Were the Avot Perfect? -By Rabbi Hyim Shafner

Last week I wrote a blog post on another blog in which I suggested Abraham had on some level  failed the test of bringing his son Isaac as a sacrifice on Mount Moriah.  That instead of bringing him perhaps the more ethical response would have been to protect the innocent child even in the face of the Divine command to sacrifice him.   It seemed more in keeping with the teachings of the the God of the Bible who abhors injustice and loves mercy.   Here is the post: http://www.stltoday.com/lifestyles/faith-and-values/civil-religion/hyim-shafner/

I received several responses from individuals of various religions who found my suggestion that Abraham failed, to say the least, highly objectionable.   Many asked how I could suggest that a better decision would have been for Abraham to refuse to kill his son when the bible and so many religious traditions clearly see this as Abraham’s greatest moment of faith and religious success.

To these concerns I would answer that Judaism, my tradition, has a particularly unique view of the Bible, that multiple interpretations, even when in contradiction with each other can be simultaneously true.   There are several levels on which the bible is understood in Jewish tradition, from that of the plain meaning of the text to more mystical levels, and several in between.  On the level of the text’s plain meaning perhaps there are fewer legitimate interpretations but when it comes to deeper levels, especially those of the Midrash, the narrative and homiletically level, we have many examples from Jewish tradition in which we are presented with ancient interpretations which are contradictory, yet simultaneously seen as valid.   Thus it can be true that while on one level Abraham indeed performed an act of great faith, on another level he failed to care for his weak child and caused his wife’s death of shock.

Another criticism some had of the suggestion that Abraham failed his final test was the supposition that the righteous individuals in the Bible are perfectly righteous.   How could I have the audacity to suggest that the people upon whom many religions are founded, were flawed?

There is a very long Jewish tradition of not seeing our ancestors as perfect.   For instance the rabbis of the Talmud suggest that Jacob was fooled by his wife Leah as punishment for fooling his brother Esau when he surreptitiously took the first born blessing from him, or ancient Rabbis who suggest that the Jewish people were punished much latter in the time of Queen Esther for what Jacob did to his brother, showing in effect, that what he did was wrong.  Some ancient Jewish commentaries even understand that the Jewish people had to go down to Egypt into slavery as a punishment for Abraham putting his wife in danger in the beginning of the Book of Genesis, when he told Pharaoh, in an attempt to save himself from harm, that Sara was not his wife but his sister.  And on and on.

I would suggest that, seeing the Biblical patriarchs and matriarchs as righteous, but none the less flawed, -rather than threaten theological soundness of religious life, actually strengthens and deepens it.  If our founders and mentors are perfect, and thus like Gods, then who are we to learn from them? To model our lives after them?   But if they are human, and flawed, like us but none the less paradigms of constant religious striving, self reflection, and spiritual work.  Men such as King David, about whom the prophet Natan in the Biblical book of Samuel says “You are the (sinful) man,” who sinned and yet repented and rose above his sin to a better and more holy place, only then can they truly be our spiritual mentors.

62 Responses to Were the Avot Perfect? -By Rabbi Hyim Shafner

  1. Anonymous says:

    As you say, the midrashic sources that criticize the heroes of our tradition go “on and on.” I can think of numerous other examples that you do not mention, some tremendously harsh. How about the midrash that has Shlomo’s mother slapping him across the face and scolding him for his appalling failure to open the brand new Temple on time, because he was lounging around in bed with Pharaoh’s daughter! How about the midrash that has Yakov rejecting Rachel’s pleas that he pray for her to have children — Yakov says that it’s her problem because he has children of his own from other wives! Those are just two examples of midrashim that present our heroes in an even harsher light than peshat suggests.

    To me, the most interestinq question is why so many people feel compelled to view our avot as flawless, even superhuman, when the tradition itself (at least the tradition in the times of the tanaim) is far more open to viewing our heroes as they are presented in peshat — as flawed, very real people who nevertheless inspire us to know we can achieve greatness despite our flaws.

    That urge to whitewash the avot is very old — we see it in the sugya of the Talmud that alleges that anyone who says that various characters from the Tanach sinned is mistaken. The interesting thing is that every single effort in that sugya to wipe out the peshat reading is countered. The conclusion of that sugya does not support the opening assertion, in each and every example. But many choose to recall only the opening line, the rejected assertion that calling our heroes sinners is a mistake.

    We see that urge in much more modern times, where for example Rabbi Wasserman in Kovetz Maamarim refers to Hazal as a saintly group of tens of thousands who reached a level of objectivity never before seen in mankind. What happened to the long list of midrashim that show chazal, like our Tanach heroes, to be ever so human, and subject to the same sorts of foibles that any human being might be subject to — vanity, lust, etc.

    Perhaps viewing our heroes throughout Jewish history as flawless is a necessary corollary for those who want to elevate our entire religious tradition into a simplistic “perfect” answer to every problem we might encounter in life. There are no flaws, no lacunae, no paradoxes. And there is no philosophical humility either — individuals who are immensely humble in their personal demeanor can nevertheless ascribe to an arrogant elevation of their religious world view into something it is not.

    The view that our avot were flawed would be consistent with an understanding that our grasp of Torah is necessarily flawed as well, for we are only human, and cannot be expected to grasp God’s will with complete accuracy. We do our best, but we should not flatter ourselves to the point where we arrogantly assert that our tradition (or should I say our individual view of how that tradition is to be understood) has figured it all out. Life remains stunningly complex, and many difficulties of religious life are perpetual problems.

    Michael Stein

    • Anonymous says:

      You have grossly misrepresented the Gemara. The conclusion of the Gemara regarding Reuven comes out conclusively that Reuven definitely did not have relations with his fathers concubine. It seems to me that the urge to bring the Avos down to our own level is the dishonest position. No less than the Sforno says by the case of Yaakov with the Sa’ar shel Aisav, when Yaakov told him he would not let him go, that “Gadol tzadikim YOSER mimalachei hashares”! Prophesy is one of the highest levels possible for a human being. How can you judge someone on that level? We can only say that which Chaza”l teach us and not more. Furthermore, we can only understand those Chaza’l based on a firm Mesora! When Chaza’l criticize the Avos, they are not whimsically interpreting whatever will fit in with their drasha for that week. No! That was very poorly said! It shows a disregard for Mesora, and for the respect of our Tzadikim Shochnei Afar! Besides for the fact that you are missing out on valueable lessons that could otherwise have been learned from the Chaza’l understood properly.

