What Rabbinic Commentaries Reveal about the Fate of Abraham’s Son

Sept. 27 2019

Reflecting upon the story of the binding of Isaac, traditionally read in synagogues on Rosh Hashanah, David Gottlieb considers his own relationship with his father, who in turn had been shaped by two events: the death of his brother, a naval aviator, during a training exercise in 1943 and an emergency heart surgery at the age of sixty-seven. Gottlieb writes:

[In their] commentaries on the Binding of Isaac, . . . the rabbis at once protest against and reimagine God’s most incomprehensible, even indefensible actions. But the story also helped me see my father in a new light: as a man over whom the knife of war (and, later, invasive surgery) had flashed; as someone who had lost a part of himself; and as a person determined to wrest meaning from the potentially meaningless.

Interpretations of the story of Isaac’s binding so often focus on Abraham that the miracle of Isaac’s lifelong response to it—as a loving husband, a peacemaker, and a phenomenally successful agriculturalist—is often overlooked. But Isaac is a key for our time: he epitomizes the lack of agency we hesitate to confront in our lives, and the contradiction between our helpless repetition of parental patterns and the seeming randomness of our encounters with death.

Innocence ends when we are forced to confront our vulnerability, a crisis that often occurs at the hands of those who guide us up the mountain. Then, in the flash of a knife, we understand that our time is short, and that we are on our own. Through a ritual of violent initiation—often enacted accidentally, or without our consent—we are given new vision and new scars. If we are blessed, we get to go on, but we do so shorn of the illusion that those who raised us can protect us from the terror of being an animal conscious of its own mortality. As the Israeli poet Haim Gouri wrote, Isaac’s offspring “are born with a knife in their hearts.”

Read more at Tablet

More about: Binding of Isaac, Hebrew Bible, Midrash, Rosh Hashanah, World War II

Iran’s Four-Decade Strategy to Envelope Israel in Terror

Yesterday, the head of the Shin Bet—Israel’s internal security service—was in Washington meeting with officials from the State Department, CIA, and the White House itself. Among the topics no doubt discussed are rising tensions with Iran and the possibility that the latter, in order to defend its nuclear program, will instruct its network of proxies in Gaza, the West Bank, Lebanon, Syria, and even Iraq and Yemen to attack the Jewish state. Oved Lobel explores the history of this network, which, he argues, predates Iran’s Islamic Revolution—when Shiite radicals in Lebanon coordinated with Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini’s movement in Iran:

An inextricably linked Iran-Syria-Palestinian axis has actually been in existence since the early 1970s, with Lebanon the geographical fulcrum of the relationship and Damascus serving as the primary operational headquarters. Lebanon, from the 1980s until 2005, was under the direct military control of Syria, which itself slowly transformed from an ally to a client of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) following the collapse of the Soviet Union. The nexus among Damascus, Beirut, and the Palestinian territories should therefore always have been viewed as one front, both geographically and operationally. It’s clear that the multifront-war strategy was already in operation during the first intifada years, from 1987 to 1993.

[An] Iranian-organized conference in 1991, the first of many, . . . established the “Damascus 10”—an alliance of ten Palestinian factions that rejected any peace process with Israel. According to the former Hamas spokesperson and senior official Ibrahim Ghosheh, he spoke to then-Hizballah Secretary-General Abbas al-Musawi at the conference and coordinated Hizballah attacks from Lebanon in support of the intifada. Further important meetings between Hamas and the Iranian regime were held in 1999 and 2000, while the IRGC constantly met with its agents in Damascus to encourage coordinated attacks on Israel.

For some reason, Hizballah’s guerilla war against Israel in Lebanon in the 1980s and 1990s was, and often still is, viewed as a separate phenomenon from the first intifada, when they were in fact two fronts in the same battle.

Israel opted for a perilous unconditional withdrawal from Lebanon in May 2000, which Hamas’s Ghosheh asserts was a “direct factor” in precipitating the start of the second intifada later that same year.

Read more at Australia/Israel Review

More about: First intifada, Hizballah, Iran, Palestinian terror, Second Intifada