Monday, November 14, 2005

Are non-Jews the spiritual equivlent of donkeys?

At the very end of this week's sedra, when Abraham and Yitzchak ascended Mount Moriah for the purpose of burning Yitzhak at the stake, their attendents were left behind.

"Stay here with the donkey while I and the boy go over there," were Abraham's words, after seeing "the place from the distance" (Genesis 22:4-5)., to the young men the Sages say were Ishmael and Elazar

"Aha!" say the bigots. "When Abraham saw God, he said to his servants, 'Look!' When they did not see anything, he said to them, 'Stay with the donkey.' Proof positive that non-Jews are classified as donkeys." (This lovely thought might even be enshrined in the Talmud, though I don't know for certain.)

Fortunately for the non-bigots, Samson Rephael Hirsch takes a different view. He writes that the true test of the Akeida was not at the top of the mountain, but at the bottom of the mountain. It wasn't enough for Abraham and Yitzchak to go off alone and privately experience a meaningful event. Though they had seen angels and otherwise encountered the divine, they were still required to return to ordinary lives, and to continue relating to ordinary people - non-Jews included. They weren't expected to remain indefinately within the walls of their Yeshiva, but to return to the world.

Two points in the text support this interpretation. In Gen 22:5, Abraham tells his servants that they could go no further, but he also promises that, after worshiping God on the mountain, he and his son would "come back to you." And, strikingly, the word "together" (yachdav) is used both to describe Abraham and Yitzchak as they climb the montain and again to describe the return journey to Beer Sheva. Abraham went up the mountain "together" with his son, and he went home "together" with his servants.

Afterthought <--