The Temple And The Binding Of Isaac
The Significance Of Mount Moriah In The Bible
We all know that back in Genesis, Abraham attempted to offer his son Isaac as a sacrifice... but do you know where Abraham did that? The specific location? God tells him to do it atop a mountain in eretz Moriah, the land of Moriah. And interestingly, that place "Moriah" comes up in one other place in the Torah* — and one place only: to refer to the mountain where the Beit HaMikdash, the Holy Temple, would be built.
And that brings us to Parshat Re'eh, where we find a whole bunch of laws about that very mountain: about how that's the one place in the whole world where God wants us to bring our sacrifices, and how we can't build altars anywhere else.
So... Abraham tried to offer his son as a sacrifice to God atop Mount Moriah, and then Abraham's descendants would be asked to offer their sacrifices to God atop the same mountain. Is it just a coincidence?
In this special podcast conversation, Beth Lesch and Rabbi Fohrman explore the many more links between Parshat Re'eh and Abraham's story... and arrive at some pretty surprising conclusions.
For another audio conversation on Parshat Re'eh that explores these connections and suggests different conclusions, click here.
For a source sheet that illustrates these parallels in the text, click here.
Beth: Hi, everyone. I am Beth Lesch. You are listening to Aleph Beta. Today we're talking about Parshat Re'eh. I'm sitting here in conversation with Rabbi Fohrman. How you doing, Rabbi Fohrman?
Rabbi Fohrman: I'm doing pretty good, Beth. How are you?
Beth: I'm doing good. What we're going to talk about today is, specifically, we're going to be zooming in on Chapter 12 of Deuteronomy. Which is really when you start to get into the heart of Parshat Re'eh. We had talked about it last year in a podcast. So for those of you who are interested, we can drop a link to that in the description. But I wanted to take that conversation a little bit further.
You see, I had noticed some really intriguing echoes in reading through Chapter 12 of Deuteronomy, of Parshat Re'eh, that reminded me of a someone, and a something, from earlier in the Torah, in a very conspicuous way. I had brought some of my insights to you, Rabbi Fohrman and asked you to react to them. You had a lot of interesting things to say. I said, you want to know what? Let's not have this conversation now. Let's record it and that way our viewers will be able to follow us on the journey and participate with us.
So that's what we're going to be doing today. That's the context. Let me jump in and we'll start trying to excavate some of those echoes. Let me lay some context, for starters, about what it is that Chapter 12 in Deuteronomy talks about.
There are a lot of laws. They seem a little scattered. Laws about destroying any vestiges of idolatry when you enter the land and the nations that were living there have left. Laws about what kind of animals you can and cannot slaughter and whether or not you can eat their blood. Laws about where and how to bring your sacrifices.
I think, though, that there's really one, sort of, organizing principle of the whole chapter and that organizing principle really comes down to this one basic idea. What God is describing in this chapter is the idea that you cannot bring your offerings all over the place. He doesn't want us to build one altar in Beer Sheva and one altar in Hebron and one altar in Nablus. He wants us to serve Him in one very specific location.
Later readers of Jewish history, you and me, we're very familiar with what that place is. That's, you know, we're talking about Jerusalem. We're talking about the place for where the Temple is going to be built. But when we first read about it here in Re'eh, it's really a novelty that God doesn't want altars all over the place; He wants our service of Him to be centralized in this one very specific location.
So that's the context for the law. Let me just read a snippet of that law so can you can hear how it's expressed and, again, you'll tell me if in hearing this you hear echoes of a certain someone or a certain something.
I'm looking at verse 13. "Hishamer lecha pen ta'aleh olasecha," take care that you don't offer you burnt offerings, "b'chol makom asher tireh," in any old place that you see. So to me, Rabbi Fohrman, that's pretty interesting because this mysterious someone that I'm thinking of, was also asked to serve God in a very specific place. So when you think back to earlier stories in the Torah; God saying to someone I want you to serve Me, but it can't be anywhere, it's got to be in this one place. Who comes to mind for you?
Rabbi Fohrman: People who are told you can't serve Me anywhere; you have to serve Me at a particular place. Well, I would say it's not any of the obvious suspects. It's not Adam, it's not Noah, it's not Jacob, it's not Joseph. It would have to be Abraham. Abraham, in the story of the Binding of Isaac. But just playing devil's advocate with you, Beth --
Beth: Yeah, please.
Rabbi Fohrman: So that's true, sort of, generally speaking. We could say, yeah, sure, Abraham was told to serve God in a particular place. We're told here to serve God in a particular place, but if it were just that, you know, we can apply our little litmus test and say would you be willing to bet that the Torah wants me to be thinking Abraham as a result of just that comparison? I'd have to say I'm not yet willing to take the bet. So talk to me further.
Beth: Yeah, for sure. So that's piece one, but you're absolutely right, that if there's something real here, there's going to have to be more than just the one piece. So let's try to figure out if there's more here that connects the laws here in Re'eh to the story about Abraham.
So the next thing that I want to show you is that not only is this concept similar, of God saying I want you to serve Me in one place. The language is also really similar too. So for example, you go back to the Abraham story. We're talking about Genesis, Chapter 22. We hear that God said to Abraham I want you to go to this place. I'm going to show it you.
Abraham heads out on a three-day journey. Then the text tells us, "Ba'yom hashelishi," on the third day, "va'yisa Avraham es einav," he lifts up his eyes, "va'yar es hamakom meirachok," he sees the place from afar. I think if you take that verse and you go back and compare it to the first verse I read to you from Re'eh, the idea that you can't offer your Burnt Offerings, "b'chol makom asher tireh," in any place that you see. This idea of tireh and va'yar; makom and makom. There's something about a place that you see that we see common in both stories.
