What an amazingly rich Parashah! Rich in feelings, in challenges, in renunciations, in confrontations, in transgressions.
It narrates the annunciation of the birth of Isaac; Avraham arguing with God, defiantly, with boldness, to try to save the people of Sodom; the subsequent destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah; Avraham's lie to King Abimelech about the identity of Sarah and her consequent consensual infidelity; the birth of Yitzchak; the expulsion of Hagar and Ishmael; a dispute between Avraham and Abimelech over a well; and the Akedah, the Binding of Yitzchak and the obsequious silence of Avraham.
Many questions arise.
Why this insistence of the Torah in showing us the shortcomings of our patriarchs, our leaders?
Avraham argued for Sodom and Gomorrah but, when it came to his son, no protest crossed his lips. Neither did he, according to the text, resist in protection of Ishmael at the moment that Sara made him and his mother wander in the nothingness of the desert.
It is true that the Lord was there to protect her and that Hagar had already been promised an auspicious future for her son. From the human perspective, though, many doubts and questions remain about Avraham and Sarah.
How could we forgive Avraham for his willingness to argue with God to save strangers, but not his own children? For his admirable hospitality to unfamiliar people, combined with his conformity to allow Hagar and Ishmael to be thrown into the desert? Could we forgive Sarah for her desperation to have a child, for her jealousy of her servant and that servant’s son? How would it feel to forgive Isaac for being, at least on the surface of the text, a silent victim not trying to save himself?
If we see all of this history from a broader angle, we see an Avraham who, throughout his life, took charge of the birth of the People of Israel. A complicated objective that not even he could understand at first. The Lord was almost educating him for that task.
Surely Avraham had mistakes—but if we remove the critical eye from his actions, his errors are the ones we make every day in our lives. We spend a great part of our day at our jobs and sometimes burden ourselves with excessive hours that we take away from our families. We set ourselves goals that we feel are those that will change our lives, or the lives of those we love, and we do not realize that everything we give up is really important.
We get carried away with feelings that could hurt others and still we move on. We choose paths with small or large transgressions for some purpose that does not necessarily justify that attitude.
We are little Avrahams and Saras. With greater or lesser tasks and ambitions that lead us to make mistakes, get out of the right path, blind us without really seeing the consequences around us.
We have seen several times how our heroes of the Torah and of the Tanakh in general are not perfect. They are human like us.
This, far from being a criticism, is an opportunity. OUR chance. The opportunity to see not only the bad, or not only the good. We must see the good while avoiding the bad. Or we must see the bad while taking into account all the good.
There lies the opportunity to give ourselves a chance to improve. To set ourselves goals knowing that we are going to make mistakes. Paying attention not to hurt those we could surely hurt. Taking into account that we are fallible and we tend to forget values and principles that we should not abandon.
Our Torah shows us the right path. And it is the Lord who tells us: “Don't worry, you are not the first to make missteps and do something wrong in an attempt to do things right. Just follow My laws and do your best.”
Rabbi Gustavo Geier