Wisdom of Kahana: The Test
Yes it has been a long time since I reached out to you and provided one of my articles. My apologies to all my readers and followers. I can think of a thousand and one excuses, the daily pressures of work, marking PhD proposals, travels, life in general, etc. etc., but all that means nothing when you're suddenly told that, "You are derelict in your duties." When that voice wakes you in the middle of the night, then you better pay attention. No more ifs, ands, or buts. I had been working on this anyway, but now it seems that the one I serve has lost a little patience so no time like the present to send this article on its way.
This time it is to tell us all that we are failing. We may call ourselves true believers, followers of the One and Only God, but the fact is, we follow that which we find easy to do. We moderate, adjust, alter and even distort the true teachings in order to design our religious beliefs to meet our needs, and not necessarily as we were instructed. We have done so since the very beginning and that is the message I am to deliver to you today. That we will lie to ourselves and somehow believe that God will not notice. One of the worst to do so, was our founding patriarch and I didn't even realize it until this particular event back at the end of February and beginning of March. One never knows when that little voice is going to call out and summon my attention. And as in each biblical case, you hear your name and respond, "Here I am". Was I expecting it while climbing a mountain in Vietnam, certainly not. But the fact that the mountain was considered holy as long as anyone can remember, and that Jesuit priests used it to build one of their holy pilgrimages to Yeshua, should have at least made me suspicious that there may have been more to this mountain than simple Christian mystical gobbly-gook.
The קריאה (Kariyah) or calling, or instruction, or summons as I've described it in the past is as I mentioned previously one of the two explanations for the term Karaite, the other being 'Readers'. It is a natural phenomena among Karaites and just because the majority of modern day Karaites cannot hear it, does not mean that it does not exist. In fact, to deny its existence is essentially the antithesis of Karaism since what exists in the Tanakh is not only fact for past, but also the present and future. Therefore, I will say this to many of you who call yourself Karaim, if you cannot accept the literal truth of the Chumash, then you cannot call yourself Karaite. As unpleasant as that might sound, there is no such thing as being a little bit pregnant, you either are or you aren't. You either believe wholeheartedly in the lessons and instructions and the reality of the Tanakh, or you exist outside the framework of everything that was postulated from the time of Boethus and Zadok, and then formulated 9 centuries later into traditional Karaism. The key difference among us is that in how we interpret that literal truth is individualized and no one has the right to tell you that your interpretation is wrong, only the right to logically debate and present their own interpretation in the hope that we can all appreciate our subtle differences of interpretation. So it is perfectly fine to interpret the Torah, but you cannot ignore certain sections or chapters simply because it does not meet your belief system or logical references. You either believe, or simply put, you are not Karaite.
So back to the heart of this story. While climbing this mountain side, while some people ascended on their knees, etc. following some misguided Christian belief that they had to suffer along the way, rather than actually enjoy their own spirituality, I came across a particular statue that was non-synchronous with all the others. Whereas everything else had a Christian element which I could totally ignore, enjoying the sights and landscape, as well as the breath-taking views this climb presented along the way, this one statue drew my attention like a magnet. It was the sacrifice of Isaac, the only Old Testament statue amongst this garden of New Testament mythology. As I approached this particular statue, that is when the voice sad simply to me, "It's a lie."