Rabbi Fohrman: By the way, it's not just a place Element Number 1 that you see Element Number 2, but it's also a particular kind of offering; a Burnt Offering Element Number 3. Because of course, what was Isaac supposed to be designated as? God says bring him up as a Burnt Offering.
Rabbi Fohrman: So when you have this law, be careful that you don't offer your Burnt Offering, even the double alei olatecha evokes Abraham's language, ha'aleihu l'olah. Where? In the place I will show you. Again, there's two elements to that. It's the place God says that I will show you. Go to the land that I will show you. Then, Abraham, on the third day sees it.
So, Beth, as you're suggesting it's possibly a playoff of Abraham. Don't do it in any old place that you see. Abraham saw a place, but the place that he saw was the place that I chose for him. So there is that element of place that you see, but the next thing which I think you're probably getting to is the very next verse.
Which is if you go to the next verse in Deuteronomy; "ki im," instead, where should you offer your Burnt Offerings? Not just in any place that you see, but, "ki im bamakom asher yivchar Hashem," only in the place that God will choose.
Now, interestingly, notice that in Deuteronomy God does not name that place. You might have expected Him to say, by the way, folks, when you get to the land, I only want you to offer offerings in the southwest corner of Beer Sheva, right? But He doesn't actually reveal His hand. God says, no, I'm keeping it secret. I'm going to show you a place in the future. We're kind of wondering, I wonder what place God's eventually going to reveal for us?
If you play that little game, who was told to serve God in a particular place, but was not at that point told the place, but was told that God would reveal the place in the future? That, of course, is Abraham. That, you know, really starts making the connection pretty specific and much more convincing. It's not just like who can only serve God in one place? Who can only serve a one God, one place and is not yet told the place and is told in future they'll reveal it when there's that -- and who eventually sees that place, right, from afar? So the connections are starting to get more convincing.
Beth: Yeah, that's great. Let me turn up the temperature a little bit on these connections. We're talking about the two places. Abraham's place and the place in Re'eh. We, as later readers of the Torah, know something that this generation in Re'eh didn't know. We've read the rest of the Torah, we've lived in the 21st century and we know the location that God ultimately did say, this is the place I'm going to choose, this is where I want you to build the Temple.
Is there a relationship between the place that Abraham offered his sacrifices and the place where we, ultimately, offer our sacrifices?
Rabbi Fohrman: So traditionally, it's actually the same place, because the mountain that God eventually commands Abraham -- Abraham is going to name, "b'har Hashem yei'ra'eh," and that becomes Mount Moriah. Mount Moriah, of course, by tradition is the place that God chooses in Jerusalem for the Temple. So they become one and the same place historically.
Beth: Right. So there are these two incredibly important acts of service to God, that take place in the very, very, very same location. One of them being this one-time event, of Abraham's attempt to offer Isaac as a Burnt Offering. The second, being our eternal service of God in the Temple for as long as the Temple is standing.
There's something else that's cool about what, you know, you just mentioned that Abraham gives a name to the place and he calls it Hashem yei'ra'eh. After the Binding of Isaac happens, the angel gives him a pat on the back and says don't give me your son and he says I'm going to give this place a name. So this mountain is now called Hashem yei'ra'eh, God will see.
Well, if you go back to Re'eh, God says something else very interesting about the place that He's going to choose for us to offer sacrifices. He says I'm going to choose it and I'm going to, "la'sum et shemo sham," God's going to put His name on that place. Which is unusual language.
Rabbi Fohrman: Could you just give me the location of that verse, Beth?
Beth: Sure. It comes up in a few places, but right now I'm looking at Verse 5.
Rabbi Fohrman: Okay. Go ahead.
Beth: Yes. Well, it seems to me that Abraham was really the first person in human history to put God's name on that place, in naming it Hashem yei'ra'eh. The second being that's going to come around and re-put, reestablish His name on that place, whatever that means, is God. God, you know, prior to the establishment of the Temple.
Rabbi Fohrman: Okay. Interesting. So in other words, it's not just that it's some place, back in the Binding of Isaac, but it's a place that Abraham names. Not only does he name it; in naming it, he really is putting God's name on the place because the name of the place is Hashem yei'ra'eh.
By the way, just something which strikes me as interesting. I don't think I ever noticed this before, but I'll just say it. There's something, sort of, almost humorous about Abraham's name of the place. Because when God says it's some place that I'll show you, that's kind of a way of saying I'm not telling you -- the place is Mr. Anonymous at that point. Yet, when Abraham names the place and hicks it away from anonymity, giving it a particular name, the name he gave it is this the place about which God said it's Mr. Anonymous.
Because listen to the name. The name is Hashem yei'ra'eh, which is God will show. Almost like there is something about this place that defies definition. That even once it's defined and God says, you know what? That's the place. Still, its name is no, no, God's going to show. It's still not defined and, in the future, it could be anywhere and it ends up being here. If fact so it is, because God doesn't say over here, remember Abraham's place? That's the place I'm interested in. It's still, know the place that I will show you; almost as if Abraham was on to something.
Beth: Right. It's something of a premonition.
Rabbi Fohrman: Something of a premonition of this place remaining evasive towards being pinned down, in a way. Which in a way, I don't know. I mean, I don't want to take us too further afield, but I'll just say that in a way there's something sort of fitting about that. Why? Because, Beth, what is this place? What makes this place different than all other places in the world?
