Abraham, the complex ‘man of faith’

By Rabbi Stefan Weinberg
Parashat Vayera

I have often thought the first sentence in the Tanakh (Bible) is the most damaging. Too many people read the opening lines of the Torah, describing the creation of the world in six days, and view all five books as nonsensical, unworthy of their time and dedication. With a cursory reading of the Humash, they readily jettison thousands of years of collective wisdom gleaned from a text that continues to offer meaning to many.

Today, I wonder if the most detrimental text is not the opening sequence of the Torah but this week’s sedra — Vayera — the second Torah portion dedicated to the life of Abraham. It is this week’s Torah portion that describes the quintessential moment of Abraham’s life known as Akedat Yitzhak. Following God’s instruction to bind his son, Abraham and Isaac depart for the altar where Isaac is to be offered as a sacrifice. 

Although Isaac’s life is spared, Abraham is recognized for his demonstration of unyielding faith. Without an apparent concern expressed, of course, the midrash offers some explanation — Abraham pursues the plan outlined by God. Demonstrating a level of faith beyond that which most people can appreciate or comprehend, Abraham assumes the title of “man of faith” based upon his acceptance of God’s extraordinary directive. 

This is the same Abraham who argues with God at Sodom and Gomorrah, demanding justice be administered by God on behalf of the righteous. He is filled with doubt about his legacy and questions his role in the covenant with God. The Abraham we encounter at these different junctures reveals an individual who has a deep, passionate relationship with God — one who is ready to engage in dialogue with his God. He is willing to challenge, debate, rebut and listen, and not be exclusively focused on obedience. The “man of faith” introduced throughout the book of Genesis is not defined by “blind faith” but a nuanced, refined relationship that reflects depth, quality and affinity.

Far too often, faith today is supposed to imply certainty in the religious world. A lack of doubt is considered emblematic of a believer. This proves to be a serious injustice to the “man of faith” as well as to God. The quality of Abraham’s relationship with God is reflected in his willingness to engage with and challenge his Creator. Similarly, to render simple answers to complex issues associated with God is to grotesquely diminish the awesome and holy nature of God. I wonder how often we have damaged people’s faith in God by offering childish answers to serious and multifaceted questions.

May the honest reading of the text of the Torah serve as an inspiration to all, providing strength and resolve to all those willing to find God in a world that often appears to lack the divine presence.

Rabbi Stefan Weinberg is the rabbi of Congregation Anshai Torah in Plano. He is a member of the Rabbinic Association of Greater Dallas.

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