A Psychopathic Patriarch and Lindelof’s Twitter twist: Unscrolled 4

Unscrolling: This year I’m reading the weekly Torah portion through the eyes of 54 creative wrestlers in Reboot’s new book Unscrolled. My year long journey will be blogged weekly as commentary on their commentary, quoting quotes, plucking pearls from this pool of biblically inspired juices for a more inspired now.


The line between faith and insanity is sometimes as sharp as knife.
Anne Reidy, the stenographer who stepped calmly  up to the microphone in the Senate this past week to denounce the politicians for not obeying God (and something about masons) was dragged out and sent for evaluation. Clearly, a person taking advantage of access to power and chooses, like a prophet, to call out their version of God’s truth to the masses is a psychopath. Or at least ‘slightly off’.
Or is she?
Reidy isn’t the first to publicly blur lines between  pious and psychopath. Our Patriarch Abraham got there first.
Damon Lindelof  thinks so, anyway. In Unscrolled, chapter 4, he takes on the MegaMythic Binding of Isaac,   sending  Abe to the psych ward,  diagnosed for ‘Cycloid Pscyosis’,  interrogated repeatedly in the aftermath of his attempt to kill his son. Is he crazy – or what?
Abraham is often seen as the ‘knight of faith’ for his will to obey God’s demands, including child sacrifice. But his is a small step and big leap from faith to fundamentalism. For all of us who want to be connected to spiritual truths but worried about ethics and not foaming in the mouth – he’s a very problematic role model.
Which is maybe why this mega myth  is at the core of our cannon.
This is a crazy story about the crazy state of mind called faith. Damon messes with our minds here as he likes to do so well and suspends our disbelief:  If Abraham is really crazy – what does that say about the faith tradition that reveres him and annually relives his legacy  of religiously inspired violence?  What does this say about us?
Maybe the whole point of repeating the story of this Psychotic Abraham is to serve as a warning sign, a telling tale of caution: watch out for when religious fervor turns to force,  respect, suspect, and resist it.  Notice this voice Inside ourselves and all around us. Sometimes we miss the signs until its too late and gets out of hand.
Reidy didn’t hurt anyone. But there are so many examples of people fueled by faith who take the lives of countless others.
That’s what happened in Tel Aviv, 15 years ago, this week. Yitzchak Rabin was shot by a zealot who said that God told him to do so, for the sake of the Land of Israel. Psychopath? Not legally. Yigal Amir is serving life sentence in top priority Israeli prison.
President Clinton talked about the Binding of Yitzchak at the funeral in Jerusalem, the only leader to quote Torah and link the myth of sacrifice and binding to the price paid by this latter day Isaac, and still paid today by so many people. In the so called name of God.
I want to believe that the story of the Binding is an allegory for our inner ability to give up what’s precious for a better and more deeply connected sense of being in the world. I don’t want to endorse a saga that celebrates a parent’s ability to sacrifice a child. Not even as allegory. It’s crazy and unhealthy. Enough is enough.
Can we be unbound from the Binding?  Can we retell it differently and embrace a bit less crazy in our lives of faith?
(If Damon was still on twitter I’d hope he rt this homage but he  and I guess that’s his way of sacrificing something precious for a greater good? )
Crazy for some. Sacred for others. Go figure. In peace.

Was Obama, just like Abraham, selected by God? This week’s word is “President”

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President נשיא



Was Obama, just like Abraham, selected by God?
Hear me out on this one. I’m not assuming that all those who voted Blue are thanking God for the elections just as many pious ones who voted Red are not, I hope, accusing the Almighty of their loss. I definitely don’t know enough about Mormon theology to know what they make of Mitt’s defeat.  But I do wonder about the role that this elusive power plays in politics, beyond the dutiful ‘God Bless America’ at the end of the re elected president’s moving victory speech.  At some delirious sleepless point this morning, eyes wet with tears and heart full of happiness, with the sun rising over Jerusalem, I found myself praying, and blessing, and feeling the presence of life’s grander Presence in the messy details of this mortal coil.