  2. EBF says:

    I also think that Avraham’s decision to sacrifice a ram in place of his son prefigured the later Biblical command to abstain from child sacrifice to Molech. The Akeda scene we have is so stark and seemingly only “inhabited” by Avraham and Yitzchak and the two youths who accompany them to Moriah; the language and tone have always made it seem a private act of devotion between God and Avraham. Yet I always wondered, if, in contrast, his actions were well-known and public, either at the time, or shortly thereafter. After all, Avraham was a well-known and respected leader. Even if he did not announce his intentions and left early in the morning to avoid ‘publicity,’ knowledge of his call to sacrifice would have seemed perfectly normal at the time. What an profound impact it must have made on people who routinely accepted child sacrifice.

  3. Hakohen says:

    Of course the Torah does point out the flaws in the greatest of our Torah personalities. Nonetheless, I don’t believe that gives you license to suggest that Abraham failed the test by the akeidas Yitzchak. At best your suggestion is careless, at worst it is heresy.

    • Hyim Shafner says:

      According to whom would it be heresy? The Rambam lists 13 dogmas and none are this. Other rishonim list fewer.
      In fact there maybe greater danger in seeing the sacrifice of Yitzcok as the successful path. While we can learn faith and obedience from the story of the Akedah, and that is good, the idea of blind subservience to Divine command in the face of extreme ethical violations, which is often learned from the story of the Akedah, has led to lots of violence in history, not by Jews but certainly by other monotheistic religions.
      Related to this the torah in many places requires the death penalty but Rabbi Akivah says were he the head of the Sanhedrin there would be no giving of the death penalty.

  4. Anonymous says:

    Rabbi Shafner

    If you assert that Abraham failed the test then how do you reconcile your position with the view of the Men of the Great Assembly who have utilized the z’chut of the akeida as the centerpiece of our supplication in the Shemona essray on Rosh Hashana. The buildup leading into the concluding bracha in Zichronot touts the feat by Abraham as THE z’chut that G-d should notice. We beseech G-d to “emulate” Abraham in allowing His middah of “din” to yield to His middah of “rachamim” The bracah concludes”….and the akeida of Yitzchak today shall You remember with compassion” This supplication and the closure”baruch ato hashem ZOCHER HABRIT’ is purely ludicrous according to your interpretation.

    Do you have any appreciation of the tens-perhaps hundreds- of thousands of holy Jews who went to their deaths valiantly with the comfort and conviction that in some way they were following the path of Abraham. I find your interpretation of the “failed test” as not only blatantly wrong but actually highly insulting to the memory of so many kedoshim. Where is your sense of responsibility? Are you willing to disgrace these holy and noble neshamot for the sake of political correctness?(Your veiled reference to Abraham’s behavior as a failure to protect an innocent child from abuse was not lost on me or any of your astute readers)

    • Hyim Shafner says:

      I do not think that the stories in our holy torah have only one way of seeing them. Its not either/or. Rather I think often both are true. Maybe we should learn from Avrohom the deep meaning of absolute faith and that certainly there are times when we must give our life for Yahadut. On the other hand to assume there is nothing amiss with the story is dangerous. Indeed about every 10 years or so there are people who not insane who kill their children on a command from God.

      In addition how many Jewish children have died because people of other monotheistic religions have felt that when there is a command from God, a holy war or such, it trumps everything, even the killing of innocent children, and seen the story of the Akedah as their guide?

      • Anonymous says:

        How many of those supposed “imitators of the Akeida” had a direct prophesy from Hashem? Would you otherwise contend that the Torahs story is fictitious? That would certainly be heretical even according to your assertion of Miamonides’ 13 principles (either because it would be assuming that the words of the Torah or the Prophets are false). Obviously the first option is rhetorical. (According to the Anshei Knesset Hagedola, prophesy ceased during the beggining of the Second Temple era. This was the reason for their sealing of TANaCh.) At the very least, may I humbly request that when you publish your articles in mainstream newspapers that you make it clear that you are not necessarily representing (Modern) Orthodox Judaism.

      • Hyim Shafner says:

        Actually several rishonim say that one may interpret things in the torah as metaphor (the Rashba, the Rambam, and others), and as not having actually happened, as long as it does not change halacha or one of the ikrey haemunah. In some instances of course we are obligated to interpret things in the torah as metaphor or be in violation of heresy according to the Rambam. For the Rambam this includes all anthropomorphic depictions of God and according to the Ramban it may also include the creation of the world (see first Ramban on the torah).

      • Anonymous says:

        Please indicate specifically where one can find the said hashkafot regarding understanding the stories in the Torah. (You mentioned the RAMBAM, RASHBA &the RAMBAN, where in each ones works might I research this issue?)

  5. Hakohen says:

    As the Torah already identifies the flaws of our great Biblical personalities, I don’t believe we should be making up others. I am
    sure that Abraham passed the test of the Akeidah with flying colours.

    • Hyim Shafner says:

      I would say he did and he did not.

      • Anonymous says:

        Rabbi Shafner,
        According to your earlier answer to the post regarding the veracity of the Biblical Narrative, is your answer to be taken to mean that the Akeida was merely a metaphor? If so, no one could fault you for trying to understand the metaphor to every possible conclusion. Where can the RAMBAM, RASHBA, & the RAMBAN that you cited to support your position be found?

      • Levi says:

        According to your earlier reply that parts of the Torah are merely metaphor, are you suggesting that that is the case regarding the Akeida? Could you provide more specific citations for the RAMBAM, RASHBA, & RAMBAN that you referenced?

  6. Levi says:

    In other words, the story of the Akeida is metaphorical? Which part of the first Ramban are you reffering to. Also where in the other mentioned Rishonim would I find the views that you have expressed?

