Just to make it absolutely clear, this is not a standard Torah commentary based on the teachings of the rabbis that one would obtain in a yeshiva. My background is in English and Comparative Literature and what we will be doing in this series of articles is examining the Torah in a similar fashion one might examine the writings of Shakespeare. Accordingly, if you wish to make a comment on the article, I would like to request that you present your arguments utilizing an academic format, based on the text, and not quote outside sources. It is the purpose of these articles to introduce an alternative and, hopefully, a fresh perspective to what is written in the Torah and not merely to reheat and serve up the same ideas that have been presented again and again during the last thousand years. Finally, I would just like to add that the inspiration for these articles comes from the works of the English psychologist Maurice Nicoll and that the source I used for the Torah was the website: http://www.hebrewoldtestament.com/
Genesis 18:1 – 22:25
This week’s Torah portion, although relatively small, nevertheless has within it some of the most important stories in Judaism. The first of these stories has to do with the three angels who walk by the tent of Abram while he is encamped near the trees of Mamre. Probably the most important word is “sit”, because we noted in other articles that in Hebrew this forms the root of the word for Sabbath. Thus we discussed that studying the Torah should be associated with walking along the way, yet we also stressed that there is a limit to how much a man can teach himself. Therefore, Abraham, like Noah, rests and awaits a message from God. Another important point is that we are told he is sitting at the entrance to his tent and later a tent will become the home for the Ark of the Covenant. Hence a tent can be considered a metaphor for a holy place and later, in the prophecies of Balaam he will utter the famous words: “how goodly are your tents Jacob, thy tabernacles Israel” and God, of course, is always associated with goodness.
In addition, the encampment is located by some trees, which we explained were sources of knowledge, and the Hebrew name of the trees is Mamre which probably means “from bitterness”. In my opinion the concept of “bitterness” in both the Old and New Testaments is extremely important since so many women are named Miriam (i.e. “Mary”) which means: bitterness from the sea. Also the perfume/spice myrrh also shares the same root, presumably because of its bittersweet scent. My personal interpretation is that sweet things like honey or figs represent easy to understand spiritual concepts. So, for example, traditionally when teaching small children to read the Torah, a piece of candy is placed on the word for God. Accordingly, bitterness would then suggest something which is difficult to understand. Here it must be emphasized that I am not saying this means something untrue, just difficult to understand. Hence, in the New Testament when myrrh perfume was poured on the body of Jesus by Mary Magdelene his disciples began to argue about money and it is actually written that it was the aroma of this perfume which inspired Judas Iscariot to betray Jesus.
If we interpret this literally, the entire story is just plain ridiculous, but if we understand that the name Mary Magdalene in Hebrew means: “Miriam of the Tower”, then we can immediately grasp that this female medium has presented to Jesus and his disciples a high level spiritual teaching that is difficult to understand. So difficult to understand, in fact, that the disciples begin to argue over its value and this new teaching leads the confused Judas Iscariot to actually decide on leaving the group and betraying them.
Since we have already discussed in other articles that money is a metaphor for religious teachings, we can then see that all this ties in nicely with trees and the name Mamre. Hence, my interpretation of all these various aspects is that Abraham had establish some sort of esoteric religious school or academy at this site and while at prayer one day he experienced a revelation.
In a previous article entitled: “Goat’s Meat and Milk” I explained why I think that if God wanted to say “meat” and “dairy products” he would have done so. Since he specifically said “a young goat” and “its mother’s milk” three times, it was my conclusion that these two items were metaphors which represented deceptive teachings and spiritual teachings. The Pharisee Paul of Tarsus was a student of Gamliel, a famous teacher in the Hillel school of thought, and in his writings he explains that meat is a metaphor for difficult to understand teachings and the sweet milk from a woman’s breast is a metaphor for easy to understand spiritual teachings. While I understand that many people consider Paul of Tarsus to be a Christian, nevertheless, when he switched religions he did not forget how to speak Hebrew. Furthermore, for all intents and purposes, Paul of Tarsus writes only about the Torah and he barely mentions any of the stories found in the gospels.
One of the most famous of the Rabbinical Commentaries is called “The Prepared Table” and if one accepts the conclusion that each type of food represents a specific type of religious teaching, then a table (i.e. a place where food is served), becomes a metaphor for a classroom and a servant who serves food becomes a metaphor for a teacher. Thus, we discussed in an earlier commentary that this was why the Emperor of Persia sent “a wine steward” to help Ezra rebuild the temple (So the next time you go out to dinner, treat your waiter with respect…..).