Beth: You mean prior to the Binding of Isaac or subsequent to the Binding of Isaac?
Rabbi Fohrman: Both. In the Binding of Isaac, even as Abraham names it, b'har Hashem yei'ra'eh, think of it as a place where we go to see and be seen. "Yei'ra'eh kol zechurcha," right, "b'har Hashem yei'ra'eh." What's enigmatic about the place is that it's all very fine for us human beings to go to a place. We travel to places all the time. But there's something odd about God going to a place.
This is the famous saying of our Sages that says that God is called Makom (Place), because really God is placeless. God is called Place because He's the ultimate placeless being; He's beyond time and space. So place is not really a thing for God. So it's almost like if God is going to have a place in the world, it has to be a placeless place. Therefore, there's something has to become -- it's almost undefined about the place that's endemic to it's being in order for it to be a place that works for God. Abraham, sort of, intuits that in naming the place and pinning it down.
Beth: It's Atlantis. Abraham once went there, but it doesn't appear on any human map. God, one day, will see fit to reveal to us again.
Rabbi Fohrman: Yeah. I mean, think about the Garden of Eden. How easy is it to get back there? God's special places are like Atlantis, in some sort of way. So even though this is the place; we can touch it, we can feel it, but it's always the place that God's going to show you. It's never just that place.
Beth: You can never find your way back.
Rabbi Fohrman: Yeah.
Beth: Very, very cool, Rabbi Fohrman. There's a lot here, but I want to cut to the end of the chapter to show you one piece which I think evokes Abraham, in an irrefutable way, in a way that really, you know, I actually find it a little bit provocative.
So I'm thinking about the end of the chapter where God returns to a discussion about how other nations serve their gods, how pagans serve their gods. Of course, this is all one theme. The whole context here is don't serve me in a pagan way, serve me in a way that I want you to. Pagans erect altars all over the place; I want you to just erect one Temple and serve Me. But He says something else about the way that pagans serve their gods.
He says, do you know what kind of horrible things the other nations do? This is Verse 31. "Ki kol to'avat Hashem asher sanei asu l'eloheihem," every abominable thing, the things that I hate, that's what they do for their gods. Then He gives a very crisp and violent example. "Ki gam et beneihem v'et benoteihem yisrefu ba'eish l'eloheihem," they actually go so far as to burn their children in fire for their gods.
Rabbi Fohrman: Not just that they do that, but look how God characterizes that. "Kol to'avat Hashem asher sanei." That's very strong language. God finds it disgusting and He hates it.
Beth: First of all, the Abraham connection just sort of smacks you in the face here. Because there was one other person, at the start of this book that we're reading, who was asked to offer his child in fire as an offering to God. But as you're pointing out, here God is saying that child sacrifice is abominable, it's the worst thing ever. Of course, at the end of the Binding of Isaac story, even though this was something that God asked Abraham to do, at the end of the day God makes clear; no, no, no. This is not something that I would ever ask you to actually go through with, but it's not until the end of the story that we learn that. So that, to me, sort of smacks you in the face.
Rabbi Fohrman: Yeah. I mean, it gets to something, you know, again, without getting in too much detail, but you know, for me it's difficult. Because full disclosure; I've always had a hard time with that interpretation of the Binding of Isaac. The interpretation of the Binding of Isaac that the whole purpose of it was in order to advertise that child sacrifice is wrong. This is actually a thing. There are Biblical scholars out there who will say that the Binding of Isaac was just God's billboard in the sky as a way of saying, see, you might think I want that. I don't want that, I hate that.
Beth: Right. I'm going to make a big scene out of the fact that I am not that kind of God.
Rabbi Fohrman: Right. You know, just to add a little bit of nuance to that picture. My problem with that theory always was, that if that's what the Binding of Isaac fundamentally was, that what the angel says to Abraham is the wrong thing. In other words, if I'm the angel and I'm staying Abraham's hand and the only message of it was, child sacrifice is wrong, what would I say if I was the angel?
Beth: I might say, you know, Abraham, thank you for showing your obedience to God, but actually what I mean to teach here is that this thing is totally, totally problematic. I almost wish that you hadn't participated in it at all. Like, what are you thinking? Never do this again. Teach your kids.
Rabbi Fohrman: Right. And Abraham, you know, of course you're just a primitive Mesopotamian, who's stuck with the culture of the Hittites and therefore, how could you have known better? But I'm hereby revealing to generations every more that you were naïve and that this is wrong. Abraham, now you know too. Something like that. But, instead, there's no hint of that. The angel's just like, wow, you've done the most amazing thing in the world and there's the sense that had God not come out of the clouds, it would have been the right thing to do.
Think about it. On Rosh Hashanah we evoke the example of the Binding of Isaac and the zechut and the merit of Abraham that he was willing to do this. So it strikes me that it's a more nuance kind of thing.
Yet, I think, Beth, the point that you're making here is very strong. Which is that it does sound like this whole Parshah evokes the Binding of Isaac. Then, you're right, it just hits you in the face at then end, that God says I hate this stuff. "Gam et beneihem v'et benoteihem yisrefu ba'eish l'eloheihem."
So it almost feels like there is this tension within the Binding of Isaac itself and the way I will, sort of, suggest maybe resolving it within the Binding of Isaac is if I can and I'm wondering what you think about this. Is that there's a fundamental tension. Which is I've sometimes analogized the Binding of Isaac to a custody battle between parents. Sort of the way that works is the following.