    • Hyim Shafner says:

      Here is a lecture on the subject by one of the YU Romim.

      http://www.yutorah.com/lectures/lecture.cfm/716561/Rabbi_Jeremy_Wieder/Non_Literal_Interpretation_of_Scripture_in_Jewish_Tradition

      On the right side of the page is a pdf of the sources he mentions. The Ramban that says the description of the creation of the world given in the Torah is not actually the process of the creation is here (first ramban al hatorah):

      והתשובה, מפני שמעשה בראשית סוד עמוק אינו מובן מן המקראות, ולא יוודע על בוריו אלא מפי הקבלה עד משה רבינו מפי הגבורה, ויודעיו חייבין להסתיר אותו,

      • Levi says:

        Thank you for your response. I certainly have my homework cut out for me. I regards to the RAMBAN, it would seem that he is saying that it cannot be clearly understood save for by a few individuals. He certainly is NOT giving open license for interpretation. He does not either seem to be indicating that the story of creation is a metaphor, just simply that not everyone can understand it with true clarity! If anything, it would suggest caution to one trying to impose their own belief system into it.

      • Levi says:

        I have re-read the RAMBAN and he says the only proper way to understand the story is through the Mesorah as it was accepted from Moshe Rabbeinu. Certainly not through careless conjecture.

      • Anonymous says:

        So, is the Akeidah a metaphor?

      • Hyim Shafner says:

        Perhaps through thoughtful conjecture….

        He does say the story of the creation in the torah is not the real story. I think that means it is metaphor, ie not literal.

  7. Hakohen says:

    Everyone is certainly entitled to their opinion. However, you are an Orthodox Rabbi of an Orthodox Shul, and should be even more careful about what you put out in public.

    Several of your assertions are a betrayal of Torah Judaism.

    For example, it is highly offensive for you to suggest that in some manner Abraham’s actions are responsible for the horrific atrocities of others. This is not something an Orthodox Rabbi should be writing, plain and simple. Even if you were thinking it, it is reckless for you to publicize it….and in the St. Louis Jewish Light, no less.

    If a Reform Rabbi would have written it, I would have found it highly offensive. All the moreso, when someone with orthodox ordination does so.

    • Hyim Shafner says:

      You don’t think violent Muslims utilize it as a foundational text?

      • Levi says:

        met·a·phor

        – noun 1. figure of speech in which a word or phrase is applied to an object or concept it does not literally denote in order to suggest comparison with its basic meaning.
        The RAMBAN (at least in the words you posted does NOT say that it is not literal, but rather

      • Levi says:

        “It is a deep foundation that cannot be understood from the Pesukim. It will not be known to its clarity EXCEPT THROUGH THE MOUTH OF THE EXEPTANCE UNTIL MOSHE OUR TEACHER FROM THE MOUTH IF THE ALMIGHTY. And those who know it have hidden it”. (Do you translate the RAMBAN differently?) The RAMBAN leaves no room for conjecture, thoughtful or otherwise, which would deem any conjecture to be careless. Especially if that conjecture is attributed to RAMBAN who never said that.
        But getting back to our original topic, please answer this: Are you of the opinion that the Akeida is only a metaphor? This is the main question that I would like answered. Everything else is tangential and distracting.

      • BEN AVROHOM says:

        Are you joking? If they used Matan Torah would you blame Hashem? It isn’t our fault that violent Muslims pervert the truth! Don’t CHAZA”L teach that although the Torah can be perverted by those who would like, the intent of the Torah is to teach to those who seek truth! That assertion aside from being a betrayal of Torah Judaism, but your supporting argument is a betrayal of honest intelligent debate!

      • Hyim Shafner says:

        I do not know if the Akedah is meant to be a metaphor or literal. I’m sure just like the the question of whether the story of the creation of the world in Birashit is metaphore or literal is the subject of an argument with different points of view the same could be true of the Akedah. In the end no one can know. But the question is not what is and is not metaphor in the torah, the important question is what are the boundaries of metaphor in the torah. That itself there are differing opinions on. the Ramabam would require us to read all statements that describe God in the Torah as metaphore, others would not (see the Raavad’s comment on the Mishnah Torah below, laws of tishuvah 3:7) where he tells us that many chachamim did indeed believe God to be corporal.
        רמב”ם הלכות תשובה פרק ג הלכה ז

        חמשה הן הנקראים ה מינים: האומר שאין שם אלוה ואין לעולם מנהיג, והאומר שיש שם מנהיג אבל הן שנים או יותר, והאומר שיש שם רבון אחד אבל שהוא גוף ובעל תמונה, וכן האומר שאינו לבדו הראשון וצור לכל, וכן העובד כוכב או מזל וזולתו כדי להיות מליץ בינו ובין רבון העולמים כל אחד מחמשה אלו הוא מין. +/השגת הראב”ד/ והאומר שיש שם רבון אחד אלא שהוא גוף ובעל תמונה. א”א ולמה קרא לזה מין וכמה גדולים וטובים ממנו הלכו בזו המחשבה לפי מה שראו במקראות ויותר ממה שראו בדברי האגדות המשבשות את הדעות. /השגת הראב”ד/ וכן האומר שאינו לבדו הראשון. א”א כאותו שאמר אלהיכם צייר גדול היה אלא שמצא לו סמנים גדולים תהו ובהו חושך ומים ורוח ובהם עשה מה שעשה.+

  8. Anonymous says:

    Hold on! The Ramban that you quoted is referring specifically to the story of CREATION.It was said in the context of his response to Rashi’s explanation as to why the Torah begins with creation and not with the first mitzvah of “Hachodesh hazeh Lachem”
    You are utiliaing the Ramban incorrectly in asserting that he intends this to be the case in the “Maaseh Avot”.Secondly,even in its proper context the Ramban NEVER implied that B’reishit didn’t happen. He is saying that the the depth and profundity is out of the reach of the common Jew. It is only understood by counted individuals. Please reread the Ramban again. I await your reply

  9. Hakohen says:

    How they misinterpret the Bible is no reflection on Abraham.

    Your argument is such a stretch it is barely comprehensible. It sounds like you hold Abraham responsible, at least in part, for the murder of almost 3,000 people on 09/11/01, for the Lockerbee bombing, and for countless other acts of atrocity committed by followers of Islam…not to mention all of the Christian violence against Jews and others throughout the last 2,000 years.

    • Hyim Shafner says:

      Everything has an affect on the world. Good and bad. So to with the Akedah. Yaakov took the beracha from Esav, this had good affects, Yaakovs progeny benefited from it and the Jewish people became who they became, but according to the Midrash there were also bad things that came from it, like threats to the Jewish people latter in History. Just because something is the best choice does not mean it is good or all good.