Abraham, The Apostate
Hard to think of Abraham as an apostate, but that is exactly what he was on and off throughout his lifetime. But the religious leaders of Judaism refused to accept the truth behind the chapters in Genesis 16 to 22 and weaved their own version of the story, portraying Abraham as the ultimate believer, a man so religious that not even God could believe how faithful he was, and therefore put him to the ultimate test of sacrificing his son. I will admit that I had been duped by their stories and the rewriting of the events, believing that it was fine for God to demand such a sacrifice and even more correct for a father to willingly answer this summons as a test of true faith. How absurdly ridiculous that we could be convinced that God would demand such a test, even as a whim, when the Almighty had openly condemned the child sacrifices of Moloch worship and forbid us from murdering the innocent. Yet, that is what we actually are willing to accept. A god, so petty, so infantile, that it would make such a demand and expect it to be carried out. That is not my God. That is not 'the' God! And those of you that see that depiction as the one true God, then you are as misguided as the Christians, the Muslims and all those that believe in such a game-playing deity. God does not play games but he does punish those who sin and this was clearly a punishment that Abraham had warranted. What amazes me, is that I had to be shown the truth while standing on a mountain in Vietnam when it was so clearly obvious. Abraham was a sinner; one of the worst in fact but God still loved him. It was only through God's mercy that Isaac was spared. After Chapter 22, the story of Abraham and Sarah abruptly ends. Sarah dies in the next chapter and the story of Isaac and Rebekah begins. We only have one other insight into the life of Abraham after Sarah and that is his taking of Keturah as a wife after Sarah's death, by whom he had six more sons. But most importantly, he had learned his lesson for we see in Chapter 25 sentence 6 that although he sends these six sons away, he provides them with money, livestock and other possessions to make their lives comfortable. This is in sharp contrast to where the story of Abraham's failure begins in Chapter 16, when Hagar is abused and eventually sent into the wilderness with her son Ishmael to die. How interesting that the entire story of Abraham extends only between chapters 12 and 25, only thirteen chapters out of a book of fifty chapters, and for the majority of those chapters we have our great Patriarch lying, deceiving, doubting God, and worst of all, practically killing both his sons. Yet we have been taught to herald him as the founding father of the great religions, the stalwart of monotheism, the pillar of righteousness. We have been blinded to the true lessons of these particular chapters of Genesis because our religious leaders of the past, our Rabbis, our Priests, our Imams have failed to understand the true intent and meaning of these chapters. That being, that in spite of our evil ways, our constant behaviour to commit every crime imaginable, God can still love us, forgive us and even make the worst among us great and a father of nations. It was only because Abraham was willing to admit his crimes and accept his punishment that God in Chapter 22, sentences 16 to 18, blesses Abraham to become the father of nations. Because at that moment God saw that there was something worthwhile in Abraham, something worth redeeming and deserving of God's faith in mankind.
The Intended Death of Ishmael
It is obvious in Chapter 21, that Abraham in response to the haranguing he received from Sarah acquiesced to her her request that Hagar and Abraham's firstborn son, Ishmael be put to death. One might try to argue that this was not Abraham's intent but to do so would be a foolish enterprise because one merely has to look at the facts as follows:
ט וַתֵּרֶא שָׂרָה אֶת-בֶּן-הָגָר הַמִּצְרִית, אֲשֶׁר-יָלְדָה לְאַבְרָהָם--מְצַחֵק.
9 And Sarah saw the son of Hagar the Egyptian, whom she had borne unto Abraham, making sport.
י וַתֹּאמֶר, לְאַבְרָהָם, גָּרֵשׁ הָאָמָה הַזֹּאת, וְאֶת-בְּנָהּ: כִּי לֹא יִירַשׁ בֶּן-הָאָמָה הַזֹּאת, עִם-בְּנִי עִם-יִצְחָק.
10 Wherefore she said unto Abraham: 'Cast out this bondwoman and her son; for the son of this bondwoman shall not be heir with my son, even with Isaac.'
יא וַיֵּרַע הַדָּבָר מְאֹד, בְּעֵינֵי אַבְרָהָם, עַל, אוֹדֹת בְּנוֹ.
11 And the thing was very grievous in Abraham's sight on account of his son.
יב וַיֹּאמֶר אֱלֹהִים אֶל-אַבְרָהָם, אַל-יֵרַע בְּעֵינֶיךָ עַל-הַנַּעַר וְעַל-אֲמָתֶךָ--כֹּל אֲשֶׁר תֹּאמַר אֵלֶיךָ שָׂרָה, שְׁמַע בְּקֹלָהּ: כִּי בְיִצְחָק, יִקָּרֵא לְךָ זָרַע.
12 And God said unto Abraham: 'Let it not be grievous in thy sight because of the lad, and because of thy bondwoman; in all that Sarah saith unto thee, hearken unto her voice; for in Isaac shall seed be called to thee.
יג וְגַם אֶת-בֶּן-הָאָמָה, לְגוֹי אֲשִׂימֶנּוּ: כִּי זַרְעֲךָ, הוּא.
