As we do every Rosh Hashanah we will read in this morning’s portion: “And it came to pass after these things, that God tested Abraham, and said to him, Abraham; and he said, Behold, here I am. And God said, Take now your son, your only son Isaac, whom you love, and go to the land of Moriah; and offer him there for a burnt offering upon one of the mountains which I will tell you.”
I have told you before, I believe Abraham failed the test. At the pivotal moment, Abraham stands over Isaac bound on the altar, knife in hand, ready to strike the final blow. Were it not for the Messenger of God, Abraham setting his ethics aside, would have murdered his son because God commanded it.Thus he failed the test. How do we know? While Abraham continues to grow in wealth, remarries after the death of Sarah, and has more children, God never speaks to him again. Let us take a closer look at this story and its implications for our world today.
Last night, I spoke about Rabbi Donniel Hartmann’s book: Putting God Second: How To Save Religion From Itself. In his old age, Abraham suffers from the other auto-immune disease of religion; what Rabbi Hartmann calls God Intoxication.
According to Rabbi Hartmann: “For the God-Intoxicated person, the awareness of living in the presence of the one transcendent God demands an all - consuming attention that can exhaust one’s ability to see the needs of other human beings. This religious personality is defined by strict nonindifference (sic) to God. The more we walk with God , the less room we have to be aware of the human condition in general , and consequently , our moral sensibilities become attenuated. (Hartman, Donniel. Putting God Second: How to Save Religion from Itself (pp. 45-46). Beacon Press. Kindle Edition.)
In this morning’s Parasha, Abraham suffers from God Intoxication. The Abraham we are more comfortable with is the younger Abraham who argues with God to save Sodom and Gomorra. The older, God-Intoxicated Abraham does not argue, does not object he unquestioningly obeys.
God-Intoxication explains much going on in our world and our country. For most of us what readily comes to mind is ISIS or Al Qaeda, suicide bombers, Islamic terrorists.
But do not think that God-Intoxication only infects some Muslims. It infects Christians who believe everyone needs to structure their lives to follow their idea of Christian morality. They work to enshrine their morality as the law of our land.
God-Intoxication infects Jews. The assassination of Yitzhak Rabin by a Jew, the slaughter of Muslim worshippers in Hebron and the Al Aqsa Mosque by Jews. The domination of the Orthodox Rabbinate in Israel. The calling of non-Orthodox Judaism not real Judaism by some Orthodox Jews in America. The calling of Orthodox Judaism anachronistic by some non-Orthodox Jews, constitute just a few examples in the Jewish community.
In fact, Judaism has a long history of God Intoxication from Abraham to the present day. All of us here have been guilty of it. The God-Intoxicated follow the verse: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” (Lev. 19: 18) They love God and only only those who are like themselves. In their xenophobia they ignore the verse: “you shall love the stranger as yourself for you were aliens in the land of Egypt.” (Lev. 19:24)
You know you are guilty of this. I know I am. Using the derogatory names Goyim, Shiksa, Sheigetz, when speaking about people of other faiths. We all, without exception, make assumptions about people who are from other countries, people who are poor, people who are rich, people who are a different race, people who are a different gender or different gender identity, people who belong to a different political party, people who have jobs we look down on, people who have physical or mental illnesses or disabilities. The list goes on.
In our society God-Intoxication has a new sibling, America-Intoxication. Just like different people are intoxicated with their own God, we are intoxicated with our own Americas. Surveys show conservatives only watch Fox News and liberals MSNBC and CNN. Conservatives see liberals wanting to destroy all boundaries and liberals see conservatives as always trying to add restrictions. We hear endless lamenting about the absence of civil dialog. How can there be civil dialog when we do not live in the same America? How can there be civil dialog when, to paraphrase Rabbi Hartmann: America-Intoxication creates individuals who yearn to show indifference to themselves and others as evidence of their nonindifference to America.
As Jews we are blessed. Our tradition calls upon us to put ethics and good deeds over God. Next week, we will read the Yom Kippur morning Haftarah from Isaiah 58. On the holiest day of the year, while supposedly deep in prayer to God and self reflection Isaiah conveys the message that ethical behavior takes precedence over religious practice. Isaiah quotes God saying: “Is not this the fast that I have chosen: to loose the fetters of wickedness, to undo the bands of the yoke, and to let the oppressed go free...? Is it not to distribute your bread to the hungry, and bring the poor that are cast out to your house? When you see the naked, that you cover him...?”
Rabbi Hartmann writes: “Isaiah’s message can be summarized in this way: Your prayer and fasting are worthless to me (sic) as long as there are hungry, poor, homeless, and naked people suffering just outside with walls of your religious sanctuary. Get out of synagogue and create a society of justice!” (Hartman, Donniel. Putting God Second: How to Save Religion from Itself (pp. 56-57). Beacon Press. Kindle Edition.)
For me, saddest part of the High Holy Days is the necessity of the annual food drive. Because of the pervasiveness of hungry people in our community, we must feed them. But feeding the hungry is like putting a band-aid on a cut that needs dozens of stitches. It is no where near enough. We should be working together to solve the root causes of poverty and hunger, working to put the food pantry at Shalom House, the Storehouse, Roadrunner Food Bank out of business. We should be on the phone with our leaders, working together to eliminate the scourge of hunger, coming up with solutions that defy political concerns and focus on ideas that will actually work.
When we read ובכרת בחיים - “choose life that you and your descendants may live” (Dt 30:19) we need to understand it as choose ethics and justice above God or nation. To do otherwise is to turn God into an idol or a nation into a god.
The thought of trying to solve the large problems of our world can seem overwhelming. Not feeling up to working to solve hunger or poverty? This is a true story.
One of our families was driving to Shabbat morning services with their son who was celebrating becoming Bar Mitzvah that morning when they saw a woman on the other side of the street trip and fall. On the one hand, God was calling them to worship like God called Abraham to worship by murdering Isaac. On the other hand, a woman needed help. Unlike Abraham, they put ethics and justice above God and made a u turn to help the woman.
What would you like to think you would have done?
What would you have actually done.?