Accordingly, it is my personal conclusion that when Abraham serves both meat and milk on the same “prepared table”, this is a metaphor for a religious presentation of some sort whereby Abraham is demonstrating that he is a skilled teacher who has the ability to explain both simple and difficult religious concepts. To acknowledge his capabilities the three angels announce that the following year he will have a son.
Once again, we are speaking in metaphors and we have shown again and again, in reference to the holy day of Shavout, that there is a connection between a son, fruit and the word of God. We have also repeatedly discussed that a bed is a place for communicating with God and that sex is a metaphor for requesting knowledge (thus the verb used to describe sex in the Torah is to know). Accordingly, the son of Abraham is a metaphor for a new and great revelation and later the statement “I shall bring my son out of Egypt” means that parts of God’s word that were revealed to the Israelites can also be found in the ancient Egyptian religions. These similarities are something which many scholars have commented upon repeatedly, especially in relation to Christianity.
Another very important aspect of this story is the name Isaac, which we are told was selected because Sarah laughed when she heard she was to have a child. Why this is important is that we shall come across this word in two other stories. Isaac will later be seen “laughing” with his wife Rebecca and Ishmael will be seen by Sarah “laughing” with Isaac. Traditionally, “laughing with Rebecca” has been interpreted to be “having sex with Rebecca”, however, if this is correct then Ishmael laughing with Isaac would suggest some sort of homosexual activity. A conclusion I don’t accept.
My belief is that the Hebrew name Asher means happiness and Asher should be associated with the number ten since he is the second son of the concubine of Jacob’s first wife. Since Abraham will be one hundred years old when Isaac is born, this suggests a connection between the Ten Commandments, happiness, laughter and the birth of Isaac. In other words, in my opinion, laughter should be associated with prayers, requests from God and religious ecstasy, yet, at the same time, it should be associated with doubt and disbelief. Thus Sarah, as a religious medium, requested a revelation, but the answer she was able to bring forth for Abraham appeared incredible to her (i.e. too good to be true). Later when Ishmael was praying with Isaac, he apparently expressed doubt about certain aspects of the service or possibly expressed doubt in Isaac’s ability to lead the new religion.
This then brings us to the concepts of: “conversions”, “slavery” and “who is a Jew?”. When Abram, his name at that time, contemplated that his slave would be his only heir, he was quite upset. Here in this week’s Torah portion we see that Sarah’s explanation for the expulsion of Ishmael is that he is “the son of a slave”. We have just explained that a son is a metaphor for a revelation or the word of God the father. Thus the Israelites are the custodians of God’s word and in the Book of Exodus they are indeed referred to as God’s son. In addition to this, as mentioned in previous articles, when discussing the covenant with Abraham, God uses the word “descendants” at least ten times.
My conclusion from all this is that, as we have also touched upon in previous commentaries, a slave is a metaphor for someone who is forced to study something he doesn’t really believe in, while a worker represents a willing student. Hence, Moses, who is always protesting about how unworthy he is and about how much he doesn’t really want to be God’s envoy, is described as God’s servant. Accordingly, I believe that an argument can be made for drawing a parallel between the expulsion of Ishmael from Abraham’s camp and Moses not being permitted to enter the Promised Land. Slaves and servants represent people who do not truly believe. There is an element of doubt in their faith, thus Sarah laughed when she heard about the coming birth of Isaac and laughter of Ishmael, combined with his description as a slave’s son, suggests that he too had his doubts.
Many, many scholars now believe that there is not even a word in Hebrew for a convert and that the Hebrew word pronounced “ger” actually means sojourner. Thus, while there can be absolutely no question that Abraham circumcised his slaves and taught them God’s ways, nevertheless, because they were being forced to accept these ideas they were mere “sojourners in the Land of Israel”. In other words, what I am suggesting here is that the Land of Israel is a metaphor for a religious school established for the descendants of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. Sojourners and slaves are to be considered temporary believers with no true connection to the teachings. As the Torah shall later explain, strangers have full rights while they live in the land of Israel, BUT, they are still classified as strangers, not Israelites, even though the Torah clearly states they have accepted the law. So, for example, Israeli pilots go to America to learn flying techniques. While they are on the base, if they obey all the rules, they have full rights to use the equipment and facilities; but this does not make them full fledged members of the United States armed forces. When they leave the base and go home, they retain the knowledge, but they lose their rights to the equipment and facilities. They studied and mastered American tactics and procedures, but that does not make them Americans….
