Rav Shagar – Chapter 1

I’m excited about a new book that I recently bought. It is called “Faith Shattered and Restored: Judaism in the PostModern Age”. It contains excerpts from Rabbi Shagar’s writings. Reading the introduction, it is clear that the intent is to speak to people for whom the “old” ways of being religious don’t work – but can’t find a new way.

Chapter 1 deals with the Akeda. The title of the chapter is: “Uncertainty as the Trial of the Akeda”. Rav Shagar does not focus the question of the Akeda as Abraham’s being asked to obey an ostensibly unethical divine command. Rather, his focus is on the injustice of God ordering a trial involving the sacrifice of one’s son. “Can God act unjustly?” is the question the Midrash asks. The question begs comparison to Job, whose ordeal was caused by Satan. Would it be correct to assume the same of the Akeda?”

Rav Shagar quotes the Gemora Bava Batra 15b as follows: Greater praise is accorded to Job than to Abraham. For of Abraham it is written “For now I know that you fear God”. Whereas of Job it is written “That man was perfect and upright and feared God and eschewed evil”.

Additionally, Rav Shagar notes that “the Rishonim (including the Rambam) used the Akeda to prove the absolute certainty of prophesy. Abraham never would have been willing to slaughter his son, they posited, were he not absolutely certain of the authenticity of the divine command. In many ways, such a portrayal of the ordeal renders it irrelevant to us, for we have not been granted the privilege of prophecy.”

Rav Shagar notes, however, that the Akeda is saved from irrelevance because many midrashim portray Satan as being the one who commands Abraham; or at least Satan claiming to Abraham that it was his idea. “Hazal’s approach is far from simplistic, eschewing the view that God’s voice is clearly apprehensible and that the focal point of the ordeal is Abraham’s willingness to obey it. The question of Abraham’s capacity to know whether it is indeed God’s voice speaking to him – and that he must obey – or whether it is Satan’s, is posed in all its starkness. Perhaps that is the essence of the ordeal – the ability to distinguish between the two voices.”

So, what is God saying and what is Satan saying? How did Abraham react to injustice and how did Job react? Job protested while Abraham did not. Which reaction is preferable? Rav Shagar quotes Gemora Sanhedrin 89b which, says Rav Shagar, implies that God preferred Job’s reaction.

Rav Shagar says “The lesson is clear: A conceited, all-knowing religious stance renders the trial, and with it the entire religious endeavor, a sham. The trial, along with a religious lifestyle and a connection to God, can exist only in the context of a humble personality that is content in not knowing. A conceited stance stems from pride, and it is the voice of Satan. The trial will forever be associated with a subject who by nature is in the dark.”

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