Saturday, November 7, 2009

Torah study: VaYera

My favorite moment from Torah study this morning occurred when we were hanging out afterward drinking coffee. D. was really annoyed at the God in this week's portion, who does things like enabling the exile and almost death of Ishmael, telling Abraham to kill Isaac, and destroying Sodom and Gemorrah even though there were probably good people there. "Isn't God supposed to be about forgiveness?" D. asked. Together, 70-year-old M. and I looked at him and, in a tone that implied "you're crazy," said, "No."

I gently suggested to yeshiva-trained D. that his ideas about forgiveness and turn-the-other-cheek stuff come from a different religion. Sure, we have Yom Kippur, when we atone for our sins, but that's about ourselves, not others. While I'm certain there is something somewhere about forgiveness in the Torah, it's not one of the ten commandments, it's not a mitzvah, and it's not part of the endless dietary and cleanliness laws. To have God be forgiving, to have God say that we have to be forgiving of others, and then for us to obey is too easy. To me, it is better that this petulant, vindictive, error-prone, laws-obsessed God is leaving room for us to choose how we all behave toward each other. Forgiving is something we do out of our own free will, not because we have been told to do so.

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