Shabbat Shalom: Lift Your Eyes

Nov 10, 2022

“Here are the firestone and the wood; but where is the sheep for the burnt offering?”

It has been a very busy few weeks for politics, both in Israel and here in the United States. My experience—and that of people around me with whom I processed the news in real time—Is that we each understand the results in terms of the framework with which we entered the election period. We ask ourselves questions like:

  • “Which party won?”
  • “What does this mean for my party or my nominee?”

In each case, it feels like knowing the winner tells me everything I need to know. I am either elated or depressed, hopeful or deflated.

This week’s Torah portion, Vayera, made me think twice about these questions that I and others tend to ask and second guess this automatic response: Are these questions that I turn to a result of keeping my eyes fixed on the ground rather than lifting up my gaze and being open to seeing something new?

In a particularly heart-wrenching moment in an already troubling story, the binding of Isaac, Isaac poses this question to his father Abraham: “Where is the sheep?” Isaac asks as they walk towards the site where he is to be offered to G-d as a sacrifice. While ultimately he will not be sacrificed neither he nor Abraham know that at this point. Yet, they continue on the path laid out for them ready to do whatever is necessary. At the very last moment, as we know, Abraham is told to lower his knife, and raising his eyes, he sees an alternate sacrifice in the form of a ram whose horns have become trapped in the brambles nearby.

This is the third time in Vayera that Abraham raises his eyes and sees something that changes the course of his life. The first time he sees the three messengers of G-d, who in response to his gracious welcome bless him and Sarah with fertility very late in their lives. The second time is when he sees the mountain G-d promised to show him where the sacrifice of Isaac would take place.

Thinking back on how I watched the election results last week and this, assuming I know what is coming based on very little information, resigning myself to the same future that seemed inevitable, and short-circuiting my creativity in favor or resignation, isn’t that the best way to miss what is truly revolutionary in the world around us? Doesn’t it guarantee that we miss the messengers and the ram?

So, I invite myself—and all of you—to pause for a minute before we allow ourselves to understand the new reality in the same terms we understood them before. Take a breath, lift your eyes, and try to see something new. Is there a novel way forward that just needs to be freed from the brambles? Is there a mountaintop we were not seeing because it is obscured by clouds? We all readily recognize that polarization, isolation, and dozens of other perennial issues risk fracturing our social bonds more each day, but how many of us try to raise our heads above the yammering crowds to see what might be on the horizon? Today, become a seer, aspire to vision, and allow tomorrow to be different from yesterday.

Shabbat Shalom,

Dan Leshem
Director, Jewish Community Relations Council

Please email Dan Leshem at dleshem@JEWISHcolorado.org with comments or questions.