This week’s portion is Vayeira, which includes the story of the binding of Isaac. This story is central to Judaism and Christianity. A misrepresentation of this story is also central to Islam. What I mean by a misrepresentation is that Islam believes that it was not Isaac who went up with Abraham but Ishmael. That is not what the bible tells us; but all three of these major religions have this story as a central narrative.
There are interesting details brought out by Rabbi Forman in his Parsha companion to the book of Genesis. We have talked many times about the economy of words in the Torah. If anything is redundant it means we are supposed to pay close attention to it. There is a conversation that happens between Abraham and Isaac as they are going up the mountain. In the Hebrew it says “vayomer Yitzhak el Avraham aviv vayomer avi.” Meaning, “and Isaac said to Abraham his father my father.” It sounds redundant in English and it is, and it is in Hebrew as well. So, about the word vayomer. There are two ways people talk about speaking in the scripture in Hebrew. There is vayomer which means “and he said” or vaya dabeir which means “and he spoke.”
Now you would think logically in that sentence the first words would be “and Isaac spoke to his father Abraham and he said my father.” That would make sense. This is the point brought up in the Parsha companion, if we say, even in English, that we spoke to someone that is a statement in and of iteself, it needs no further elucidation. But if we say “I said to someone” then we are waiting for the punchline, to hear what was said.
So in this instance, the use of the redundant vayomer is intended to indicate that a conversation was interrupted. Imagine Abraham and Isaac are having a general normal conversation but Isaac interrupts with this very awkward “my father” statement. This seems to telegraph that Isaac has learned the grim reality. And then we have the phrase, after this conversation, that the two of them walked on together – repeated. So they are united in purpose despite Isaac’s realization of the reality of his situation.
Now in this narrative it also says that Isaac asks where is the lamb? We have the knife, we have the fire, but where is the lamb? and the answer to Isaac’s question is that the Lord himself will provide the lamb. Again, we have 2 Hebrew words for the same thing – “where”. The first, aifo, asks where something or someone is located, or where you are from. It does not relate to a specific location. Ayei, the second word, does not relate to a specific location but to something not being where it is supposed to be. This is very telling in Hebrew because Isaac realizes that something is wrong – where is the lamb? And then the response, the Lord will provide it. Rashi and others have a truly interesting interpretation here that if you were to put punctuation in this sentence the meaning changes. “The Lord will provide the lamb, my son” or “the Lord will provide the lamb: my son.” in this second version his son is the lamb. So digging deep into the Hebrew things get pretty interesting.
There are many interpretations, sermons and lessons about this story but this week I wanted to take you a bit off the beaten track into the intricacies of the details below the surface. Also to note, this is the only recorded conversation between Abraham and Isaac in the entire bible and it shows the strength of their relationship and the trust in it. We know that Abraham says “the boy and I will go and worship and we will come back to you.” Perfect faith that, as the New Testament implies, his son would be brought back to life if he had been forced to go through with it, that they “would return.”
Perhaps you have situations in your life that are really difficult, that you are having to put great trust in the Lord. What we need to understand and remember is that the Lord always has the plan and it is never Plan B. He always knew what was going to happen and what he would have to do to rescue us – to bring about redemption in our lives.
I pray that you remember that the Lord will provide a way. He always does, He always will. I pray your week goes well and that you put your trust in the Lord. Shalom
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