Abraham the Murderer

Abraham is just some cisgender white male kid kicking cans in Silver Springs. He watches YouTube and plays Fortnite religiously but he is still not right. There’s something off about the way he looks at you. He sees too much. His skull can’t hold it all and ugly truths pour from his mouth.

Abraham wants to make his mother proud but never quite manages. Abraham’s father hits him sometimes, so when his dad is out Abraham burns the family business to the ground. Abraham’s father explains what power truly means with the back of his hand and the dull retreat of his mother’s eyes.

Abraham regrets nothing. Abraham’s heart is a coal wreathed in blue flame. Abraham decides it all must die. Abraham’s father stops paying for Wi-Fi and shoots a truancy officer.

Abraham dreams of ways to destroy his father. The moon could smash him, but then it would only come at night. The sun could scorch him, but only by day. The mountain, until it eroded; the cloud, until it dispersed. None of it is enough, he thinks, lying in his own reek, flies trailing lazy arcs across the thatched ceiling. I will kill him myself. That is what a man would do.

But his heart spasms brighter and his mind snaps shut. No. I can hate him only as long as I live. Death must not defeat my hatred. I will find something that endures forever, and etch my father’s punishment in its skin.

In this way, Abraham discovers the One G-d.


Abraham goes through puberty and meets a girl who can love an idea. They move to New Mexico.

“The One G-d is the best idea anyone has ever had,” Abraham tells his clan over Discord. “Even at their best, people will disappoint. People will always leave you doubting yourself. But ideas are sweet and dependable, and the Idea that people can’t understand is the sweetest of all. The Idea is the only indiscriminate and unyielding benevolence.” He takes a pull from his Mountain Dew. “Markets, the news, Odin, whatever your parents worship, it’s rotten with people. The idea never hints that nothing its children do is ever good enough. It is never so starving as to bash in a skull.” Abraham calls everything rank with human sweat an idol.

“How do you know,” asks Jason-who-went-to-college, “that the Idea (over which you seem to have perspired quite a bit) is not just Abraham’s idol?”

Abraham is angry, but he sees the point. People might think G-d is for smashing his enemies alone. Perhaps they would be right. Abraham thinks and thinks during his long walks along the Rio Grande. He decides that, because G-d created Abraham, G-d is not Abraham’s idol. “You are the proof,” he begins telling the nerds who visit his four-doored house. “The Idea cannot be mine any more than The Idea can be yours; that’s how we know It is not an idol. An idol has allegiances. The Idea is yours only like the light is the mirror’s. We reflect.”

On Facebook, Jason marks Abraham as his father, a declaration of fealty.


Abraham grows old nursing his Idea and spreading it. Every night in he dreams of men and women across the States, but they are no longer people. They are abstractions meandering among the squares and triangles, cavorting with loyalty and intransigence, free of selves, free of others. Their faces turn upward toward one light, away from the darkness of cruel arbitrary whim.

One morning, on a whim, G-d says to Abraham, “Hi there.”

Abraham, who has been waxing his Trans Am, about dies. He is angry. He is sad. He is ashamed. The idea, it seems, is suicidal. Abraham turns off the buffer and says, “Did you say something?”

The Idea says, “Don’t be rude, son.”

Abraham thinks for a moment, strokes his tangled beard, sighs. He did say that G-d created Abraham. What you create, you can destroy.

“What do you want me to do?” he asks, and steps into history.


“People are not so bad,” Abraham says, lying in bed on night, but what he is thinking is, a son, a son, a son, a son!

Sarah finishes that evening’s prayer, closes Twitter, and places her tablet upon the nightstand. “No,” she says, removing her glasses, thinking, a son, a son! “They aren’t.”

Abraham can barely believe, after so long. But he trusts. G-d has never let him astray. “Are we too old?” he asks bemusedly.

“Let’s find out,” Sarah suggests.


“Do they really deserve it?” Abraham asks the One. Death hangs suspended in the red heavens above the mesas. Sodom seethes below.

“Deserve?” G-d thinks aloud. “Am I some magistrate, bound by ordinances? Am I not the Creator of heaven and earth?”

