Attention to the Names of God Can Explain the Binding of Isaac

Few biblical passages have provoked as much theological handwringing as the one, read in synagogues tomorrow, in which the Almighty commands Abraham to sacrifice his own son. Of particular concern to many commentators is God’s countermanding at the end of the passage the order he gave at the beginning. By noting the text’s use of both Elohim (God) and the tetragrammaton (rendered here as “Lord”), Jerome Marcus proposes a fresh approach:

The first half of the story (Genesis 22:1-10) presents God’s command that Abraham sacrifice his son. Throughout this section of the story, God is referred to as Elohim. However, in the second half (Genesis 22:11-19), where the sacrifice is ultimately averted, all references to God [save one] use the tetragrammaton; [likewise] the command to Abraham [not to go through with the sacrifice] comes from a “messenger of the Lord.” Abraham thus hears God in two different modes. [Put differently], Abraham’s understanding and experience of God . . . changes midway through the story.

The text emphasizes this shift clearly by a striking altered repetition. . . . When Isaac asks his father where the lamb is, Abraham answers “God will see to (i.e., provide) the lamb Himself.” But after the crucial shift, Abraham . . . names the place where the binding had occurred not “God will see” but instead “the Lord will see.” . . .

[The talmudic sages frequently] distinguish between these two names of God: Elohim portrays God as unyielding, expressing the characteristic of inflexible justice. The tetragrammaton is understood as representing mercy. The apparent contradiction between what God wants in the two halves of Genesis 22, then, may map onto the difference between these two understandings of God. . . .

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

Condemning Terrorism in Jerusalem—and Efforts to Stop It

Jan. 30 2023

On Friday night, a Palestinian opened fire at a group of Israelis standing outside a Jerusalem synagogue, killing seven and wounding several others. The day before, the IDF had been drawn into a gunfight in the West Bank city of Jenin while trying to arrest members of a terrorist cell. Of the nine Palestinians killed in the raid, only one appears to have been a noncombatant. Lahav Harkov compares the responses to the two events, beginning with the more recent:

President Joe Biden called Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to denounce the attack, offer his condolences, and express his commitment to Israel’s security. Other leaders released supportive statements as well. Governments across Europe condemned the attack. Turkey’s foreign ministry did the same, as did Israel’s Abraham Accords partners the UAE and Bahrain. Even Saudi Arabia released a statement against the killing of civilians in Jerusalem.

It feels wrong to criticize those statements. . . . But the condemnations should be full-throated, not spoken out of one side of the mouth while the other is wishy-washy about what it takes to stave off terrorism. These very same leaders and ministries were tsk-tsking at Israel for doing just that only a day before the attacks in Jerusalem.

The context didn’t seem to matter to some countries that are friendly to Israel. It didn’t matter that Israel was trying to stop jihadists from attacking civilians; it didn’t matter that IDF soldiers were attacked on the way.

It’s very easy for some to be sad when Jews are murdered. Yet, at the same time, so many of them are uncomfortable with Jews asserting themselves, protecting themselves, arming themselves against the bloodthirsty horde that would hand out bonbons to celebrate their deaths. It’s a reminder of how important it is that we do just that, and how essential the state of Israel is.

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More about: Jerusalem, Palestinian terror