You can imagine a custody battle, between a father and a mother who are getting divorced, over a child. If the court is deciding that just on the basis of who the most fundamental parent is, you can imagine the father losing the battle, right? Because the mother says I carried this child in my womb for nine months. I nursed this child for three years. I raised this child. You know, the father made a momentary contribution and was basically working 9:00 to 5:00. Yeah, he supported the child, but this is really my child.
You could imagine the court being sympathetic to that, that obviously it takes two to tango and two parents make the child, but the mother is more fundamental parent, in a way, than the father, if you had to choose. You can imagine the court making that sort of decision. But now imagine a three-way custody battle and the custody battle would work like this. God enters in the picture. God is the third partner here and each parent makes the claim and God says I'd like the child. I think I have a claim on this child.
The father says, well, I want the child and the mother says, no, I carried this child in my womb nine months. I nursed the child. What would God's lawyer say?
Beth: God's lawyer would say I created your womb. I created you. I created in a spiritual sense and in a biological sense; I facilitated the creation of the child in the first place.
Rabbi Fohrman: Exactly.
Beth: So you know, I am the fundamental one here.
Rabbi Fohrman: Yeah. It's like, okay, great. You have a womb. Did you figure out the biochemistry of the womb? You've got it all figured out? Why don't you create it in a lab, right? Like, you can't even recreate what I created, but I created it. It's there; the spaceship is there, I just recreated that. You can't even do that with all of your trillions of dollars of medical research. We don't have artificial wombs.
So God says, no, I am the fundamental creator here. That's a pretty good argument. So argued like that, if we would say does God have the right to ask for the child? The answer would be yes. He's the most fundamental parent. He can argue, look, I am the parent; I want the child now. The child's mine.
Now, God doesn't do that usually, but you could imagine God winning a custody battle. You could almost imagine the Binding of Isaac being one of these crazy situations, where God is saying, hey, I want the child back. If the court would have to decide, the court would argue that God would have that right. Which therefore, means that if God would ask for it, Abraham would have to say yes.
On the other hand, at the end of the day, God says, no, I don't want it. I just want you to be willing to have done it. But -- and then maybe this is where Deuteronomy comes in -- and in fact is disgusting for God to ask of such a thing. Why? Because God wouldn't do that. Just because you are a parent and you have a right, doesn't mean you exercise those rights. I think that's a fundamental thing about parenting.
There's lots of rights that you have as a parent that you could ask your kid to do, but it would be disgusting if you would ask your kid to do that. For example, you have a right to absolutely demand that your child stand up for you every second you enter the room. Yet, is it really right for you to exercise that right? What does that do? Is there a kind of intimacy between you and child if the child always has to stand up? So maybe in some generations yes, but in our generation? You have a right to demand that the child's labor goes to you.
There's lots of rights you have, but parenting isn't just about demanding your rights, it's which rights you're going to exercise and sometimes it's abhorrent to exercise a right. There's a part of the Binding of Isaac in which God says I would never ask this of you, but I need you to understand that it's my right. Why? Because that's how you understand that I am your parent, I'm the actual parent in the sky and I have that role in your life. Actually, I if I must prove that I am the parent; not only do I have the right, I wouldn't want it exercised. That shows you how much of a parent I am. Because a real parent would never want that right exercised even as they have it.
It's almost God's way of showing I am your parent in the sky. So I think Deuteronomy sheds light on a piece of the Binding of Isaac, when God says it's disgusting, I would never want that. Yet, that doesn't mean it's God's right, but it's a disgusting right to exercise.
Beth: Rabbi Fohrman, I'm really glad you're taking the conversation here, because this idea that there might be things that you have a right to, but that it would be disgusting for you to, sort of, use that privilege and that instead you should withhold yourself. Those themes come up in another part of this very chapter. It's a part that might get hidden.
There's a series of verses that basically explain the laws around slaughtering animals and eating them. One idea that is underlined over and over again is this idea that you cannot eat the blood of the animals. Now, it sounds like a side detail. It sounds like, okay, while we're on the topic of the Temple, let me tell you some laws about what it looks like to slaughter animals outside of the Temple. Also, what it looks like to slaughter animals inside of the Temple.
By the way, while we're on the topic of animals, you can't eat their blood. Okay. Moving on, back to the laws of the Temple. But I wonder, since I'm seeing the connection between these two themes and this is something that you had started to point out to me, I wonder if there's something more there. All right. What do you make of it?
Rabbi Fohrman: Yeah. It's an interesting question. I mean, you're certainly right to point out this strange, strange aspect of the story. When you first brought these connections to me, when we weren't recording this, a couple of weeks ago, you and I had discussed this thing about this notion of the blood over here.
Just to kind of bring everybody else into that discussion a little bit. What's odd is that, first of all, it just doesn't seem to fit. Everything else is about bringing your sacrifice to the Temple and then there being different ways in order to consume meat. You can either bring something as a sacrifice, you can bring something not as a sacrifice. Then, you could eat it outside of the Temple. Yet, if you do that, there is this question as to what to do with the blood.
If you're just eating an animal on your own, you're not bringing it as a sacrifice, what do you do with the blood? Then, there's this very strange law, which is, "Rak chazak" -- and this is Verse 23 over here, but be very strong, "l'bilti echol hadam," so as not to eat this blood, "ki hadam hu hanefesh," because the blood is in fact the soul of the animal, "v'lo tochal hanefesh im habasar," and don't eat the soul of the animal together with its flesh. As if to say that there are two aspects to any living mammal.
