Archive for April, 2006

D’VAR TORAH; ROSH HASHANAH, 2006

Thursday, April 20th, 2006

Here’s where Sarah laughs. It’s not mocking laughter, it seems merely incredulous, but Sarah has been criticized by pious Biblical writers for being frivolous, disrespectful, but mostly for not believing. God has told Abraham that the child, the son they had yearned for, will come to Sarah long after her menopause. God doesn’t speak to her; God never speaks to her–the light, the voice, the ecstatic communion that makes Abraham leave a life he has known, that makes him build altars as he goes, wasn’t her gift to have.

In ecstasy, Abraham hears God say: “You will have a son. I will make a great nation of you, plentiful as stars, as sand.” On the ground Abraham is ordinary enough, a so-so husband, a poor enough patriarch, who couldn’t even make peace in his own house. Who was to hear that voice besides Abraham? Hagar, the hated slave whom Sarah now envied. How must that have confounded her.

For me, Sarah embodies the anguish experienced by the spouses of visionaries who don’t share the vision, who see nothing in the grotto, to whom the light is missing, while the visionary standing right next to them is bathed in the light, transformed by it, exalted, turning to the bystanders from its soul-sweeping core to issue orders whose reasons are dark to them. Poor Sarah is surrounded by believers.

What a separation there is between those who have been touched by moments of divine one-ness and those who haven’t. There’s the age old argument: “Why don’t you hear the voice that rings through the universe, that thrums in the world from the amoeba to the now discredited Pluto, that poor non-planet, Disney’s dog?” “Try,” the answer comes. “What light? There is no light. You are as deluded as Disney’s dog.” “Try,” the visionary begs, but why? The visionary didn’t have to try; Abraham didn’t try. The splendor comes without words. It’s untranslatable, a synapse irrespective of forethought or effort or background or even the virtue of the visionary. The bystander can only keep repeating, “I did try. I stood where you stood. I looked where you looked. I prayed. I fasted. No light, no voice. It isn’t there.”

We have seen this split in lots of friends and family. Why does it happen? Why can’t everyone be fitted with the bifocals of ecstasy? One may be called and the other gets pulled along, into and out of dangers and sacrifices, into wealth or poverty, perhaps to bear a son in great age, not without wondering why the bizarre play-act the visual aid meant to signal the end of human sacrifice took so long. She left him, I think, he in Beer Sheva, she dying in Kiryat Arba.

His vision, though, turned out to be true. If we were not a great nation, we were and are great enough, and generations later, the metaphor would be put to the test and we would be flung over the face of the earth, blown like stars across the sky, blown like sand across all the continents of the world, continents which Abraham had never seen and of which he had no knowledge. A vision like that deserves a second look.