Last night in Torah class, our group discussed what is probably the greatest portion in the entire book: Genesis 18.1-22.19, AKA Vayira.
This is the portion with the mysterious strangers, one of whom may be God, telling Sarah she is going to give birth, even though she's already 90 and her husband is even older. Of course, Sarah is listening through the tent flap.
And the second time Abraham tries to pass Sarah off as his sister to save his own butt.
We also see Sarah and Abraham sending Hagar and Ishmael off into the desert to die, where God rescues them.
And Lot and his lot fleeing Sodom and Gomorra (sp), where his wife turns into a pillar of salt.
And of course, the Akeda, the binding of Isaac... probably the greatest of greatest hits of the Torah, as far as I am concerned.
It was a lively discussion, with lots of juicy disagreement, fertile questioning, great jokes. We went over our usual time, but no one cared. There was too much to discuss, to wonder about, to shake our heads over.
What is Abraham being tested for in the Akeda? Is it, as traditional readings of the passage would have it, whether he will be scrupulously obedient to God, no matter what he is asked to do? In which case, these readers say, he passed.
Or is it to see whether he will be as cold and uncompassionate to Isaac as he was to Ishmael and Hagar and Sarah? If so, he flunked that test. Maybe he's thinking that God promised him untold numbers of progeny. What's one fewer in the face of that promise?
If Abraham was supposed to get the point, he doesn't seem to, but the text is so mysterious, so full of silences... more silences than not. That what makes it so irresistible---our desire to fill in those blanks.