Why Jewish Tradition Associates the Biblical Forefathers with the Values They Struggled Most to Uphold

In kabbalistic thought, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob are associated, respectively, with the divine attributes of lovingkindness, strength, and truth. The prooftext for these correspondences, which eventually became commonplace, is Micah 7:20, which begins (addressing God), “You will give truth to Jacob, lovingkindness to Abraham.” But, Ben Greenfield notes, Genesis shows Jacob as practicing deceit: first by disguising himself as his brother Esau to take his blessing, and then by outmaneuvering his avaricious father-in-law Laban. Passivity, even weakness—rather than strength—seem to characterize Isaac. And Abraham does at times display kindness, but:

Abraham’s full story is not at all defined by “kindness” and often runs directly counter to it. How is Avraham the epitome of lovingkindness in raising the blade over his bound son? Where is the lovingkindness in allowing Sarah to torment the lowly maidservant Hagar (Genesis 16:6) or in exiling Hagar and her young child Ishmael into the blazing desert (Genesis 21:14)? . . . The Abraham we know from the actual Torah exemplifies any number of virtues, but lovingkindness is not particularly high on that list.

Greenfield seeks a solution to this paradox by taking a closer look at one of the earliest texts to make these associations, an addendum to the Zohar known as the Zohar Ḥadash (“new Zohar”), first published in the 16th century:

Nothing in the Zohar Ḥadash indicates that the forefathers own, master, or are themselves the source of these virtues. Rather, it asserts that each patriarch “knew God through the looking glass” of these virtues. The virtue is located outside them and is central to their experience, but it is not necessarily something that they themselves embody. As such, it is reasonable to understand this kabbalistic thread as stating that the forefathers repeatedly confront their respective attribute: sometimes exhibiting it, sometimes challenged by it, constantly weighing if and how to bring that virtue into the world.

Perhaps to “know God through the looking glass” of a virtue means to struggle with that virtue. It is possible that Zohar Ḥadash’s intention in this passage is to highlight Jacob’s tendency toward guile (Genesis 27:35 and 34:13) and Isaac’s frequent positions of impotence. This “struggle” read is bolstered by the Zohar Ḥadash’s biblical prooftext of Micah 7:20, a verse that speaks of Jacob and Abraham lacking their respective attributes and which appears in a passage about Jewish spiritual failure.

Indeed, virtues like kindness, strength, and truth cannot possibly be embodied completely by any mortal being.

Read more at Lehrhaus

More about: Abraham, Genesis, Hebrew Bible, Kabbalah, Micah


Iran’s President May Be Dead. What Next?

At the moment, Hizballah’s superiors in Tehran probably aren’t giving much thought to the militia’s next move. More likely, they are focused on the fact that their country’s president, Ebrahim Raisi, along with the foreign minister, may have been killed in a helicopter crash near the Iran-Azerbaijan border. Iranians set off fireworks to celebrate the possible death of this man known as “butcher of Tehran” for his role in executing dissidents. Shay Khatiri explains what will happen next:

If the president is dead or unable to perform his duties for longer than two months, the first vice-president, the speaker of the parliament, and the chief justice, with the consent of the supreme leader, form a council to choose the succession mechanism. In effect, this means that Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei will decide [how to proceed]. Either a new election is called, or Khamenei will dictate that the council chooses a single person to avoid an election in time of crisis.

Whatever happens next, however, Raisi’s “hard landing” will mark the first chapter in a game of musical chairs that will consume the Islamic Republic for months and will set the stage not only for the post-Raisi era, but the post-Khamenei one as well.

As for the inevitable speculation that Raisi’s death wasn’t an accident: everything I have read so far suggests that it was. Still, that its foremost enemy will be distracted by a succession struggle is good news for Israel. And it wouldn’t be terrible if Iran’s leaders suspect that the Mossad just might have taken out Raisi. For all their rhetoric about martyrdom, I doubt they relish the prospect of becoming martyrs themselves.

Read more at Middle East Forum

More about: Ali Khamenei, Iran, Mossad