Humans as well, by the way. We have a soul and we have a body. Animals, in their own way, have a soul and a body. A soul that's perhaps different then ours, but for the animal the soul is resonant, the Torah says, in the blood and it'll be wrong of you to eat the blood. What's so strange about this is this notion that anyone would want to in the first place.
Beth: Right, like, "Rak chazak." In other words, there are plenty of laws in the Temple that say, no, really, really, really don't eat the cheeseburger. Hold yourself back. Like, okay, maybe the cheeseburger looks good; I have to hold myself back. Do I have to hold myself back from eating blood? Is it so tempting?
Rabbi Fohrman: When's the last time, Beth, you went to your fine dining restaurant and just said, hold the blood, please. You know, I don't think tonight we're going to go for the chalice of blood.
Beth: Right. Because Yom Kippur is coming and I want to grow here.
Rabbi Fohrman: But I know it's $125 for the chalice of blood. It's like, you know, notice that there are no chalices of blood, so what is this business that it takes such strength to avoid eating blood? You and I were talking about ways in which the Binding of Isaac connections might shed light upon this notion of eating blood, perhaps.
If I recall our conversation -- I don't recall it completely -- it struck me that what we kind of did in order to get there, was we read the verses leading up to eating blood, in connection with the Binding of Isaac and that I think, began to, if I'm not mistaken, to lead us in a way of perhaps understanding it. Almost as if the Binding of Isaac shed light, in a way, on why you wouldn't eat blood. But the way it sheds light on it is almost as if you're mapping these two stories on top of each other.
That what you do is you read through the story in Deuteronomy, almost as if the Binding of Isaac is meant as an interpretive gloss on this story and you're, kind of, always looking at the Binding of Isaac over your shoulder and saying, what does this remind me of in the Binding of Isaac? Who's the cast of characters in the Binding of Isaac? How do they match up to the cast of characters here in Deuteronomy? Suddenly, this thing, I think, might pop out in resolution. You understand, oh, that's why I might want to eat blood.
So in order to get there, Beth, what I want to see if we can do is if we can recreate our thinking here. One of my weak points is I'm very good at forgetting things. So I've very little memory of our conversation, but I remember that's kind of how we did it. So let's see if we can go through the verses.
Maybe eating blood is Verse 23 here and you started showing us some stuff, Beth, in Verse 14. Maybe we can make our way from Verse 14 to Verse 23 and I believe there were other resonances of the Binding of Isaac, as well, that you had found between 14 to 23. Why don't you take us through that and show us some of those resonances and let's talk about it as we approach this argument about eating blood and then see how the Binding of Isaac might shed light on that.
Beth: That sounds great, Rabbi Frohman. So the first thing that strikes me in looking at those verses and the aftermath, is this idea of -- this is Verse 15 -- that you can eat meat. You have permission to eat meat and, in this chapter, God is going to tell us you can eat meat. Even meat that would be fit for a sacrifice, if you're far away from the Temple you can slaughter it outside and you can do it, "k'birkas Hashem Elokecha asher natan lecha b'chol she'arecha." That you can do it according to the blessing that God has given to us in all of our gates.
So one of the very cool things about this that we started to notice is that what blessing are we referring to here?
Rabbi Fohrman: By the way, let me just interrupt you. Again, just to give the context over here. This is right after Verse 14, like we said before. Right after that point in 13 and 14 where Beth had noticed, "Hishamer lecha pen ta'ale olotecha b'chol makom asher tireh." You heard those very strong Binding of Isaac resonances. Be very careful not to offer Burnt Offerings any place that you might see, except for the place that God will show you. "Sham ta'aleh olotecha," that's when should offer your offerings, "v'sham ta'aseh kol asher anochi metzavecha," and that's where you should do everything that I have told you.
Then we get to the verse that Beth says here. "Rak b'chol avas nafshecha tizbach v'achalta basar k'birkat Hashem Elokecha asher natan lach." But you don't just have to offer offerings, you might have a ta'avah, you might desire. Your soul might desire just meat. You might want to eat meat yourself and you can do that, "k'birkat Hashem Elokecha asher natan lach," like the blessing that God has given you, "b'chol she'arecha," in your gates. That's the context there. So go ahead, Beth.
Beth: Great. So one of the cool things about this language of she'arecha, your gates and this is what sticks out for me. We find that same word back in the Binding of Isaac story.
Now, just to find that one word here, one word there, it's not such an uncommon word to talk about gates in both stories. But the idea, if you actually look back at the content of the blessing in the Binding of Isaac, was that God was saying, Abraham, you did this great thing. Well done to you. Pat on the back. Because you've done it, I'm going to give you a blessing. One of the primary things that blessing is going to consist of is that you are going to be able to inherit the gates of your enemies.
In other words, you're going to enter the land and right now, those gates are the gates of the Hivite, the Hittite and all these other nations. They're going to leave and you're going to come and you're going to take residence in their gates.
So how was it that you even get to sit today in your gates? It all goes back to that promise at the Binding of Isaac and it's all a fallout of what Abraham did.
Rabbi Fohrman: I just want to point out how compelling textually the point that Beth is making. It's not just that there was a promise in the Binding of Isaac and that promise is sort of mentioned over here. That promise is described as a blessing in both stories, "k'birkat Hashem Elokecha asher natan lach," like the blessing that God has given you. What's the blessing that God gave you? Where is it ever described as a blessing? That you're going to eat meat in4 all of your gates like the blessing that God gave you. You're going to able to do that.
