Lipstadt notes, however, this inexcusable barbarism does not legitimate rewriting of the past. The Holocaust was a crucial moment in history. Forgetting would be a tragedy; twisting and revising what happened to fulfill ancillary goals, equally so.

 

My prayer is that our people will come through this challenging period by upholding truth. Adonai oz l’amo yitein. Adonai yevarech et amo vashalom.

 

#TieBlog #LekhLekha

23 Oct

imageIn Parashat Lekh Lekha, Abram (later re-named Abraham) hears the call from God to uproot himself from everything that is familiar to him and go to Land that God will show him so that he will become a great nation. One problem: he and his wife Sarai (later re-named Sarah) are elderly and childless. Abram goes along with God’s instructions but later expresses angst that he has no offspring and no heirs. The text in Genesis 15 reads: “3 Abram said further, “Since You have granted me no offspring, my steward will be my heir.” 4 The word of the Lord came to him in reply, “That one shall not be your heir; none but your very own issue shall be your heir.” 5 He took him outside and said, “Look toward heaven and count the stars, if you are able to count them.” And He added, “So shall your offspring be.” 6 And because he put his trust in the Lord, He reckoned it to his merit.” With God calling upon Abram to look to the stars for hope and inspiration, this week’s tie reminds me of this moment of renewal for our patriarch.

A true hero

14 Nov
Walter Payton (1953-1999) meeting fans at the Chicago Auto Show.

Walter Payton (1953-1999) meeting fans at the Chicago Auto Show.

This blog post is dedicated to the memory of Robert Dorfman, Z”L.

This week, a lifelong friend of mine lost his father after a prolonged illness. When I spoke to my friend this week I shared a favorite memory, probably when we were nine- or ten-years-old, when his father took us to the Chicago Auto Show. We weren’t interested in the cars. We couldn’t drive, after all. Our focus was to make a beeline for the Buick section for the meet-and-greet with Walter Payton, the legendary running back for the Chicago Bears. He was then in the prime of his career.  Payton shattered numerous records in his Hall of Fame career and helped lead the Bears to a Superbowl victory in 1986. He retired as one of the great legends of sports. A soft-spoken, kind man by nature, he was known by fans as Sweetness. Tragically, Payton died of liver cancer in 1999 at the age of 46.

 

Three years ago, I read a gripping biography about Walter Payton by Jeff Pearlman , “Sweetness: The Enigmatic Life of Walter Payton.” Through meticulous reporting, Pearlman uncovers shocking truths about Payton. He was a womanizer and fathered a child out of wedlock whom he never met. He was addicted to pain killers, which the author reports is linked to liver disease. He was deeply depressed. He was a reckless driver. Despite all of these things, he maintained a pristine public image as a model husband, father and citizen and generous philanthropist. Pearlman’s book attempts to uncover the enigma of a man who went out of his way to visit sick children in the hospital and neglected his family.

 

When Pearlman’s book was published, it was criticized by those who sought to preserve Payton’s pristine, almost god-like image. I disagree. As a Walter Payton fan, Jeff Pearlman did us a great service by illustrating a star athlete as a flawed human being. Pearlman describes how Payton, late in life, thought he was a candidate for a liver transplant. He actually wasn’t. But his last act of communal service was to encourage people to become organ donors. The number of donors in Illinois multiplied exponentially as a result of Payton’s plea. He redeemed himself and brought great meaning to his life through his actions in his final days. Pearlman’s work on Payton anticipates the mountain of evidence that has emerged in the past year or so pointing to the problems endemic to the game of football itself and the toll it takes on those who play the game and our society, which pays big bucks to watch it. Pearlman shows that Walter Payton’s heroism grew out of his humanity, not the touchdowns he scored.

 

Like Pearlman’s assessment of Walter Payton, the Torah describes the Biblical heroes in human terms. They did great things, to be sure, but they were flawed like you and me. For instance, the Torah highlights Abraham’s great achievements such as discovering monotheism and bringing justice and morality into the world. At the same time, the Torah does not hide Abraham’s human faults. He passes his wife off as his sister not once, but twice, saving his life while risking hers. He throws Hagar and Ishamael out of the house into the desert to die. They are only saved by divine intervention. He fails to protest God’s final test and nearly sacrifices his son Isaac. Isaac is traumatized, perhaps even blinded by the event, and never speaks with Abraham again. He definitely has his human flaws.