13 And also of the son of the bondwoman will I make a nation, because he is thy seed.'
יד וַיַּשְׁכֵּם אַבְרָהָם בַּבֹּקֶר וַיִּקַּח-לֶחֶם וְחֵמַת מַיִם וַיִּתֵּן אֶל-הָגָר שָׂם עַל-שִׁכְמָהּ, וְאֶת-הַיֶּלֶד--וַיְשַׁלְּחֶהָ; וַתֵּלֶךְ וַתֵּתַע, בְּמִדְבַּר בְּאֵר שָׁבַע.
14 And Abraham arose up early in the morning, and took bread and a bottle of water, and gave it unto Hagar, putting it on her shoulder, and the child, and sent her away; and she departed, and strayed in the wilderness of Beer-sheba.
טו וַיִּכְלוּ הַמַּיִם, מִן-הַחֵמֶת; וַתַּשְׁלֵךְ אֶת-הַיֶּלֶד, תַּחַת אַחַד הַשִּׂיחִם.
15 And the water in the bottle was spent, and she cast the child under one of the shrubs.
טז וַתֵּלֶךְ וַתֵּשֶׁב לָהּ מִנֶּגֶד, הַרְחֵק כִּמְטַחֲוֵי קֶשֶׁת, כִּי אָמְרָה, אַל-אֶרְאֶה בְּמוֹת הַיָּלֶד; וַתֵּשֶׁב מִנֶּגֶד, וַתִּשָּׂא אֶת-קֹלָהּ וַתֵּבְךְּ.
16 And she went, and sat her down over against him a good way off, as it were a bow-shot; for she said: 'Let me not look upon the death of the child.' And she sat over against him, and lifted up her voice, and wept.
Clearly, in any court of law, if a man sent his concubine and son out into the wilderness with a single loaf of bread and a single bottle of water, it was not his expectation that they would survive. Either the elements, or the animals in the wilderness would ensure that they died in a horrible manner. If not for the intervention by God, that is exactly what would have happened, and Abraham, although grieved and ashamed, thought himself guiltless because he had not committed the murder directly by his own hands. This, after God making it clear in Chapter 16 that Ishmael would be the progenitor of a great multitude. So clearly, Abraham was attempting to defy God's own wishes. But the story involves even more sins on the part of Abraham for which he was to receive punishment. As it mentions, Sarah demanded they be sentenced to death because Ishmael was mocking her, regarding the birth of her own son, Isaac. Now the rabbinic interpretation of this is that he was ridiculing her because of her age but seriously, that makes no sense at all. If she truly was an old woman at the time of Isaac's birth, then all would see that as a miracle and be in awe, certainly not willing to make sport of the event. But the actual reference is only towards Abraham being old and that people would laugh because they would doubt it was his son. Why would they doubt such a thing? Because Sarah was a young and beautiful woman that other men found extremely desirable. We might forgive Abraham for concealing the truth about his relationship with Sarah and permitting the Pharaoh of Egypt to take her into his harem, while at the same time accepting all the riches that Pharaoh delivered to him including camels, sheep, oxen, donkeys, slaves and servants, because after all, he feared for his life should he refuse by identifying her as his wife, but it would have been obvious after that event that God would protect Abraham and his wife and all he had to do was have faith in God and no harm would come to him. Yet, in Chapter 20, he does the exact same thing with Abimelech, the king of Gerar, and this time it is evident that God is very angry, not only at Abimelech whom He visits in a dream but with Abraham as well. And here in lies the reason that people were laughing because Chapter 21 is merely the followup to this event. We only have Abimelech's word that he did not sleep with Sarah. Sarah would never admit to such a thing and Abraham would be in denial, much as he's been throughout all the chapters in which he is written about in Genesis. So why would anyone believe that this old man had a son by his young wife, when there's a young, virile King of Gerar in this obvious three-way scenario? Now you can appreciate why Sarah was being laughed at and why Ishmael was mocking her and her newborn son.
It should also be noticed that after God intervenes and saves Hagar and Ishmael in the wilderness there is a confrontation between Abraham and Abimelech. Each is leveling accusations against the other but notice in the end who's accusations are found to be justified and who's are not. In any dispute, the guilty party must make restitution, usually evidenced by the payment of high value livestock. In Chapter 21 sentences 29 to 30, it is Abraham that makes restitution and payment to Abimelech. Abraham admits that he was the offender and that the King of Gerar was the party that suffered damages. What is clearly absent is a sacrifice by Abraham to the Almighty, because the major offense was done against God and Abraham has overlooked this fact.