The blessing I gave you goes all the way back to the Binding of Isaac, that's when He gave you that blessing. Listen to that language in Verse 17 and the Binding of Isaac. "Ki bareich avarechecha," because I will surely bless you. How will I bless you? "V'yirash zaracha et sha'ar oivav." One of the aspects of the blessing; you're going to have lots of children and they're going to spread out in the land, "v'yirash zaracha et sha'ar oivav," and they're going to inherit and take over, they're going to militarily conquer the gates of their enemies. That's the blessing.
It's very evocative. Even the verse before that. It says, "sham ta'aseh kol asher anochi metzavecha," in the place where you are, that's where you should do everything that I've commanded you. By the way, that language is also Binding of Isaac-like. The angel, "ya'an asher asitah et hadavar hazeh," because you've done this thing. By implication that I have commanded you and you haven't withheld that, you haven't withheld your child. Where's the place in the future, Deuteronomy says, "sham ta'aseh kol asher anochi metzavecha," that's where you should do everything that I've commanded you. Where you should do Burnt Offerings not of your children.
Then, this new thing. This notion of the gates. The gates. Which gates? The gates of the blessing. Which gates of the blessing? The gates of the blessing that go back to the Binding of Isaac. What should you do there? That's where you can offer offerings. "Sham tizbach v'achalta basar." If you desire meat, that's where you can eat meat.
So keep on going, Beth.
Beth: Yes. So I'm going to skip a few verses, but there's a fascinating description of what it looks like when we are standing in our gates offering offerings to God. We offer them to God and then we eat them. We eat them and we're supposed to eat them alongside other people. We're supposed to eat them alongside our children.
So I'm looking at Verse 18, that says, you're going to eat them, "b'makom asher yivchar Hashem Elokecha bo," the place that God chooses, "atah u'bincha u'bitecha v'avdecha v'amasecha," that you and all of your children and all these other people are going to enjoy them together. This is fascinating.
How does the verse end? You're going to rejoice, "v'samachta b'chol mishlach yadecha." This other one was your find and I just think it's absolutely fabulous. You're going to rejoice in everything that has come to your hand and everything that God has granted to you. But that language of the hand reaching out, something being sent to your hand, that takes us right back to the Binding of Isaac. Abraham reached out his hand to do something that also had to with his son, but it wasn't to enjoy food and rejoice before God with his son, it was to kill his son.
Rabbi Fohrman: Which is the opposite of rejoicing. You can imagine Abraham's state of mind, how tortured could he possible be. Being a father, who the text says, loves Isaac. "Bincha, yechidcha, asher ahavta." Yet, he's told to give him up. It's the moment of parting in an ultimate way in the custody battle. The great custody battle between the Divine and the human. How difficult as it is to give up your child to your spouse in a custody battle, but now, like, to kill you child. It's the worst thing in the world. It's harrowing.
Yet, all of a sudden, you have the exact opposite image here and it's so compelling. What are you going to do in this place that God will show you with all of its resonance of the Binding of Isaac? You're going to be there with your child. Think Binding of Isaac. Abraham was there with his child, but what was he doing to his child? He was killing his child. Well, instead you're going to be there with your child and you're going to rejoice with your child, "b'chol mishlach yadecha."
As Beth points out, that language, "b'chol mishlach yadecha," is so strange. If you translate it literally, which I bet almost no translation does, it literally means you're going to rejoice with God, "b'chol mishlach yadecha," with everything that your hand sends out. What's that even supposed to mean? The language it's just impossible even to read, but who are you rejoicing with? It means you're going to rejoice with your family, you're going to rejoice with your kids.
What's, "b'chol mishlach yadecha," with all your hands send out? In the Binding of Isaac, that was exactly the language that describes the penultimate act to slaughter. "Va'yishlach Avraham et yado," when Abraham sends out his hand. To where? "Lishchot et beno," to his child, malevolently. Well, now you're going send out your hand benevolently to your child. Your hand's going to go, you're going to put him around your child's back. You're going to pat him on the back. There's no knife in your hand.
It's this opposite vision of the Binding of Isaac, where that child that you were willing to give up in the Binding of Isaac, which was going to be the object of sacrifice, is going to be with you and together and you are going to be able to enjoy in that same place. In the place of Mount Moriah, you're going to be able enjoy eating the parts of the sacrifice, the parts of the offerings that are available for you to eat.
Beth: Yeah. So I want to see if we can just, in our final gesture, put these pieces together. What we're starting to see is that there was a time when Abraham, a lone man, who didn't yet have a nation and didn't yet have possession of his land and was surrounded by enemies. He was asked, he was given this unimaginable test by God and asked to do this heinous thing. He went and he did it and he listened to God's word. As a reward for that act, as an award for standing up there in that harrowing moment and being willing to slaughter his son as a Burnt Offering to God.
God gives him a series of promises that his descendants are going to be able to enjoy. Now, fast forward hundreds of years later, here we are; we're in Parshat Re'eh and this is the portrait of those descendants and they're enjoying those promises, they're enjoying those rewards. They haven't heard of the gates of their enemies and they to come to this place that God is choosing within those gates and they get to offer sacrifices to God anew. But they're not going to have to offer their children; that's never going to happen again. God promises that. That's abominable.
Now, they get to rejoice and they get to enjoy their sacrifices alongside their child and to eat. Yet, there is still this one element of withholding. They get to do all that. There's this carefree, relaxed atmosphere, but there's still one thing they can't do. The one thing they can't do, they still can't eat the animal blood.