 

However, Abraham is still a hero. A clue to his greatness is that he is content with his lot. As Abraham’s days draw to a close we read v’Adonai berach et Avraham bakol, God blessed Abraham with all things, (Gen. 24:1). Later, as Abraham is about to die, we’re told that when he died he was b’seivah tovah zaken v’saveiah—a good ripe age, old and contented (25:8). The text tells us that Isaac and Ishmael come together to bury their father. The midrash imagines that Abraham reconciled with his sons and the two of them with each other before he died. With this final act of teshuvah, Abraham dies content that there is peace in his family, and his legacy will continue. Abraham lives a full life with many successes and a number of mistakes. Through it all, he recognizes the mistakes and reconciles with his sons, or at least brings about their reconciliation with each other.

 

Abraham’s long life in which he died old and satisfied stands in contrast to football players in our era. The best of the best are paid millions of dollars, but they often are scarred with physical and emotional pain and truncated lives. Others barely last a year or two, maybe three in the NFL, after which they lack direction for the rest of their lives. The narcissistic behavior by some players who assault and rape women reflects on men who are not happy but who are angry, entitled spoiled brats whose bullying of others has been tolerated because they can clobber other players and score touchdowns.

 

As I reflect on Pearlman’s reporting on Walter Payton three years ago, I see it now as a prelude to the mountain of stories in the last year or so linking the multi-billion dollar football industry to a host of problems such as early onset dementia, violent crimes committed by active and former players and severe depression and suicide. This season alone three high school students from around the country died from head injuries sustained while playing. These trends should give us pause to assess our values as a society. What does it mean to earn the status of hero? When we tune into a football game on TV, and the broadcast replays both the pictures and sounds of a devastating tackle, we bear responsibility. The networks are playing to primal desires within us to watch other human beings hurt each other for sport. Our society is paying a price for our indulgence of our modern day gladiators as heroes.

 

For too long our nation has looked askance when former football players have developed a host of physical and mental problems from years of getting their brains bashed in hundreds of times per day. Former NFL players live on average 20 years less than normal male life expectancy in our country. Among the 1985 Chicago Bears who won the Superbowl, Walter Payton died of liver disease, likely spurred by addiction to pain killers; Dave Duerson, All Pro safety, committed suicide at the age of 50; Quarterback Jim McMahon now suffers from dementia and is a lead plaintiff in the class-action lawsuit against the NFL.

 

The problems go much deeper than former players’ health, unfortunately, as discussed in Steve Almond’s new book “Against Football: One Fan’s Reluctant Manifesto.” Because of our indulgence of football, school districts struggle for funds while municipalities build lavish stadiums often with significant tax breaks for the owners. Universities that make billions of dollars from football have tolerated star football players raping women. Only now are we starting to wake up to the deep systemic problems in society at large that this violent game has bestowed upon our society.

 

Walter Payton was no Abraham. He certainly was not blessed to live out the fullness of his years. However, at the end of his life he overcame his many human flaws and inspired others to do good. His final act of kindness saved many lives, and for that he is a hero. His legacy should be reexamined to bring safety and common sense into American sports and to remind us all of what truly matters.

 

 

#TieBlog #HayyeiSarah

23 Oct
Camels play a central role in Parashat Hayei Sarah.

Camels play a central role in Parashat Hayei Sarah.

Parashat Hayyei Sarah begins with the death of Sarah and her burial. Abraham, confronting mortality, then sends his servant (known in the Midrash as Eliezer) to venture to Mesopotamia to find a suitable wife for Isaac. Eliezer’s caravan includes many camels. He knows he’s found “the one” for Isaac when Rebecca appears at the well and graciously draws water not just for the people in the caravan but for the camels as well. After Eliezer seals the deal with Rebecca’s family, she returns with Abraham’s servant to Canaan. She’s riding a camel when she first lays eyes on Isaac praying in the field. She’s so smitten she falls off the camel. #TieBlog pays homage to the camels who helped perpetuate the legacy of Abraham.