  10. Hyim Shafner says:

    I do not know if the Akedah is meant to be a metaphor or literal. I’m sure just like the the question of whether the story of the creation of the world in Birashit is metaphore or literal is the subject of an argument with different points of view the same could be true of the Akedah. In the end no one can know. But the question is not what is and is not metaphor in the torah, the important question is what are the boundaries of metaphor in the torah. That itself there are differing opinions on. the Ramabam would require us to read all statements that describe God in the Torah as metaphore, others would not (see the Raavad’s comment on the Mishnah Torah below, laws of tishuvah 3:7) where he tells us that many chachamim did indeed believe God to be corporal.
    רמב”ם הלכות תשובה פרק ג הלכה ז

    חמשה הן הנקראים ה מינים: האומר שאין שם אלוה ואין לעולם מנהיג, והאומר שיש שם מנהיג אבל הן שנים או יותר, והאומר שיש שם רבון אחד אבל שהוא גוף ובעל תמונה, וכן האומר שאינו לבדו הראשון וצור לכל, וכן העובד כוכב או מזל וזולתו כדי להיות מליץ בינו ובין רבון העולמים כל אחד מחמשה אלו הוא מין. +/השגת הראב”ד/ והאומר שיש שם רבון אחד אלא שהוא גוף ובעל תמונה. א”א ולמה קרא לזה מין וכמה גדולים וטובים ממנו הלכו בזו המחשבה לפי מה שראו במקראות ויותר ממה שראו בדברי האגדות המשבשות את הדעות. /השגת הראב”ד/ וכן האומר שאינו לבדו הראשון. א”א כאותו שאמר אלהיכם צייר גדול היה אלא שמצא לו סמנים גדולים תהו ובהו חושך ומים ורוח ובהם עשה מה שעשה.+

    • Levi says:

      The RAMBAM in Hilchos Avoda Zara brings the story of Abraham smashing his fathers idols and being saved miraculously from the king as fact. Many, touting the RAMBAN as the source claim that medrashim aren’t true. Obviously, the RAMBAN had criteria to follow in terms of this Shita and when to apply it. He did not mean for it to be a blanket rule to be used (or abused). We are discussing the Written Word of the Torah. We have to realize that we aren’t in the same arena as the Midrash discussion, and even if there are. Rishonim who see metaphorical reference in various parts of the Torah, does it negate the literal reading. It certainly does not give us license that to interject our own meek understanding into the Torah into it. Especially when we say chidushim that run contrary to what we believe in. We should always be weary when we say something that has such wide ramifications. Our tefillot mention the Akeida as a zchut that we can still rely on today. The RAMBAN on the Akeida says that now the children of Abraham have a guarantee that they would never be wiped out. (I wrote that from memory, please check me on it.) On a very simple level, do we really understand the enormity of what Abraham did that its merit still stands for us thousands of years later? How dare we criticize someone and something that he did with little to no true understanding of that instance, without indication from someone who did! (Chazal, a Rishon, etc) Even if your understanding of the RAMBAM, RASHBA and
      RAMBAN are correct, proper humiliation would demand of us to be much more.careful with our commentary, and then if absolutely necessary, to approach the task with trembling. At the very least Abraham, OUR FATHER, deserves the respect that we would afford to anyone else. The laws of lashon hora/ motzi shem ra certainly apply. Aren’t there klalos said to those who defame the dead and for those who do so to their parents? Please keep in mind that Abraham is not a fairy tale persona but that he really exists and he really is our patriarch. Perhaps we can then treat him with at least the same respect that is demanded from political correctness! And please don’t attribute the opportunistic usage of our Torah or the Holy personas contained within it on those said Holy people or the Torah! Would it be any different from me saying I should stop listening to Hashem (chase v’shalom), and then saying this point of view is based on Rabbi Shafners understanding of the akeida which says listening to Hashem can have disastrous results!? (I think that might be more logical than laying the blame of the atrocities committed by the christian and arab world at the feet of Avrohom.)

      • Hyim Shafner says:

        I do not write to be glib but because for the sake of Torah I feel something should be said. In this case the myriad of difficulties with taking the Akedah story only one way, and the possibility that the story taken in only the usual way has has some negative repercussions in the world. That being said Judaism is actually a religion in which we believe that chidush, if it has some basis and purpose is meaningful and a mitzvah in and of itself. In this case you and some others think the chidush has not enough basis.

        The Rambam in the mishnah torah has a different story of how Avrohom found Hashem. He was 40 when he finally came to it on his own. Its from a different midrash. There are several midrashim with different versions of how Avrohom came to monotheism.

    • BEN AVROHOM says:

      The RAMBAM in Hilchos Avoda Zara brings the story of Abraham smashing his fathers idols and being saved miraculously from the king as fact. Many, touting the RAMBAN as the source claim that medrashim aren’t true. Obviously, the RAMBAN had criteria to follow in terms of this Shita and when to apply it. He did not mean for it to be a blanket rule to be used (or abused). We are discussing the Written Word of the Torah. We have to realize that we aren’t in the same arena as the Midrash discussion, and even if there are. Rishonim who see metaphorical reference in various parts of the Torah, does it negate the literal reading. It certainly does not give us license that to interject our own meek understanding into the Torah into it. Especially when we say chidushim that run contrary to what we believe in. We should always be weary when we say something that has such wide ramifications. Our tefillot mention the Akeida as a zchut that we can still rely on today. The RAMBAN on the Akeida says that now the children of Abraham have a guarantee that they would never be wiped out. (I wrote that from memory, please check me on it.) On a very simple level, do we really understand the enormity of what Abraham did that its merit still stands for us thousands of years later? How dare we criticize someone and something that he did with little to no true understanding of that instance, without indication from someone who did! (Chazal, a Rishon, etc) Even if your understanding of the RAMBAM, RASHBA and
      RAMBAN are correct, proper humiliation would demand of us to be much more.careful with our commentary, and then if absolutely necessary, to approach the task with trembling. At the very least Abraham, OUR FATHER, deserves the respect that we would afford to anyone else. The laws of lashon hora/ motzi shem ra certainly apply. Aren’t there klalos said to those who defame the dead and for those who do so to their parents? Please keep in mind that Abraham is not a fairy tale persona but that he really exists and he really is our patriarch. Perhaps we can then treat him with at least the same respect that is demanded from political correctness! And please don’t attribute the opportunistic usage of our Torah or the Holy personas contained within it on those said Holy people or the Torah! Would it be any different from me saying I should stop listening to Hashem (chase v’shalom), and then saying this point of view is based on Rabbi Shafners understanding of the akeida which says listening to Hashem can have disastrous results!? (I think that might be more logical than laying the blame of the atrocities committed by the christian and arab world at the feet of Avrohom.)