Rabbi Fohrman: So now, let's read the verses leading up to that. Again, with the Binding of Isaac as its overlay and maybe we'll see something emerge. "Ki yarchiv Hashem Elokecha et gevulcha" -- Verse 20, continuing now -- when God broadens your borders, "ka'asher diber lach," as He told you. When did He tell you? He told you back in the Binding of Isaac that He was going to broaden your borders, that He was going to give you the gates of your enemies.
"Va'amrta," and you should say to yourself. Now, this is key. Remember, Beth, in this whole passage there's actually two different laws that we're talking about. Two different ways that it's legitimate to offer animals. One is as offerings to God in this place. That sort of evokes the Binding of Isaac. But then there's this other splinter where you are actually eating meat yourself and not offering it to God. Why are you doing that?
Beth: Because you live too far away from the Temple. You want a hamburger and it's a three-day journey.
Rabbi Fohrman: It's one thing. So there's two reasons, right? One thing is I might give sacrifices because, you know, I'm God-focused. Well, that's very Binding of Isaac-like to be God-focused. But then there's this other possibility, which is no, I want it.
Now, what's interesting if we play cast of characters here. So if we say I'm offer offerings, so who am I like now?
Beth: So you're like Abraham.
Rabbi Fohrman: I'm more like Abraham. But let's say, let's take the other splinter. Let's talk about these other laws. No, no, no. I'm not doing this because I want to offer offerings to God. Let's listen to the language in the text in Verse 20. "Ki te'aveh nafshecha le'echol basar," you want to consume meat. You have this desire; you want to eat. Think the Binding of Isaac. If that had to be anyone, who would that be, towards the beginning of the Binding of Isaac, as strange as it sounds?
Beth: You're someone who has a strong desire for something, at the beginning of the Binding of Isaac.
Rabbi Fohrman: Yes.
Beth: In your portrait of the family custody battle, but that's really God, right?
Rabbi Fohrman: Right. God says no, I want this.
Beth: I have a right to it; it belongs to me and I'd like to claim my right.
Rabbi Fohrman: Yeah. And that's exactly what the Torah's saying. It's almost like but what if you occupy the God role in this story? What if you're the one who wants to take that which you have a right to? And you do have a right. You're in charge. You're the apex predator in this world. God's not going to deny you the right to be able to consume prey. Listen to that language. It's so hedonistic. "Ki te'aveh nafshecha le'echol basar," you just have a desire.
If you doubt how hedonistic that is, think about the Mitonenim (murmurers). The beginning of Numbers begins with, "hitavu ta'avah," they just had this desire. Well, desire is our part of being human, God says. And what if you just desire meat? It's not really just. It's just I want hamburger. I've been too many days without a hamburger. What are you going to do? "Ki te'aveh nafshecha le'echol basar."
Now, again, the Binding of Isaac overlay is saying there's something scary about that, because you're occupying the God role. Now, we know what happened in the Binding of Isaac. Which is God had a right, but what did He do at the end?
Beth: He waived his right.
Rabbi Fohrman: He waived his right. He withheld his right. He said this is what I've a right to do, but there was an aspect of restraint in how God exercised that right. Just because you're the master of a system doesn't mean that you exploit the system, even if you have the right to do that.
I wonder, Beth, if that's the message that the Torah's giving us here. When you are master of a system, why are you master of a system? Because God gave you mastery of the system. God gave you this blessing and said you're in charge of this land. You're the apex predator. No one can stop you. Here you are, living in your gates and you're in good shape.
Now, what do you do if you're in the God role? It almost like learn from God's restraint. But let's keep on reading. "Ki te'aveh nafshecha le'echol basar, b'chol avat nafshecha tochal basar." So you have this desire to eat meat, so the Torah says, you know what? "B'chol avat nafshecha tochal basar," fine, you can have meat, the meat you desire, wherever you want to have it.
Therefore, "Ki yirchak mimcha hamakom" -- and this is like the Binding of Isaac in spades, this language. What does that remind you of in the Binding of Isaac, Beth? When the place is too far from you. "Asher yivchar Hashem Elokecha."
Beth: Right. Well, Abraham lives far from the place; he had to travel three days just to get there.
Rabbi Fohrman: That's right. And the language is there in the Binding of Isaac. "Va'yar et hamakom mei'rachok." It's not just the idea, it's the language -- makom (place), rachok (far). He sees the place from afar, almost like our case. So there you are.
Now, you know, you're in that Abraham position. You're three days away. What if you say, that you know what? I'm not interested in doing sacrifices. It's too far away and I don't want to go all there. It's too far away the place, "lasum et shemo sham," that place where God's name is placed. What can you do? "V'zavachta mibkarcha u'mitzoncha asher natan Hashem lecha ka'asher tziviticha." You can just slaughter these animals yourself as I commanded you. "V'achalta bisharecha," and you can eat them in your gates.
That language of and you can eat, Beth, what does that, sort of, that verb remind you of in the Binding of Isaac?
Beth: Oh, okay. This is one of the coolest finds of all. This is like the ma'achelet, the knife that Abraham uses to try and slaughter his son.
Rabbi Fohrman: Isn't it interesting that the word for Abraham's knife is the ma'achelet, that which eats or devours. As if God would be eating through that knife; God would be consuming. Well, now God says you know what? You can play the God role in this story. You can. You can have the benefit of the knife. You can eat that meat. "V'achalta bisharecha," in those gates that I gave you in that blessing. But remember, why do you have those gates? You have those gates because I gave them to you.
