Monday, October 18, 2010

Our Faith in G-d and G-d's Faith in Us

We all understand that we are to have faith in G-d according to many voices and teachers in our various Jewish communities of faith. The challenge for today is What about G-d and the need for G-d to have faith in us?

We are in the middle of the travails and triumphs and challenges of the life of Avraham Aveinu in our weekly readings from the Torah. As we move from Lech Lecha to Va’Era and then on to Chayei Sarah, we note that the challenges just keep coming as Avraham is tested regarding his faith. I am presently teaching these stories to a wonderful group of ninth graders and we are considering to what degree does G-d have faith in us? On one hand, it might appear to be a somewhat presumptuous question, but hold on and consider it for just a moment. My students love the notion that we are wrestling not only with our consideration of G-d in our relationship with G-d, but also G-d’s perspective towards us.

G-d tells Avram to leave all that he knows and start a new entity and a new life – for him and for the generations that will follow him. Why does G-d specifically come to Avram? What about Avram does G-d know that validates this placing of trust in Avram? Were there others to whom G-d came first with this particular direction (this is clearly a rhetorical question!)? Do we or do we not understand this special reciprocal placement of faith of G-d in Avram and Avram in G-d – after all, we are at best bystanders separated by many, many years.

At a later point in our history, we all know the Midrash about how before G-d gave the Aseret HaDibrot to the B’nai Yisrael, G-d went to other peoples and asked them to accept this code of law. As the Midrash goes, one group of people said that they could not get along without murder, another claimed that stealing was part of their daily lives, and so forth. Finally, G-d comes to the B’nai Yisrael and they respond, “Naaseh v’Nishmah.” We will do what you ask and then we will ask about what we do! This is clearly a leap of faith or so it appears and too often, so it is taught! Perhaps, just perhaps, somewhere in this story we can find and consider the notion that the people of Israel had faith that G-d had faith in them to make the appropriate choice so that G-d could and would do the same for them. If we do accept this, then it is more understandable to consider how this relationship outruns the many disappointments G-d will have in the B’nai Yisrael and vice versa in later years as they wander through the spiritual as well as any physical desert in which they were found.

In such a scenario, faith goes both ways. It makes sense that this could be the case. Think about this in terms of our own lives. Don’t those people in whom we have faith reciprocate in their relationship with us? I don’t think it would really work in a one direction only trajectory.

Similarly, Avraham, the father of this people, takes this leap of faith. G-d says “Go” and Avram goes! That is the way we often read and are taught the text! Is this blind faith or does Avram, later to be called Avraham (The Father of Many Peoples) as a reward and acknowledgement for his continual show of faith) question what G-d does and commands?! We really do not know. We like to say that Avram just does what G-d asks, but there are clearly other narratives in which we observe many challenges to G-d’s requests and dictates. Does G-d have enough faith in Avram to get past these feelings of uncertainty and questions? Are these indicative of a lack of faith? Might Avraham have had questions and feelings of ambivalence? Clearly, it would be most human of him to have had these and this would probably make the stories we are reading even more believable.

In this week’s coming Parsha, we read about the Akedah. Personally, I like to consider the proposed translation of v’ha’alehu as “prepare him for an offering.” This is a possibility provided by some of our classical commentators. Many modern readers say this is merely an apologetic that takes the sting out of the strange request G-d makes. So, G-d gives Avraham directions to prepare his loved son as an offering. Avraham goes with Yitzchak, leaving the other members of their entourage behind, to the appointed place as G-d directs. If G-d does show that G-d has faith in Avraham to allow G-d to direct what is to transpire and Avraham ascertains that others will not understand, is this the result of an unspoken agreement between Avraham and G-d – that special type of unspoken agreement between two souls in a special relationship of trust that others may not and will not necessarily understand. Perhaps in looking at this story we are reading it from the perspective of the entourage left behind, not Avraham. We all know people in our lives that have a special degree of faith in us and us in them that outsiders may not completely understand and therefore are hard put to judge.

Contextually speaking, on a very human level, might the faith that Avraham placed in
G-d, even hiding this most pivotal event from his wife, Sarah, be somewhat like the distressed family, whose loved one is going in for a complex surgery, places in the medical team. We constantly place the well being of our life in the hands of others while bystanders may not understand; is this not what Avraham was doing?!

Maybe this is yet another lesson to come out of these stories. It is difficult for those of us left behind to judge the reciprocal relationship of special faith between two people – in this case, between G-d and Avraham. Further, many of us might not dare ask if G-d has faith in us, but why not?!

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