The next major story in this week’s Torah portion concerns Sodom and one of the better known stories in Judaism is the “debate/bargaining session” which takes place between Abram and God in regards to the destruction of that city. In short: Abram starts with the plea concerning fifty good men and then slowly reduces this number, finally achieving the concession from God that if ten good men can be found in the city then Sodom will not be destroyed. Tradition suggests this is the reason why the smallest congregation must consist of at least ten souls before prayers may begin. Regardless, the main issue is that Abram felt that God, as a just God, could not destroy something good. It is my personal opinion that this story also negates the idea of a single golden rule. Clearly both this story and the story of the Ten Commandments suggest that the minimum number of rules is ten. Nevertheless, since the discussion begins with the number fifty, this implies that the topic of the conversation has something to do with redemption. Accordingly, based on the definition of redemption we mentioned in earlier articles, Abram appears to be asking: If a man sins by distorting the meaning of God’s word, is it possible to reach a level so bad that the source of learning about God will never be restored to him?
As we touched upon earlier, the Israelites are told that the seven nations living in Canaan would be expelled from the land because of sexual offences, which is a metaphor for praying. In the story of Sodom we shall also see that the offence which brings the destruction of the city is related to sex. What is surprising about the story is that Lot’s own daughters then go on to engage in incest, which is clearly listed by Moses as an abomination to God, yet no punishment is passed down to them. What really doesn’t make sense in the story, however, is that Lot’s daughters had just left the town of Zoar, so they knew Lot was not the last man on earth. Hence, it is my opinion that they were not trying to preserve mankind, but were attempting to save the few good seeds of knowledge that Lot had succeeded in bringing out of Sodom with him. Accordingly, the angel could not destroy the city until Lot left, because, as Abram had argued, a just God cannot destroy something good. What is also quite clear from the story is that the Hebrew people definitely believed that a people’s religious teachings passed thru the father, not the mother otherwise it would have made no difference who the daughters had sex with. Since they did indeed have sex with their father and this resulted in the creation of two new peoples, it is obvious that Judaism passes thru the father, not the mother. Furthermore, we don’t even know the name of Lot’s wife or his daughters, neither do we know the names of the mothers of Sarah, Rebecca, Leah or Rachel !
Regardless, the main issue of this story is: What exactly was the sin of Sodom? We said the conversation with Abraham and God had to do with redemption and have one’s source of knowledge returned to them. We implied then that Abraham was asking: Can a man sin to such an extent that this source of knowledge will never be restored? We also discussed, in the Beresheit commentary, that Eve’s name is related to life and understanding, hence there is also a connection between death and misunderstanding. In other words: someone who is totally ignorant of God’s ways is described as dead. Therefore, to be “born again” means to have the source of God’s knowledge restored…
In addition to all this we said that the sexual act was a metaphor for praying and that Moses will later explain to the Children of Israel that the seven nations living in Canaan would be expelled for sexual perversions. Thus, if a women is a medium between God and men and having sex with a woman produces sons, which we showed was a metaphor for the word of God, then a homosexual act represents men seeking knowledge from men, with absolutely no possibility of producing a message from God. Thus, the homosexual’s action mimics the act of prayer (i.e. they look like religious people), but the purpose of their acts are not to obtain messages from God, but merely pleasure and self aggrandizement. In other words: men who study the ways of men instead of the ways of God can be classified as homosexuals.
Before moving on to the story of the sacrifice of Isaac, I would also just quickly like to mention that for me there is a connection between the story of Lot drinking wine and the story of Noah drinking wine and I believe that both of these stories are tied into the comment by one rabbi who said that on Purim a person should get so drunk that they no longer can distinguish between Mordichai and Haman. In other words: being drunk, especially with wine, is similar to being naked and not knowing the difference between good and evil and we mentioned earlier that when King Saul was naked people asked if he had become a prophet.