For the record – I may have still felt this way had Obama lost. Some moments transcend business as usual no matter the result. But one is allowed to have subjective feelings, and I want to believe that if there really is a God – She is on the side of progress, human dignity, social change, and unconditional love – black, white, red, blue, able, disabled, gay, straight, etc. – the President said it better.

what does Abraham have to with it? He may have been our first big leader to fuse politics and faith, recognised by others as a delegate of forces from beyond. In this week’s Torah text, Chayei Sarah, the Elder statesman buries his wife Sarah and then dies himself. But before he does so he is honored by the locals, thus giving us the first Biblical appearance of the Hebrew word NASI – President, or Prince. And in this instance he is not just named a leader – the Hittites, in Genesis 23  name him NASI ELOHIM – Divine President, or as most English Bibles translate it: A mighty prince.
I asked my father for a better translation this morning and he thought for a moment and suggested: God’s Elect.

Mr. president, you are the newly chosen father of a nation badly in need of a competent, courageous and compassionate adult in charge. Like Abraham, and like each and every one of the 33 presidents that came before you, you are recognized as Nasi Elohim, God’s elect. I wish for you – for all of – the humility of living up to this divine inspiration – and for all of this, to support you in the tricky road ahead, fiscal cliffs and all – after all, believing or not – In God We Trust.

Shabbat Shalom


Amichai Lau-Lavie is the Founder and Executive Director of Storahtelling, Inc. creating sustainable solutions for life-long Jewish Learning since 1999. storahtelling.org

The Altars of the Slain Defy Location: The Weekly Word/Lech Lecha

WORD: A Word a Week from the World’s Best Seller. Follow the Annual Torah Re-Run Series with Amichai Lau-Lavie’s Newest Year-Long Blog. To subscribe via email click here. To listen to the audio version click here.


3. Altar מזבח/Lech Lecha

Driving through Jerusalem last night with out of town guests I point out landmarks: Here I lived and loved, this is where the bomb went off, see the hidden shrine. For natives and tourists and pilgrims alike some spots are holier than others, some attractions more popular or less. All of Jerusalem is one big sacred site, dotted by plaques and monuments, and in the middle of it all is the holy mount, and on its summit, shining gold, is the ancient altar, covered by layers of faith.  Noah, they say, built an altar here, Abraham almost offered his son.
This week’s Torah text,  Lech Lecha, is full of altars. Abraham, leaving his family’s estate in Mesopotamia to  what will become the Hebraic homeland, pauses on his journey  to mark milestones  – again and again, he builds on altar. Altars are slaughter sites – stone structures where sacrifices are offered to the local deity, food shared and smoke rising – a vertical connection between heaven and earth: the nameless spot becomes a known location: You are here now.
Two altars are on my mind this week, both connected not by space but by time.
This coming Saturday night marks the 70th anniversary of my Grandfather’s murder. Rabbi Moshe Chaim Lau was gassed to death in Treblinka – that terrible altar of so many sacrifices, along with one of his sons, and his entire congregation. He was the last rabbi of the town, and according to survivors he led his flock to death holding a Torah scroll and chanting the S’hma and Kaddish. This coming Saturday night our extended family will gather in B’nei Brak to welcome a new Torah scroll into my uncle’s Yeshiva.
17 years ago my grandfather’s yahrtzeit was also on Saturday night and in my home in Jerusalem I lit a candle. That was the night on which Yitzchak Rabin was murdered, in the Tel Aviv square now named for him. Spontaneous altars rose all over the country, countless candles lit.
A Rally will take place in Rabin Square this Saturday night – we will vow to never again tolerate this hostile violence. I hope to be able to attend both of these events.
Abraham’s altars lit the fires and the smoke still rises, connecting heaven and earth, private and public, past and present; candles will be lit by that fire and memories ignited: we are here – still here – always, and now.  These altars are not about location – they, like memories, exist beyond.
זכרונם לברכה
shabbat Shalom

Amichai Lau-Lavie is the Founder and Executive Director of Storahtelling, Inc. creating sustainable solutions for life-long Jewish Learning since 1999. storahtelling.org