      • BEN AVROHOM says:

        Earlier I wrote RAMBAN when I meant to write RAMBAM. Also, the word “touting” was a poor choice. The RAMBAM certainly did have such a shita that in my humble opinion is not fully understood and therefore quoted incorrectly.

  11. Anonymous says:

    If someone would have told me before all of this erupted that there is a Rabbi of an Orthodox synagogue who is equivocal on the acceptance of the reality of the akeida I would have told you that it is impossible for that to be. To even consider for a moment that the akeida is merely a metaphor is so beyond the pale that the reader of this blog must research on their own from classical sources and by consulting with Talmidei Chachamim (torah scholars)as to the veracity of the akeida.When one starts to claim that pieces of the chumash are metaphors or even to suggest that it might be, one has started his/her free fall from the moorings of Torah principals and truths. Where will it all end? How can you be sure Rabbi Shafner that ma’maad har sinai REALLY occurred. Can’t that too be explained as a metaphor? And don’t quote me Rambam. How does HE know it to be true?

    • Levi says:

      Rabbi Shafner,
      The Misha Torah that you wrote about is the same RAMBAM that I mistakenly identified as the RAMBAN earlier. They are not in contradiction with each other.
      Although I passionately disagree with your hashkafot to the point of great frustration, I want to thank you for being a role- model of patience in all of your responses. You never seem to get angry. (I assure you that my posts were not as a result of a bet…) I admire you for that.

  12. Ami Sivler says:

    Ta’anit 4a
    וכתיב אשר לא צויתי ולא דברתי ולא עלתה על לבי אשר לא צויתי זה בנו של מישע מלך מואב שנאמר ויקח את בנו הבכור אשר ימלך תחתיו ויעלהו עולה ולא דברתי זה יפתח ולא עלתה על לבי זה יצחק בן אברהם

    Meaning that it “never arouse in my heart” for Avraham to slaughter Yitzchak. Yes, this can be understood to mean (as Rashi explains here) that Hashem wanted to test Avraham’s faith but did not ever intend for Yizchak to be slaughtered. However, the gemara here is speaking about people who acted erroneously and were either spared or left to their downfall by Hashem, which can equally imply that Avraham did not understand what Hashem wanted of him, but Hashem chose to spare Yitzchak and teach Avraham the truth.

    See also Mei Ha-Shiloach, vol. 1 Parshat Vayera “והאלוקים נסה את אברהם”:
    והנה באמת לא היה לאברהם דיבור מפורש מהש”י שישחוט את בנו, על כן לא נאמר וה’ נסה רק והאלוקים נסה, היינו שהיה אליו דבר באספקלריא דלא נהרא [זהר בראשית קכ:]… כי באמת מאת ה’ היה שלא ישחטו והנסיון היה רק למראה עיני אברהם

    This explanation takes the viewpoint that a) Avraham did not have a clear message from Above (based on the Zohar) and b) the Akeida was a test for Avraham’s own sense of perception. Is this really what Hashem wants of me? To throw away the entire project that He has lead me on up to this point?

    According to the Mei Ha-Shiloach, Avraham “passes” his test only because he fails. It is his failure and inability to understand Hashem’s message for him that leads him up to the point where Hashem has to open his eyes and show him a deeper truth. Avraham’s success lies in his emunah, his willingness to go the distance for Hashem, but he is also wrong in his interpretation of what God wants of him.

    I think what Rav Hyim is trying to teach here is to see the Torah on multiple dimensions. If the Torah was meant to be read at face value, Hashem would have given us a text that is clear and makes sense, and we would have no need for an oral tradition. But alas, as Rashi reminds us in yesterday;s Torah reading, “the words of Torah are like a mallet smashing a rock into myriad shards of interpretation.”

    Thanks for posting and responding until now Rav Hyim, it takes more to follow up with responses than to write something daring and stay quiet.

    • Anonymous says:

      The gemara could also be understood to mean that Abraham misunderstood and should really have slaughtered someone else. It all depends on what your mood is at any given moment. As far as the Zorah, he says that Abraham actually did slaughter Yitzchak and then there was techiyas hameisim! Again, chazal need to be understood by what they mean and not by what you would like them to mean.

    • Anonymous says:

      Your interpretation of Mei Hashiloach is also a stretch. What he is saying (literally and probably therefore literally) is simply that the nisayon was orchestrated for Abraham to think that Hashem wanted him to slaughter Yitzchak. If I had to guess (which I do since you conveniently left out the question) I would think that he is answering how Hashem could ask Avrohom to do such a thing or something to that effect. He doesn’t give any indication that Avraham failed-chas v’shalom! How far will you go to pervert the words of great people?! I guess its a silly but selves answered question! The Rishonim that were mentioned earlier in this discussion DO NOT give permission for US to make up new shortcomings for our Gedolim! Read through them carefully! They explain why they felt it necessary at times for THEM to go down that route or people of great understanding. Show me the words that say that Rabbi Sharked or anyone else may take liberties like that. Don’t tell me foolish lomdus to make your point. WHAT DO THEY SAY?!!!

    • Hakohen says:

      Ami – you say he “passes” the test because he failed it. Even if I accepted this explanation, Rabbi Shafner was not saying this. Rabbi Shafner was saying that Abraham “failed” the test because he failed the test. Moreover, he added that this failure of Abraham has led to thousands of years of Christian and Muslim violence.

      Rabbi Shafner’s words are offensive, plain and simple.

      • Asher Lopatin says:

        The idea that Avraham might have “failed” the test because he didn’t understand God or argue with God at the Akeida is not some new fangled thing. I apologize that I haven’t been following this, but it is clearly backed up by midrashim quoted by Rashi (“who told you “ha’aleihu” meant sacrifice him?) and implied in the Ramban as well.