Abe thinks on this a bit, sweats, and musters the platonic form of all chutzpah. “You are the Creator. That’s why you ought to act justly. Justice is the mortar of your creation. Are you our true Creator, or not? Spare them.”

G-d is pleased as He wipes Sodom clean.

Abraham turns his face and weeps.


Isaac is worth more than an endless eternity of abstractions.

In the curve of his cheek and the spread of his shoulders, Isaac embodies his father every hope. Abraham knows that he himself is not an idea and will someday die. But in his son, the knowledge of G-d on earth will live on.

“Kill him,” G-d says.

We can imagine a different multiverse, in which Abraham is not Abraham. We can imagine a reality in which Abraham is paralyzed, at this moment, by his dreams, but in our universe Abraham is neither a child not a philosopher. His knees are scabbed from prayer and his palms cracked from devotion. G-d is his love, his light, his master, and his sole possession.

His idol.

Abraham gave up people for a dream, and a dream for a Voice in the wilderness. He can give up one more thing.

It’s a long three days, sitting on his ass.

We do not know what he thinks as he rides, but every grain of sand, every streetlight and rented scooter probably seems a mocking agony as he contemplates justice. He demanded justice for sinners, why not for his son? But then, Sodom never trusted.

He probably thinks about his mind, how it wants to rebel, to cry that worship of G-d on earth only survives if Isaac does. He doesn’t let it.

Mostly, I think, he considers his father, and how his own destiny was written, and how nothing changes.

Abraham binds his beautiful son with firm cords upon a lonely altar and prepares for the second murder of the day.

Abraham discovers, there, on the mountain, that G-d is not an idea, nor a person, but something more.

Abraham finds, with a waxing, trumpeting joy, that so is he.

 

Originally posted on Hevria.

On The Mysteries Of King Solomon And Koheles

I write this in my Sukkah, wearing my intellectual sleeping cap and bunny slippers, as the birds chirp all around on this glorious first morning of Chol Hamoed.

Why, oh why, would Jews choose to read Koheles, Ecclesiastes, most nihilistic of all twenty-four scriptures, during a festival of joy? Granted, it is not my custom; Chabad does not put an emphasis of reading it during Sukkos. But on the other hand, I do not cynically believe (outside of some rather good jokes) that some other Jews don’t want to be happy. On the contrary, I love Koheles, and if I won’t be reading it with attendant weeping in my airy booth of immense holiness, I will at least take a moment to reflect on its abiding mysteries and its author.

~~~

If you didn’t know, Koheles is a book about how everything is purposeless and achieves nothing. Like another of King Solomon’s works (more on that below) it came off as somewhat unreligious at the meeting to decide which holy works should become canonical Jewish scripture, and like that other work, it was rescued because of its subtle redeeming qualities. (One notes that this is often the case with great geniuses with revolutionary ideas — their perspective is so lofty and removed that it often seems they are not contributing to the thing at all but are rather out just to tear everything down, and only with time does everyone else catch up and realize how great they were. On the other hand, sometimes they are just out to tear everything down and by the time you pierce through the intellectual fog everything is already destroyed. Distinguishing, as non-geniuses, between these types is a matter of great importance, unless you believe in Koheles, in which case it’s as empty and pointless as most human endeavors.) The non-subtle theme of Koheles is laid out at the beginning – Vanity of vanities, all is vanity, etc. And its redemptive quality is its penultimate verse: At the end of the day, once everything is heard, fear G-d and keep His commandments, for this is all man is.

That last line could just be a band-aid, a one-off easy answer to the insurmountable question of the gaping void. But it could also be an aikido throw, a sudden reversal of momentum that puts the rest of Koheles on its back by grounding the multifarious emptiness of the human endeavor upon a rock-solid, eternal foundation. Which isn’t too far-fetched; indeed, all of the ancient arguments for the existence of G-d rest upon the similar recognition of the baselessness of everything we see set before us, and the need at every moment for something to blow life into all of these powerless forms.

But this, too, seems off, since Solomon was surely a religious man at the outset of Koheles just as he was at its conclusion. Why, then, does he not brandish the easy religious answers to the meaning of various worldly pursuits? Could he not stop himself halfway through and reassure us with a wink that man conquers the world at the behest of the True and Eternal G-d, that our love is a function of His? Perhaps the wisest of men knows that we need all pretense of hope stripped away before he relents and finally tosses us a life preserver.

But perhaps it’s not as dark as all that (and besides, such a rendering leaves a holy book of the Tanach as more of a one-time performance than a pillar of reality that is always true). I, for one, like to think of Koheles as Shlomo HaMelech extending us a helping hand. Rather than allowing us to languish in our preconceptions of meaning and the small words we’re convinced hold huge concepts, he allows us, any time we’re willing to accompany him, to break free of those limits and approach one step closer to the divine. What we think is worthwhile is, indeed, meaningless from a higher point of view, and there is always a higher point of view, infinite ranks of them stretching toward the unreachable creator. “At the end of the day, when all is heard, fear G-d” is not a reversal on the despair of the previous chapters, but rather its natural conclusion, the moment when we break free of the atmosphere of the burning earth and find out it’s not all there was after all.

Just as one forgoes home and creature comforts once a year, and remembers how even in the elements G-d protects his people.

Just as one trades in, yearly, the comfortable understanding that wine represents to drink the water of simple men, simple faith, of not understanding.

Just as one could find, once a year, in the Temple, the wisest of sages juggling branches before the people, having abandoned all their meanings.

If I recall correctly, the accompanying emotion of that festival was not despair.

