|Hell is here and now, Heaven could be too.|
For Jews, Hell is not a theological destination, it is an actual geographical location. In Hebrew, the word for Hell is “Gei-ben-hinom,” (The Hinom Valley.) It is located next to the Old City of Jerusalem. Here the Canaanites would regularly murder their children as an offering to their God, Molech. In Jewish culture, Hell is a place where children are murdered. Today, we in America are living in a Hell. Our society has grown so numb to these atrocities that we accept the regular murder of children like the inevitability of gravity. I hear people say, “There is nothing we can do.”
On Rosh Hashana we read the Akeda, the story of the binding of Isaac. The point of this story is that Abraham does not murder his child. The Akeda begins with “God tested Abraham.” I believe God is testing us. Will children, the most vulnerable, be protected? What kind of a society are we going to create? In Judaism, Heaven and Hell are here and now. We can make this land a Heaven or a Hell. It is up to us. It’s all about how we treat one another, here and now.
We know the end of the story of Abraham and Isaac. The life of the child is saved. From then on, this is a core belief of Judaism. We may make sacrifices for children, but we must never tolerate the sacrifice of children. God wants us to protect children and preserve life, above all else. This is Pikuah Nefesh, Saving a Life. Every mitzvah, Jewish law, can be overruled to save a life.
The Akeda concludes with the appearance of an angel who protects the child, Issac. Today we need to be the angels who protect children.
We, the members of Temple Shaaray Tefila, must find a way to become the angels who protect life. I am looking for members to help us organize congregational conversations to learn from each other how we can make a difference and save lives. We must be engaged in the ethical issues of our day, if we are to be loyal to Judaism, a religion of ethics and if we are to be relevant to the needs of our community today.
The story of Abraham and Isaac takes place on Mount Moriah, immediately adjacent to the place Jews understand as Hell. This proximity is to teach us that the path to Heaven from Hell is not too far. It is a short walk up the mountain of Moriah, the place of the Western Wall, where the Temple stood, and where Jews believe that Heaven and Earth meet.
May the events of the past few days push us out of our complacency and passive acceptance of Hell on Earth. May we intensify our resolve to bring Heaven down to Earth.
Our Torah portion this week gives us a picture of what could be. “I will grant peace in the land, and you shall lie down untroubled by anyone; I will give the land respite from vicious beasts, and no sword shall cross your land.” (Leviticus 26:6).
The life of our children depends on us.
Rabbi David Wilfond