"Ach ka'asher yei'acheil" -- over and over again you're going to get this verb again yei'acheil, which reminds you of the ma'achelet, Abraham's knife in the Binding of Isaac.
"Ach ka'asher yei'acheil et hatzevi v'et ha'ayal," the same way that you can eat the deer and the hart, " kein tochlenu, hatamei v'hatahor yachdav," so you can eat domesticated animals, which even though they could be offerings, not like the deer, but the ayal. So this language of ayal, what does that remind you of?
Beth: Which reminds of the ayil, the ram in the thicket.
Rabbi Fohrman: Reminds you of the ram in the Binding of Isaac. "Hatamei v'hatahor yachdav," that word yachdav, what does it remind you of in the Binding of Isaac?
Beth: That was Abraham and his son walking together.
Rabbi Fohrman: Abraham and his son walking yachdav, together. So all of this Binding of Isaac imagery. Then all of a sudden, "Rak chazak," be very strong, "l'vilti achol hadam, ki hadam hu hanafesh," don't take the blood; the blood is the nefesh. "V'lo tochal hanefesh im habasar," don't eat the soul with the meat.
Again, here's that notion of restraint. You wouldn't take the soul. I think the argument that I was making to you a couple of weeks ago is that, in a way, what did God restrain Himself from doing? Maybe this gives some insight into what the desire to eat blood is. Because it's a very strange desire.
Had God exercised His right to take Isaac, where would that have left Abraham? Isaac's gone. Abraham's going down the mountain.
Beth: I mean, Abraham now is, you know, Abraham's still alive. He's got his life, but at the end of his life he's got no legacy. So that's it.
Rabbi Fohrman: He's bereft. It's almost like Abraham has his flesh, but he has no soul. It's almost like the essence of Abraham has gone, right?
Rabbi Fohrman: God says, you know what? I'm not doing that. I'm not going to just eat and drink your blood, take your essence. I would never do that. In other words, the notion of parental love and restraint, the notion of being the apex predator in a system is you don't just exploit the resources in the system. You don't take everything. You don't take the essence. You leave the essence.
Beth: I could, but I won't.
Rabbi Fohrman: I could, but I won't.
Beth: Rabbi Fohrman, sorry. I mean, there are so many parallels here. So I think we definitely have to share a source sheet with our listeners so that they can take a look. We'll link to that in the description. But we read the Binding of Isaac story and I think we always assume we're supposed to learn some lesson about how Abraham acted. Little did we know that this exercise, given to us in Parshat Re'eh, that actually there's a lesson to be learned from how God acted and we'll have the opportunity to occupy God's shoes and how will we act then.
Every time we go into a restaurant and we don't order the chalice of blood, that's exactly what we're doing.
Rabbi Fohrman: Just to close, Beth, I just want to make one point regarding that chalice of blood which you're not interested in. So what insight do we then see of what the reason why someone might be interested in the chalices?
Beth: So you might be interested because you have a right to it and you have a lust, you have a desire to lay claim and to exploit something which you have the power to exploit.
Rabbi Fohrman: Exactly. That's specifically it and why. So what God is saying is, yes, you maybe the apex predator in the Land of Israel. You may have this desire, but you've got to learn something from the being who gave it to you. Why do you have Israel? In other words, it's almost like the language of the Binding of Isaac, the blessing of the Binding of Isaac is a blessing of conquering. "V'yirash zaracha et sha'ar oivav." There're enemies? You'll militarily conquer them.
We militarily conquered Israel. We're talking about a time when we're living in peace in Israel, having militarily conquered it. What is the dark side of military conquest? What are the desires that come along with military conquest?
Beth: Yeah. I mean, there's violence. There's rape. There're all kinds of sins that a person who has power can fall prey to. It's a lot easier to be righteous when you're the underdog.
Rabbi Fohrman: Precisely. What does the word bloodthirsty even mean? What a strange word bloodthirsty.
Beth: Right. I just want to exercise my power and destroy.
Rabbi Fohrman: There's something about power, which when you have it you want this full-throated exercise of it to convince yourself of your potency. Therefore, you will do things that are crazy, that you never in a million years would desire, just because it's the nth degree of power. That is literally bloodthirstiness. No better word encompasses the desire. Therefore, God says, be careful, "Rak chazak."
Actually, do you know what real power is? Real power is not exercising your power to the nth degree. Real power is restraint. Take it from the one with real power, God, who would never exploit the system, who would never take the soul of Abraham. You too, be careful. Blood doesn't seem appealing to you know, but boy oh boy, will it seem appealing after you've finished conquering the land. When it does, remember the Binding of Isaac.
Beth: When we read those blessings to Abraham, just little did we know the kinds of spiritual dangers that his descendants were going to be tested and to not fall prey to as a result of those blessings. So it's a whole new take on blessing. It's a whole new take on the Binding of Isaac.
This was fascinating. Thanks for the back and forth. I really enjoyed this and we want to hear from our listeners. If you have a totally different take on the Binding of Isaac and on how this juxtaposes with Parshat Re'eh, then let us know. If you see some other connections that everyone needs to know about, then write in to us about them, because this is not just a two-way street, but a three-way street.
Anything you want to add, Rabbi Fohrman?
Rabbi Fohrman: No. I think that's really good. Thank you, Beth. I really appreciate the chance. Let's do it again sometime. Thank you to our producer Rivky. It's a little bit of a different experiment here in Aleph Beta than our animated videos, but hope you guys enjoyed it and we'll see you next week back with some animation. Thanks very much.