Father and Son
Dodi li va’ani lo, haRoeh ba’shoshanim (My Beloved is mine, and I am his, he watches me in fields of lilies)
Chanting and singing these words from the Song of Songs, that also appear in the Karpas section of the Haggadah, quickly brought us back to the topic at hand: relationships, and what we can learn about them from Abraham and Sarah.
Check-ins today dealt with the natural flows in life, with some of us feeling a renewal of energy, as events in our lives or internal moods build toward fullness, while some are in a waning mode, feeling the energy drawn back. So we are like the phases of the moon each month of the Hebrew calendar, now 3 days into the month of Sh’vat, each moon carrying an attribute of the tribe attached to it, waxing in the energy of its attribute the first half of the cycle, to fullness of intensity, then waning as it recedes back toward darkness until the rebirth of the next month. Tuning into the lunar ebb and flow, rather than the solar-based calendar, can have interesting effects on the way we experience the events in our lives. (To see the current phase of the moon, check out this link: http://www.calculatorcat.com/moon_phases/phasenow.php )
Genesis 17:15-17 “. . . do not call her name Sarai, for Sarah is her name . . . and she shall give rise to nations. . . . . Abraham threw himself on his face and laughed”
Sarai gets her “Hey”, making her the princess of all peoples. God then promises to bless Sarah with a child. In response, Abraham laughs at the idea that Sarah, at age 90, should be able to bear a child. In the next chapter, Sarah also laughs at this news, to which God responds negatively, but here Abraham does not get scolded. The commentary explains this by describing how Abraham’s laugh was one of jubilation, whereas Sarah’s was one of skepticism. It seems it may be more a reflection of who is doing the color commentary, Fox or MSNBC. Also important to consider: how was this news received differently within the minds and bodies of Abraham, the male, and Sarah, the female. And what is the role of laughing? Laughter has the power to heal – note the healing power of comedy, and the current vogue of “laugh yoga”. Could laughter itself have played a role in healing Sarah’s “barrenness”, even this far past the end of her own internal “moon cycles”?
Genesis 17:18: “And Abraham said to God, ‘Oh that Ishmael might live before You!”.
Just being told that Sarah will bear him a son who will give rise to kings of peoples, it seems particularly significant that Abraham’s first response is to call for God to bless his first son, Ishmael. This is a poignant statement of the father-son bond, “don’t forget about him!”, as we imagine the possible heartache that Abraham must feel at the prospect of his first beloved son being overlooked. We see here the bond of this father with this son, that even though events are moving in another direction, Abraham is still strongly connected to Ishmael and does not in any way intend to abandon him. It also raises the issue of where did events occur that we lost our relationship with the Children of Ishmael? We are not supposed to be in conflict – we each have a separate role and destiny, but as brothers, and princes of different realms.
Genesis 17:20. “He (Ishmael) will beget twelve princes . . . “
In fact, God then tells Abraham that Ishmael will have 12 sons, 12 princes – a parallel to the 12 sons of Jacob that went on to determine the 12 Tribes. An interesting detail worth noting here that bears on the relationship between Hagar and Abraham: did Hagar not tell him that God had already promised her, during her mystical encounter 13 years earlier in the desert when she was pregnant, that Ishmael would be a father to princes? If she didn’t tell him, why not? And if she did, why is Abraham now acting as if he didn’t know it, challenging God not to forget Ishmael – almost like a test, saying “didn’t you promise that this one, this first one, would father princes and peoples, won’t you keep that promise?” It seems our intention to study the relationship between Sarah and Abraham has really led us into the study of all of these swirling relationships.
It also seems that the stories of Genesis, over and over, keep setting up these toxic sibling rivalries: Cain v Abel; Isaac v Ishmael; Jacob v Esau; Joseph v the 11. Why is Isaac favored, chosen, and Ishmael gets the short end of the stick? Or does he? The English translation, after describing the 12 sons of Ishmael says “But, I will maintain my convenant through Isaac . . “, implying favoritism to the son of Sarah over the son of Hagar. But the Hebrew uses the letter “vav”, meaning “and, I will maintain . . . “ Doesn’t the word “and” imply an equality of covenants, one to the Children of Ishmael, the other to the Children of Isaac, this one AND that one?
So the question is, can we transcend the sibling rivalry? A model of the 2 choices one has when considering the rivalry is perhaps given much later in the Torah as the Children of Israel were about to enter the Land. God said to them as they stood between 2 mountains, you have a choice, to choose Blessing or to choose Curse. In any situation, the choice is ours. We have the choice to recognize Ishmael as brother, honor him, or as a dangerous rival, one with whom there must always be conflict. Isn’t it time we transcended the rivalries, and got on with the business of choosing Blessing?
Genesis 17:25. “and his son Ishmael was 13 years old when he was circumcised . . . On that very day Abraham was circumcised with Ishmael his son.”
What more evidence do we need that the bond between Abraham and Ishmael will not be replaced by the birth of Isaac? What followed was an intimate discussion of the meaning of circumcision to each of the men in the group. Stories of the circumcision of our sons, the impact of circumcision on sexuality, the meaning of this rite of scarring of the body and how it may parallel the rites of other tribes over the ages who have marked their important transitions and commitments with piercings, scarrings, tattoos, and the like. The health controversies over the pros and cons of circumcision in our modern medical age notwithstanding, this act holds a profound place of psychospiritual meaning in our collective, and individual unconscious, that even today we could barely find the words to articulate.
THE MONTH OF NISSAN AND the 16th Joshua Tree Passover Village
We had a brief discussion of logistics for this year’s seder. Here are the highlights.
SAVE THE DATES: Thursday 4/21 – Sunday, 4/24
LOCATION: Joshua Tree National Park
Numbers: Limit is 40 participants
COST: $72 (adults and post-Bar/Bat mitzvah youth); $36 for children; As always, less than the full amount for those unable to afford full price - let all who are hungry come and eat with us.
TASKS to be taken on in the near future:
· Food planning, contact and reserve BBQ Ray: Steve (with Larry)
· Handling registration and payments: to be determined
· Communication: to be determined
o For now, keep your eye on the public blogsite. We will try to get our private Google site up and accessible so we can all view last years’ pics and have a mechanism for free-flowing communication
· Ritual specifics: To be determined
Saturday, February 5 (Rosh Chodesh Adar I), 10 AM – noon (longer?)
Location: To be determined