The Torah portion this week contains a full range of emotions. It is truly one of the most powerful portions in Torah; so powerful that it is read on Yom Kippur. The portion begins with the visit from three “strangers” to a recovering Abraham. The hospitality shown as he recovers from his “brit milah” is the basis for the “mitzvah” of “bikkur cholim” (visiting the sick). (Genesis 18) The portion continues with the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah and Abraham’s negotiation with God to save the cities if they could find even 10 righteous people. In the midst of this, comes a disturbing section featuring Lot and the attempt by him to offer his daughters to a mob. It is not a section we usually teach in religious school. (Genesis 19). Another highlight of this portion, and a great teaching section, is Genesis 21 when Isaac is born and this creates major tension within the tribe as Sarah demands that Abraham throw out Hagar and Ishmael from the camp. Abraham and God discuss the matter and he agrees, having faith in a promise that Ishmael also will father a great people. The portion ends with the famous story fo the Binding of Isaac (Genesis 22).
So much has been made of this section. Books and articles have commented on this for centuries. Just about every rabbi has preached on it during the Holidays. Always the question arises as to the meaning of sacrifice. In a discussion at a Torah class this week, we looked at this issue as it related to adult children who cared for , or are caring for their parents. What do we sacrifice, if anything. As expected, the conversation also went to the issue of caring for spouses and children. People were open and honest in their discussion and shared some powerful impressions.
Our tradition, as you may expect, has a richness to it regarding what I call the “art” of care-giving. And it is an art, and it is very personal. Many of our generation have walked this walk, and if you have not, the odds are that, at some time, you will. With the aging of Boomers, this issue is a critical one, for as many of us have seen, care-giving is not for the faint of heart. It can occupy a significant amount of our time and energy. What is concerning is the reality that as we age out, we face, as a society, a shortage of qualified care-givers. Another eason for the family conversation that develops a comprehensive “care plan”.
But back to that Torah conversation. We pointed out a very powerful statement from the tradition. From the Talmud, in Tractate “Kiddushin”, comes a lengthy discussion on the terms “honor and respect”; the two terms used to describe the 5th Commandment in Torah. As part of that discussion, the rabbis asked “who pays?” In caring for an adult parent, who pays for the care and how? In a statement that is more contemporary that anyone would expect from a document centuries old, the discussion says that adult children “pay” through the giving of their time. Things rings true to many of us who took the time to take mom to the doctor or dad to the chemo. And, as everyone agreed, this “sacrifice” of time was embraced by a more powerful emotion: love. This sense of love can take many forms and these acts of love can be moments of personal spiritual growth. We often “sacrifice” from a position of love. It becomes a sacrifice of merit, of honor and respect.
Rabbi Richard F Address