The failure to admit that he had offended God most of all was the 'straw that broke the camel's back' to use this Mesopotamian figure of speech. Abraham had offended God in many ways by this time. He had lied in order to protect himself, rather than let God provide that protection. He let himself be harangued by a heartless woman like Sarah, that we must question how many times would she let herself be sold to other kings, rather than tell her husband to stand up for his marital rights and put his faith in God. What kind of woman would convince her husband to send his own flesh and blood into the wilderness to die such a horrible death? Once again, rather than turn to God, Abraham did the inconceivable, he relented and gave both Hagar and Ishmael a death sentence but absolved himself of the guilt by letting nature do his dirty work. And once he had worked out his reparations with Abimelech, he bought his right to stay in the land without repercussions from the King, but never gave God his due for still watching over him in spite of all the ill-will that was building between him and the Lord. It was this failure to make the proper sacrifice that forced God to mete out the ultimate punishment; to force Abraham to sacrifice his son Isaac to compensate for the affront he had borne towards God. It was never the Lord's intent to carry out the sacrifice, but Abraham could not be certain of that. And God knew that in his own mind, Abraham still believed it was all merely a threat and that he would not be forced to carry it through to the end. We see in Chapter 22 in sentence 5, Abraham is confident that he and Isaac will be returning to where his men were encamped. In sentence 8, he is telling Isaac not to worry that God will provide a lamb for the offering. It is only after Abraham reaches the summit that he comes to the realization that there may not be any escape from his dilemma. It is at that moment he has to face his own convictions and decide whether he truly was a man of God, or merely the sham that he had pretended to be thus far. When he raises the knife above his head, that is the moment that God recognizes that Abraham has chosen his faith in the Almighty above all else and that is when the sentence becomes revoked and the punishment is no longer required. Essentially, Abraham has surrendered to God's will. He has acknowledged that the Lord is master of all, even life and death and he no longer would compromise his faith as he had done so many times in the past.
As for Sarah, the stories say that it was when she heard that Abraham had taken Isaac into the mountains to be sacrificed that her heart broke and she died. Since none of the servants knew that was Abraham's intent, then if the story is true, then only God could have told her of her husband's mission. That which she would have done to Hagar and Ishmael was now meted out as her own punishment. Abraham found solace in another woman, Keturah, and God blessed him with more sons to prove to the world that he was able to produce offspring, six in fact, so there would be no doubt as to Isaac's parentage. But now when you read these particular chapters in Genesis you must do so with eyes wide open. We have kept them shut for too long and as I was told on that mountain in Vietnam, it is time for the lies to stop.
"WHY" you might ask was it important to teach me this while standing on a mountain in Vietnam? To understand that, you must appreciate why I wanted to visit Vietnam in the first place. Having grown up with the Vietnam war on the television every day, I had been led to believe in certain 'truths' as they were portrayed in the media. Stories about the war, how it was right, how it was wrong, how capitalism is always better than communism, and so on and so on. It reached a point that you actually became convinced to believe in nothing. That the war was unwarranted, that the Americans were there to preserve the liberty of the South, that Viet Cong were a soul-less people that committed all sorts of depravities, that the Americans were guilty of countless war crimes, and the list of to-and-fro goes on forever. That is why I had to see it for myself. To try to understand the people and the events that made the news every day in my young life. Having seen it I now understand that it was all true and at the same time it was all lies. Somewhere in the middle is the value and the lessons of that war. Somewhere both sides have to come to appreciate their roles and how at that time those events had to happen in order to shape the country that Vietnam is today. From the ravages of that war grew a land of peace, of harmony and a people that I could see were very happy. That is why God chose to give me a reckoning at that particular moment because exactly as I had come to view the events in Vietnam, He needed me to recognize that the Torah has also become covered over in a thick layer of propaganda and falsehoods intentionally designed to sway us one way or the other. A promise was made to Ishmael, exactly as it was made to Isaac. We cannot deny that nor can we try to bury that fact. Both of us were born from a Patriarch that had his faults. It cannot be said that one son was better than the other but only to decide which one now serves God in the manner that he requires in the Torah. Finding that proper past is our path to the proper future. Our destiny is within our own hands and we must take control in order to safeguard and preserve it. We must speak out against the iniquities that are evident in today's world and we must not remain silent.
Avrom Aryeh-Zuk Kahana