        Asher Lopatin

  13. Levi says:

    Dear Rabbi Shafner,
    In Gemara Shabbos 96b it states, “The Rabbis taught, the Mekoshesh was Tzelaphchad, as it says ‘Vayihyu Bnai Yisroel BAMIDBAR vayimtzi’u Ish etc.’ and it says ‘Avinu meis BAMIDBAR’. Just as over there it was Tzelophchad so too over here. This is the opinion of Rabbi Akiva. Said Rabbi Yehuda Ben Besaira “Akiva, either way you will have to stand in judgement. If it is as you say, the Torah has covered it up, and you reveal it? And if not, you have spread slander about that Tzadik! But Rabbi Akiva supported his words with a Gzeiras Shava?(Rashi-and therefore its as if it was stated explicitly in the Torah). Answers Rabbi Yehuda, There is no such Gezeiras Shava (Rashi-and He can’t make up his own Gezairas shava) [Tosfos asks perhaps Rabbi Akiva accepted it from his Rebbe? They answer that there was a Kabala as to how many Gezeiras Shava’s there were and this one was extra. Therefore, he did not recieve it from his Rebbe.] By which sin did Tzelaphchad die? (Rashi- the pasuk says “KI Becheto Meis”) He answers that he was one of the Ma’apilim. (Rashi-and he wasn’t so wicked as to desecrate Shabbos).”
    Please pay close attention to this Gemara. How could Rabbi Yehuda Ben Beseirah refer to Tzelaphchad as a tzaddik? He himself said that he was one of the Ma’apilim? And why did he say that Rabbi Akiva would stand in judgement for his words, either way he was a Rasha?! Doesn’t the answer HAVE to be that since the Issur of chillul Shabbos is much worse than the aveirah of the Ma’apilim! And as far as Shabbos was concerned, Tzelaphchad was a Tzaddik! Therefore Rabbi Akiva was ‘MOTZEI LA’AZ AL OSO TZADDIK!!!” (Those were the Gemaras words!)
    If this is how the Gemara refers to Rabbi Akiva-whose motives were undoubtably for the sake of Heaven- in regards to Tzelophchad, how much more so does it apply to One who defames a Tzaddik gamur, on the level of Nevu’ah, a madreiga that we cannot even begin to fathom!
    Perhaps you will counter that Rabbi akiva was also a great man. (The gemaras conclusion implies that it agrees with Rabbi Yehuda ben Beseira). The only possible way to validate Rabbi akivas position would have been with a GEZEIRAS SHAVA! Otherwise, Rabbi Akiva would never dared to speak ill of EVEN TZELOPHCHAD!
    Michael Stein to whom you replied “well said”, misrepresented the Gemara and also has no compulsion of slandering the Gedolei Olam. It was absolutely disgracefully said! (Yes, the Gemara brings a TANNA who says that Reuven did have relations with Bilhah, but it wasn’t the final conclusion! It would probably not hurt Mr. Stein to look at the MAHARSH”A who explains that Tanna further that even according to him, Reuven did not transgress a Mitzva D’Orayso! Or is MAHARSHA also guilty of whitewashing? SHAME ON YOU MR. STEIN!!!) Even the sources that you brought as “proof” to your position NEVER SUGGEST THAT ANYBODY HAS LISENCE TO SAY WHATEVER THEY WANT, THEY EXPLAIN WHY THEY SAY WHAT THEY SAY. Humility dictates that we recognize that we are not the Rishonim, who relied on Chazal to say what they said. The SEFORNO says about Yaakov who refused to let the Sar shel Eisav go that “Gedolim Tzadikim Yoser MiMalachei Hashares”! I guess he fits in with Mr. Steins group of people including Rav wasserman ZT”L HY”D! Sign me up! I would love to be in their company and with all of the Rishonim who you quote to bolster your position. They are undoubtedly closer in Hashkafa to the other Rishonim than you would like to give them credit for.
    Rabbi Shafner, please reconsider your position. It is true that the Torah says seemingly deragatory things about the Avos, but if it was good enough for our great sages to “whitewash” (-what a disgusting word to use in this context-) our avos, it should certainly be good enough for us! For the sake of everyone whom you reach, and especially for your own sake. The only way to undo a chillul Hashem is through Kiddush hashem. At least take the Gemara that I quoted into account! What if I am right? If Rabbi Akiva is “asid litain es hadin” for accusing Tzelophchad wrongly for chillul Shabbos based on a mistaken (according to rav Yehuda ben beseirah) gezeiras shava, Certainly that is the case if we deride someone like Avrohom Avinu based on nothing but our own questions that are a result of limited understanding! (It is clear that Rabbi akiva wouldn’t have said it if he thought the gezeiras shava was not true.)

    • Levi says:

      Rabbi Lopatin,
      If what you said is true, please reference them clearly. Better yet, indicate which words mean that!
      The silver lining in your response is that at least you agree that without a Chaza”l to back you up, it should not be said. I am skeptical that such a Chaza”l exists.
      Nice “straw man” tactic. Obviously “V’Ha’alehu” does not mean sacrifice. “V’ha’aleihu shom L’Olah”, That’s a different story! If not, perhaps when he brought the ram in Yitzchak’s place and it says “Vaya’aleihu L’olah tachas B’no”, he only brought it up but didn’t sacrifice it.
      Maybe Avraham never intended to slaughter Yitzchak but he understood, as you and Rabbi shafner did, that he was only meant to bring him up and that’s why he didn’t slaughter. Even if the malach didn’t come, maybe Avraham wouldn’t have slaughtered Yitzchak at all! (I’m only nervous that you may be taking this seriously.) In that case Avraham performed exactly as he was supposed to and he passed the test because he understood that Hashem was only joking. That could also be the reason that Yitzchak went along. He knew Avrohom would never harm him! His name indicates that he had a sense of humor as well. The bracha that was given to Avraham at the end was because he involved Yitzchak completely in the joke.
      Please stop insulting our intelligence.

  14. Levi says:

    Just to be very clear; it is NOT implied in the RAMBAN! Unles you can show where you see it in the RAMBAN…

  15. Levi says:

    Here are parts of the RAMBAN. Are any of these what you were reffering to? (The other ones didn’t seem to deal directly with the nisayon. I can post the if you would like.) I think the RAMBAN is quite clear that Avrohom passed the test with flying colors.

