Lot’s Child Sacrifice—and Abraham’s

Oct. 30 2015

This week’s Torah reading begins with Abraham’s reception of three mysterious guests, a gesture held up in rabbinic literature as a model of righteous hospitality. It then juxtaposes two of the most dramatic stories in Genesis: the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah and the Binding of Isaac. Sarah Rindner notes important parallels between these passages. In Sodom, Abraham’s nephew Lot imitates his uncle’s hospitality by inviting the same mysterious guests into his home, but when a mob of Sodomites demands that he turn them over, he engages instead in his own act of child sacrifice:

Many read the story of the Binding of Isaac as an act of blind and heroic faith on the part of Abraham. Others understand it to be an articulation of the Torah’s supersession of the pagan custom of sacrificing one’s firstborn. This second group focuses on the moment when God tells Abraham that he does not need to sacrifice his son. Yet, in interpreting the story and Abraham’s actions here, it may be instructive to examine the only other case of child sacrifice we see in the book of Genesis—when Lot offers up his daughters to the mob. For Lot, this is the ultimate act of generosity, of giving up something that is dear to him to satisfy the imperative of hospitality.

When Abraham is asked to sacrifice his son Isaac, perhaps he also interprets this request in a similar vein as reflecting the darker side of . . . self-abnegation and sacrifice, of the intertwining of the death-instinct with the life-instinct. The triumph of the story is that Abraham learns that . . . that his generosity toward God does not have to involve losing something of himself. . . . Hospitality is in some ways the inverse of sacrifice; it represents the possibility of giving without depletion. The Binding of Isaac represents one powerful paradigm for understanding the life of faith, and too often in Jewish history we have seen our own Isaacs bound and led to slaughter. We should not forget, however, that Abraham is defined primarily by his expansive and life-affirming hospitality, and this, too, can enrich our sense of the Jewish mission in the world.

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More about: Abraham, Binding of Isaac, Genesis, Morality, Religion & Holidays, Sodom

UN Peacekeepers in Lebanon Risk Their Lives, but Still May Do More Harm Than Good

Jan. 27 2023

Last month an Irish member of the UN Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) was killed by Hizballah guerrillas who opened fire on his vehicle. To David Schenker, it is likely the peacekeeper was “assassinated” to send “a clear message of Hizballah’s growing hostility toward UNIFIL.” The peacekeeping force has had a presence in south Lebanon since 1978, serving first to maintain calm between Israel and the PLO, and later between Israel and Hizballah. But, Schenker explains, it seems to be accomplishing little in that regard:

In its biannual reports to the Security Council, UNIFIL openly concedes its failure to interdict weapons destined for Hizballah. While the contingent acknowledges allegations of “arms transfers to non-state actors” in Lebanon, i.e., Hizballah, UNIFIL says it’s “not in a position to substantiate” them. Given how ubiquitous UN peacekeepers are in the Hizballah heartland, this perennial failure to observe—let alone appropriate—even a single weapons delivery is a fair measure of the utter failure of UNIFIL’s mission. Regardless, Washington continues to pour hundreds of millions of dollars into this failed enterprise, and its local partner, the Lebanese Armed Forces.

Since 2006, UNIFIL patrols have periodically been subjected to Hizballah roadside bombs in what quickly proved to be a successful effort to discourage the organization proactively from executing its charge. In recent years, though, UN peacekeepers have increasingly been targeted by the terror organization that runs Lebanon, and which tightly controls the region that UNIFIL was set up to secure. The latest UN reports tell a harrowing story of a spike in the pattern of harassment and assaults on the force. . . .

Four decades on, UNIFIL’s mission has clearly become untenable. Not only is the organization ineffective, its deployment serves as a key driver of the economy in south Lebanon, employing and sustaining Hizballah’s supporters and constituents. At $500 million a year—$125 million of which is paid by Washington—the deployment is also expensive. Already, the force is in harm’s way, and during the inevitable next war between Israel and Hizballah, this 10,000-strong contingent will provide the militia with an impressive human shield.

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More about: Hizballah, Lebanon, Peacekeepers, U.S. Foreign policy