~~~

These mysteries are not simplified by King Solomon’s other immortal works, the Song of Songs and the Book of Proverbs. The former, an erotic love poem, slipped into the Tanach only on the insistence of Rabbi Akiva that it is the holy of holies, a statement as wrapped in mystery as the specific nature of the King’s allegory. The man is G-d and the woman are the Jewish people, but what is this intimate love that exists between them, their motions of approach and retreat, the seemingly mystical nature of their union?

Proverbs, on the other hand, is neither ecstatic nor despondent but a sober series of aphorisms and snippets of advice for the man who must live practically in this world. Gone are hints of the byzantine machine-elf workings of the divine bliss and the vast void of punishing unbeing and in their place we have dating advice and business tips. On the other hand, “Proverbs” is really a bad translation of “Mishlei,” more accurately implying “Analogies,” which indicates that there’s more here than first meets the eye…

~~~

Who was the King Solomon who wrote these books? Was he the young king with many wives, powerful and wealthy and wise beyond measure? Did Solomon look around at his father’s Kingdom in his youth and sneer at the foolish pursuits of man? Perhaps he grew older and plied matters of home and kingdom with the practical wisdom we find in Proverbs, before mellowing in his dotage to focus on the love at the center of all things as enshrined in Song of Songs?

Or perhaps Koheles is the name of the old king, his Temple already built and his majesty inscribed for all time, who looked over his deeds as his sun was setting and found every avenue ending in emptiness and despair. As he wrote his sad lament of his wasted time, perhaps he remembered his industrious middle age when he wrote his Proverbs and the inflamed passions of his youth that drove him to pen the Song.

Are either of these portraits of the wisest man to have ever lived?

~~~

Perhaps the easiest lesson for us to draw from his works, without needing to approach his genius, is that King Solomon was a Jew, and that a Jew is complicated. The simplest lesson of the Lulav that all the kids learn in school is that each species represents a different type, and that we need all of them to fulfill the Mitzvah.

Perhaps for the Tanach to be complete, we needed to meet a Jew who was insanely in love with G-d, and a Jew utterly despairing of his entire life, and a Jew surmounting with practical wisdom all obstacles in his path, and to know that they are the same man, that all of these things are the way.

Even if we can’t untangle them, neither in the text nor in our own hearts, at least we are in good company. As the old chassidim said, “If we are to be crazy, it’s good to be together.”

Our species joins with three others, and together we are the will of G-d.

 

 

Originally posted on Hevria.