    קח נא את בנך את יחידך. בעבור היותו בן הגבירה והוא לבדו אשר יקרא לו זרע קראו יחידו ובא הלשון להגדיל המצוה אמר קח נא את בנך היחיד האהוב יצחק והעלהו עולה לפני
    יב} כי עתה ידעתי. מתחילה היתה יראתו בכח לא יצא לפועל במעשה הגדול הזה ועתה נודעה במעשה והיה זכותו שלם ותהי משכורתו שלימה מעם ה’ אלהי ישראל ודעת הפרשה ש”האלהים” הוא המנסה ומצוה בעקידה ו”מלאך ה'” הוא המונע והמבטיח יתברר בפסוק המלאך הגואל אותי (להלן מח טז)
    טז} יען אשר עשית את הדבר הזה. גם מתחילה (לעיל יג טז טו ה) הבטיחו כי ירבה את זרעו ככוכבי השמים וכעפר הארץ אבל עתה הוסיף לו יען אשר עשית המעשה הגדול הזה שנשבע בשמו הגדול ושיירש זרעו את שער אויביו והנה הובטח שלא יגרום שום חטא שיכלה זרעו או שיפול ביד אויביו ולא יקום והנה זו הבטחה שלימה בגאולה העתידה לנו

    Here is RASHIs explanation of Hashems reaction:
    כי עתה ידעתי. מעתה יש לי מה להשיב לשטן ולאומות התמהים מה היא חבתי אצלך, יש לי פתחון פה עכשיו שרואים כי ירא אלהים אתה

    As far as these Rashis;
    והעלהו. לא אמר לו שחטהו, לפי שלא היה חפץ הקדוש ברוך הוא לשחטו אלא שיעלהו להר לעשותו עולה, ומשהעלהו אמר לו הורידהו

    כי עתה ידעתי. אמר רבי אבא אמר לו אברהם אפרש לפניך את שיחתי, אתמול אמרת לי (לעיל כא יב) כי ביצחק יקרא לך זרע, וחזרת ואמרת (שם כב ב) קח נא את בנך, עכשיו אתה אומר לי אל תשלח ידך אל הנער. אמר לו הקדוש ברוך הוא (תהלים פט לה) לא אחלל בריתי ומוצא שפתי לא אשנה, כשאמרתי לך קח, מוצא שפתי לא אשנה, לא אמרתי לך שחטהו אלא העלהו, אסקתיה, אחתיה:

    They are exaining how Hashem didn’t go back on his word. Obviously, Hashem wanted Avraham to think he was supposed to slaughter Yitzchak. To have him bring Yitzchak to Har Hamoriah as an Oleh in name only wouldn’t have really proven Avraham’s fear of Hashem. Rashi describes this Nisayon as being the penultimate, that through this one, the other nisyonos would be substantiated.

    I am prepared to debate each Rashi and Ramban on this parsha. If there are sources that back up Rabbi Shafner’s view, that is what we have been asking for. I will speak for myself that my criticism is that No one can say such a thing without a source. If it exists, I am wrong. That’s fine. That’s when we say “Eilu V’Eilu…” and both need to be understood for their message. So far there has not been any real source presented for this discussion.

    • Anonymous says:

      Levi,
      Your challenge to the writer to present counter sources for the purpose of proving that there are indeed other alternatives to Rashi and Ramban is predicated on your assumption that if NO OTHER Rishonim are found then your point is proven. You are not sufficiently comprehending that the writer does not necessarily subjugate himself to the understanding of the Rishonim. If indeed there is a logical alternative to their pshat it could be accepted as long as it is not in blatant contradiction to the words of the chumash. This has been referred to in an earlier comment as a free fall from conventional Torah yesodot

    • Hyim Shafner says:

      I agree I have not found an earlier source that says what I said, except that many midrashim see the angles and Sara as being opposed to the Akedah or incredulous, or the fact I mentioned that God does not talk to Avrohom after the Akedah. There are chasidic ideas that show that it was a lower level of mitzvah , Yirah instead of Ahavah. The Ramban I was referring to was not the Ramban on the akedah but the Ramban on maaseh Bireshit.

      • Levi says:

        Rabbi Shafner,
        would you beto able please to reference each of the sources, so I may learn them.
        (Medrashim, chasidishe decorum, etc.) Thank you.

  16. Levi says:

    Mr .Anonymous, my following comments are predicated on one of the following two possible assumptions; 1) You have not been following the entire conversation, or 2) you are using my obnoxious responses as an excuse to put forth your own obnoxious response through me.
    If the former is true, please re-read from the beginning and see that I have challenged on two levels. One is based on the Gemara regarding Tzelophchad which to me, clearly implies that one should never disparage our Tzadikim Kedoshim shochnei afar. The second challenge has been to the assertion that there are sources in the Rishonim or otherise who present such a view. (If that is indeed the case, than we must understand those Chachamim and their implied message as well.) That is the part where you “jumped in”. Rabbi Lopatin wrote that Rashi and Ramban supported Rabbi Shafners chidush and I showed (in my opinion clearly) that Rashi and Ramban absolutely do not.
    If the latter is the reason you posted, please don’t (at my expense). I have often times questioned myself whether I was being appropriate in my responses with my tone. It is true that I am passionate about what I am writing and I hope I have shown sufficient knowledge to do so. But after all, we are guests to the site of the Morethodoxy “movement”. I have justified myself because I have been able to provide (in my opinion) clearly formulated and supported ideas, and because Iv’e been frustrated that I don’t feel they’ve been answered in kind. Being that as it may, I was disappointed by your “supportive (?) response because it struck me as a cheap shot.
    On that note, perhaps I may be “Soger B’Chvod Achsanya”. Thank you to Rabbi Shafner, Rabbi Lopatin and the other moderators of this blog for allowing this discussion and allowing all of my entries onto the site. Please be mochel me for my harsh criticisms. Hopefully our dialogue has or will lead to greater appreciation of the depth and beauty of Torateinu HaKedosha. For me it has been an exhilarating exercise. I have many times within the last few weeks sat down with various seforim learning and gaining greater clarity into them. I have sat by my computer with an open Gemara or Chumash. (I have also enjoyed my writing.) Thank you for the extra learning that I have done as a result of our discussions. May we be zoche soon to learn Torat Emet together in the Bait Medrash of Moshiach Tzidkeinu!

  17. Anonymous says:

    Levi,
    Your rebuke notwithstanding, I still stand my impressions of the writer’s attitude.towards the Rishonim. I regret that you don’t share my view and I wish to dissociate my comments from your views per your objection that I should not post at your expense. My apologies to you for making you feel uncomfortable..