In regards to the story of Isaac, we have already discussed several times in other articles the connection between the name Moriah and the Hebrew word for teacher and concluded that the term Mount Moriah was a metaphor for a source of higher understanding. In addition to this, however, the name Moriah also shares the same root with the name Mamre which is the Hebrew word for myrrh pronounce “mar”. In this article we mentioned that this word means bitterness and suggested a difficult to understand teaching, which is not too hard to accept since most people associate higher education with difficult to understand concepts. Hence the two names: “Mary Magdalene” and “Mount Moriah” mean basically the same thing: i.e. “a difficult to understand teaching from a high source of knowledge”.
We have also discussed in this article that the name Isaac should be associated with doubt since both Abraham and Sarah are described as laughing in a somewhat incredulous manner when they are told they will have a son. Thus, by his willingness to kill all self doubt, represented by Isaac, Abraham demonstrated his faith in God, yet, in the end Abraham is not required to destroy Isaac. Instead a full grown ram is sacrificed, which is somewhat surprising because Isaac mentioned the sacrifice of a lamb.
Regardless, if we were Christians then we would immediately go to the Gospel of John and see the connection made with the word of God and the Lamb of God. Since, however, we are Jewish we must then focus on two other stories:
- The death of Rachel
- The adultery between David and Bathsheba
In short: the name Rachel means ewe and she dies giving birth to her second son Benjamin, who in my opinion should be associated with the number eight. After Joseph is born, Rachel asks for another son (i.e. another revelation); hence the Hebrew name Joseph means to add. What we see then is that in order to bring life to Benjamin, a sheep must die.
Briefly, in the story of David and Bathsheba their adulterous act is described by David himself as a sin against God, which reinforces the idea we have repeatedly discussed that sex is a metaphor for prayer. Although the rabbis like to say that Uriah the Hittite divorced Bathsheba, this is clearly a ridiculous assertion. If Bathsheba had been divorced, then why did God send Nathan? Furthermore, why did the baby die? And, as we just noted, David himself admitted he had sinned. Finally: why did Absalom have sex with David’s concubines, just as God predicted would happen as a result of David having sex with the wife of Uriah?
For our purposes, however, the important aspect is the story told by Nathan. In short, Nathan said a poor man had a lamb and a rich man took the lamb and fed it to his friends. At first glance, we must scratch our heads and ask: what does this have to do with adultery? The connection, as we have discussed many times before in other articles, is that a son represents the word of God and meat represents preachings. We also said that each type of food represents a specific type of knowledge and since the Children of Israel are described as the Son of God in the Book of Exodus, as well as sheep, this clearly demonstrates that a lamb is a metaphor for a new teaching by God.
Returning then to Abraham on Mount Moriah, we have shown that he is to experience a extremely high spiritual lesson that is almost incomprehensible to understand. In fact, even today, many Jews don’t like teaching this story because they ask: What kind of loving God would ask Abraham to kill his child? Regardless, what we see then is that God’s word or God’s mediums must die, in order that the word of men shall continue to live.
So, in conclusion, what the story seems to be suggesting is that all men have doubts and these doubts make the understanding of God’s word impossible. Accordingly, since man cannot teach God’s ways perfectly, their children are always going to be imperfect, when compared to God’s ways. Therefore, God allows man to temporarily destroy his word by sacrificing a sheep and, if there is no word, then there is nothing to compare with the imperfections of man’s son. Thus, the removal of a sheep removes sin, because we said that sin was teaching God’s ways incorrectly. If there is no law, there can be no sin (this, by the way, also explains why the sheep must be without blemish, since it must be a perfect example of God’s word). Furthermore, we can now better appreciate why Saul was removed as King of Israel, for “merely” sacrificing Amalikite sheep. It demonstrated that he absolutely no understanding of God’s laws or God’s ways and King Saul could not even distinguish between God’s ways and the ways of the Amalikites (By the way: the name Amalikites means: workers and we have already discussed the connection between workers and students)..
I realize this article must be rather “a bitter pill to swallow”, nevertheless, we shall return to this theme during Passover and the blood of the lamb being used to keep out the angel of death. For now I would just like to add that the Pharisee Paul of Tarsus never said that animal sacrifices didn’t work. He admitted they worked. His objection was that they only removed sins temporarily…..
Dror Ben Ami is the author of the book: THE MISUNDERSTANDING: An Introduction to Metaphors, Images and Symbols Found in the Old and New Testaments.