US Vice President Mike Pence’s speech before the Knesset was, all things considered, pretty good. He promised the American Embassy would relocate to Jerusalem by the end of 2019, which we can 100% absolutely positively believe me folks rely on, because if there’s anything I’ve learned about real estate in my life, it’s that: 1) Donald Trump is a man of his word; and 2) Jerusalem projects are always completed on time.
He also reiterated his support for the status quo and that the administration takes no position on Jerusalem’s borders, waxing poetic on the matter: “At the Western Wall, we see a young Jewish boy being bar-mitzvahed. And at the Haram al-Sharif, we see young Muslims, heads bowed in prayer.”
Still, one passage really puzzled me.
Nearly 4,000 years ago, a man left his home in Ur of the Chaldeans to travel here, to Israel. He ruled no empire, he wore no crown, he commanded no armies, he performed no miracles, delivered no prophecies, yet to him was promised “descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky.”
The quote is from Gen. 22:17, Abraham’s final test, the Binding of Isaac. What’s decidedly bizarre is that Pence stated: “He commanded no armies, he performed no miracles, delivered no prophecies.” Let’s parse that:
Commanded no armies: Abraham leads 318 men into battle against the four most powerful empires of the Ancient Near East and routs them (Gen. 14:14-15). Isaiah (41:2) recounts it thusly: “He hands nations over to him and subdues kings before him. He turns them to dust with his sword, to windblown chaff with his bow.”
Performed no miracles: Setting aside the Midrashic wonders attributed to Abraham, the defining event of his life is when this 100-year-old man is borne a son by his 90-year-old wife. A decade-and-a-half before that, God visits a plague on Pharaoh on their behalf, presaging the miraculous events of the Exodus (note nega in both Gen. 12 and Exod. 12).
Delivered no prophecies: Abraham is literally the only person called a prophet (navi) in the Book of Genesis (20:7) — by God Himself, who presumably knows who’s on His payroll. God also says that what makes Abraham so special is that “For I know him, that he will command his children and his household after him, and they shall keep the way of the Lord, to do righteousness and justice” (18:19). Then there are the numerous times that Abraham “calls out in the name of the Lord” (12:8, 13:4, 21:33). Maybe it means he didn’t send it by certified mail? (Doar rashum is how we get a tzav nowadays.)
It seemed bizarre. Then we learned that this was lifted, almost word-for-word, from the works of former UK Chief Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks — by Rabbi Sacks himself!
Rabbi Sacks has expressed some interesting opinions in the past, including that atheism and religious fundamentalism are equally dangerous to Western society. This, however, seems to be a bridge too far.
Of far greater concern than the reinvention of Abraham is the reinvention of the man Pence represents, US President Donald Trump. The way he has been embraced by people who are supposed to represent unshakable moral values is truly shocking. Just listen to leading evangelical voice Tony Perkins; if you take a shot every time he argues that 1) the president must be a moral leader AND 2) the president’s morality is irrelevant as long as he serves his purpose, you’ll die of alcohol poisoning before the 20-minute mark.
Every day, I hear criticism of religious people on the left who supposedly sell out their faith values to accommodate their view of modernity. So tell me: who gave the religious right a dispensation?