    • Levi says:

      It seems that the first of my assumptions was correct. You haven’t read through all of the postings. Unfortunately, it would seem that you are 100% correct in your assessment of the writers reverence for any of our Chazal, let alone the Rishonim. There is a flippant and even callus attitude taken towards them which manifests itself as them being used as tools of convenience. The truth is that I showed my writing to my Rebbe because of my frustration and disbelief with the circuitous and less than honest answers that I had been getting. In short, he gave it to me over the head for being too nice in my last posting. He said this is a clear case of Talmud she’eino hagun. I still keep checking back from time to time in the hope that there will be responses to ALL of the points that I have put forth, but to no avail. I have given up trying to have a n intelligent conversation on this site as it is all too apparent that the ideas put forth come before the “Torah” being used to back them up. In other words, the political correct agenda is the Ikar and the Torah is just there if it happens to be convenient. Im sorry for my arrogance. Even cheap shots may be appropriate here. Look back though and you will see that we are on the same side of the tracks hashkafically. I naively thought there may be honest debate if salient points were made. I am unfortunately wrong, there has been no attempt at direct answers. Even a (misguided) attempt at a pleasant approach has not brought any more response.

  18. Hyim Shafner says:

    I replied to you more than others. We bloggers have day jobs. Feel free to call me if you want. the Ramban we talked about earlier in the comments or on the first posting was the question of whether maaseh birashit is literal, and by extention other narrative in Bireshit, not the Ramban on the story of the akedah.

    • Levi says:

      Response and answer are not necessarily the same as I think is evident. Rabbi Lopatin was also involved in the discussion and HE asserted that your idea was backed up by midrashim quoted by RASHI and implied by RAMBAN. It clearly is not!
      I’m not inclined to re-hash each point again, but as an example, to counter a Seforno with Ayn Mikra Yotzei Miydai Peshuto seems to be arrogant or ignorant. Don’t you think the Seforno’s pashut pshat may be a little more informed than ours? Amitai shel Torah can never be compromised, not even for a day job!

      • Hyim Shafner says:

        Aim mikra yotZei does not mean the miforshim or midrashim are incorrect it means in addition to derash and sod and Remez there is always the pishat That there is no pasuk that can not be legitimately read on its pishat level. Of course the rambam would not agree about pisukim that refer to god.

      • Levi says:

        It is always convenient to quote dictum that may sound like what we would like them to mean. Perhaps in a future post you can write a talmudic discourse on Ayn Mikra Yotzei. For the purposes of this discussion, I will paraphrase the back and forth that we had in which the Ayn Mikra came up;
        Michael Stein wrote to agree with you and then used the very Gemaros that Minimize some of the “misdeeds” of the Avos, and- aside from characterizing them as “whitewashing”- said that the conclusions were that the earlier assertions of the gemara were wrong.
        You wrote to him “Well said”.
        I responded that he misrepresented the Gemara (meaning that his reading (?) of it was absolutely not true!) To add perspective I also put in the Sforno which says “Gadol Tzadikim Yoser Mimalachei Hashares”- The righteous are greater than the hosting angels!
        To that you responded “Ain Mikra…”

        To understand what you are saying now: The RAMBAM although He obviously holds of Ain Mikra, He also holds that it sometimes does not apply. However the very Talmud Bavli from whence the dictum originates, does not follow its own rules!? Obviously the Gemara knows what the Pasuk says and yet it still says “Kol Mi Sh’Omer […….] Chata, Eino Ela To’eh”! (Whomever says[ ] sinned is mistaken. Why dont we ask our Amora’im, “What about those who learn Pashut P’shat”? In Hebrew, the word is SHTUYOT!
        Let’s take this further; Do you understand Yaakov to really have hated Leah? Wouldn’t that be a huge violation of Torah on the part of the Bechir Ha’avos?! (V’davak B’Ishto, V’ahavta L’reacha….) The RAMBAN says כי שתים נשים שהאחת אהובה מאד תקרא השניה שנואה כנגדה, כמו שאמר ויאהב גם את רחל מלאה, לא ששנאה, והיתה בושה בדבר וראה אלהים את עניה- When tthere are two wives and one is very loved the second one is CALLED “hated” next to her. Not that he hated her. And there was shame for her and Hashem saw her affliction”. It sounds to me that the RAMBAN called that Pashut P’shat. Unless he too, just like the Holy Sages of the Gemara, were misinformed!

        In conclusion, words like P’shat and Ain Mikra, are easy to throw around. But when we don’t understand what they mean we tend to make a mess! Please consider that translating the words of the Torah does not equal P’shat. (That attitude is part of the tragedy of the Targum Shivim-septuagint which CHAZAL say was as tragic as the Golden Calf! Even Pashut P’shat is not so pashut!) Rashi viewed his mission as writing P’shat and everything he wrote was based on an encyclopedic knowledge of Kol HaTorah Kula, which he often displays in order to PROVE that his p’shat was correct. When Ramban disagrees with Rashi, he uses similar encyclopedic knowledge. We can assume the same for all of our Gedolim!
        It is all the more foolish to quote a Talmudic rule in order to argue with the very same Talmud that is its source. This is especially true when we consider the very Rambam that you referenced regarding anthropomorphic references to Hashem! Apparently, “Ain Mikra Yotze Miydai P’shuto” is itself Yotzei Miydai P’shuto.

        Again I beg you and anyone else reading, to please re-read my earlier response regarding the Gemara in Mesechet Shabbos 96b, and give it serious thought! To quote myself,”If Rabbi Akiva is “asid litain es hadin” [going to have to stand in judgement] for accusing Tzelophchad wrongly for chillul Shabbos based on a mistaken (according to rav Yehuda ben beseirah) gezeiras shava, Certainly that is the case if we deride someone like Avrohom Avinu based on nothing but our own questions that are a result of limited understanding!” I would add- and that are based on p’shat formulatred on our own ignorance.
        Hashem Yeracheim Aleinu!

  19. Anonymous says:

    Levi,
    Word of unsolicited advice. Stick with your Rebbi! He sees things clearly.

  20. Rabbi Hyim Shafner says:

    Sounds like you believe Tzadikim can not sin. I disagree. The peshat of the torah shows us many places in which our Avot did indeed sin. How one understands what the gemara means by “anyone who says dovid sinned is mistaken” is very difficult since Natan hanavi clearly believed Dovid did sin.

    • Levi says:

      P.s. Ayn mikra yotzei m’yidei p’Shuto doesn’t seem to help your understanding of the akeida either. Just saying…

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