Chaplain Joshua Berg gives his sermon “What Would You Sacrifice? A Humanist Explores the Binding of Isaac.”
The “binding of Isaac '' also known as the "test of Abraham" or, in Hebrew, the Akedah, is a Torah portion read on Rosh Hashanah. The disturbing passage from Genesis, Chapter 22 is one of the most heavily analyzed and debated. As a humanist minister, it has been my self-imposed challenge to explore my Jewish heritage through aspects of the Jewish religion that I find difficult, if not impossible, to reconcile with my philosophy of life. Since Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year, is this month, it is the ideal opportunity to explore The Binding of Isaac.
10:33:07 Yeah, there is actually a very small humanistic Jewish congregation in Los Angeles who does a Taj leaf service in Los Angeles who does a TASHLEILE, humanistic Jewish congregation in Los Angeles who does a Toshley service in case you're interested in driving all the way over there.
10:33:19 And now for the big reveal, which I'm sure can you hear me? Yeah, they can.
10:33:23 I'm just trying to frame you. Oh, okay.
10:33:27 Actually, it can, my good side, if you can move it to the. The big reveal, you're probably all wondering who the heck am I?
10:33:38 And the big reveal, you're probably all wondering, who the heck am I? And I am Joshua Berg.
10:33:41 I was ordained a Unitarian Universalist minister last in 2,022 and that's 10 thank you thank you
10:33:51 And I, right now work as a chaplain resident at Children's Hospital Los Angeles and that I'm working coincidentally with someone that Santa Clarita may be familiar with.
10:34:06 Reverend Dr. Megan Vesser is one of our co-chaplins.
10:34:14 And as a matter of fact, I may be familiar with, Reverend Dr. Megan Vesser is one of our co chaplains.
10:34:18 And as a matter of fact, she is one of our co chaplains. And as a matter of fact, she's sitting at Children's Hospital right now taking the Sunday shift. She's sitting at Children's Hospital right now taking the Sunday shift. So, but she's wonderful to work with.
10:34:41 And I am delighted to be here. I was not called by crazy or reach or anyone else this morning.
10:34:44 But I have to say, I feel a little bit left out, but it's okay. It's okay. They can call me afterwards.
10:34:56 So, as you probably guessed by now, at the Congregation for Humanistic Judaism.
10:35:08 By the way, humanistic Judaism started in Detroit where I'm from. But this is from the congregation in Fairfield County, Connecticut.
10:35:13 And they wrote, we assemble to the sound of the chauffeur, which is the RAM's horn that they blow, to review and to reconsider our lives.
10:35:23 Roshashanah heralds an opportunity for new beginnings. Now is the time to pause and to reflect, to evaluate the past year, to discard what no longer fits the person we want to be.
10:35:42 Self-reflection, self-evaluation, self-renewal. These are the tasks we are called to by the chauffeur's blast.
10:35:53 Our minds are open to broader issues. But Roshashanah reminds us to begin with self improvement.
10:36:03 So if you miss the self-improvement at the secular new year, you have a second chance.
10:36:11 You have another chance at Russia Shana. So that reading I read because it's the perfect invitation to continue a certain invitation to continue a certain quest self-improvement that I've been reading I've read because it's the perfect invitation to continue a certain quest self-improvement that I've been on since becoming a Unitarian Universalist and that is something they taught me when I went
10:36:29 to meet Joe Lombard, the UU. Seminary because I had pretty much said I'm a humanist, I'm an atheist.
10:36:34 You know and sort of pushed my Judaism to the side and they said no no no hold them on hold on a minute you need to explore your own cultural history before you become a UU minister.
10:36:47 And so this is an exploration of a culture of my cultural heritage, a journey that I've been on and continue.
10:36:53 One which, you know, for all intents and purposes, I hear 2 forehead reject it, unfortunately.
10:37:03 So I ask for your indulgence this morning in hopes that you too can relate to this journey of introspection in your own way and self-discovery.
10:37:12 It's an amazing journey and hopefully you'll be inspired by the spirit of Roshashana to embark on your own cultural self-reflection if you haven't already.
10:37:25 So growing up, I didn't take issue with the broader themes of the Jewish holidays. And I even appreciated the music and the occasion to celebrate, it was fun.
10:37:41 However, as I grew and I started to dig a little deeper and you know this challenge into the stories of the Bible and acquired enough knowledge of the Hebrew language to understand the prayers that we were singing.
10:37:56 I began to have some questions. And I eventually, actually, I eventually rejected what I was. Suppose to believe.
10:38:07 And this led to a resentment of sorts, toward my own cultural heritage, my own Judaism, because there was a guilt.
10:38:17 That I thought I was being made to feel because I had these contrarian thoughts and feelings. And so I felt resentment that I was made to feel guilty for thinking for myself.
10:38:30 And eventually it also led me, fortunately, to humanism, and fortunately then, to Unitarian Universalism.
10:38:39 The greatest irony is what I told you before, that only now rooted firmly as a humanist unitary universalist.
10:38:48 Am I comfortable examining the Jewish faith of my ancestors? So, let's do that. One of the Bible passages read every Wochuchanan.
10:39:02 You're probably familiar with this story. In Hebrew, it's called the Aqua.
10:39:06 It's Genesis, the book of Genesis, chapter 22, verses one through 19.
10:39:13 And the character of God in this story Tested Abraham. By commanding him to sacrifice his only son, Isaac, to a burnt offering.
10:39:26 I'm sure you've heard of that. If you haven't, I'm going to tell you about it a little.
10:39:31 Abraham then deceived his wife, Sarah, and his overly trusting son, Isaac.
10:39:39 It highlights a She took out a knife to slay him. Before he was about to cremate him.
10:39:47 And God then stopped him. Hold on, Confident. By this gesture that Abraham truly feared God.
10:40:01 And so God then provided a RAM. For this sacrifice to replace Isaac. He then told Abraham that because you obeyed me, you would be guaranteed countless descendants that will take possession of the cities of their enemies blessing all nations with their occupation.
10:40:22 I won't even get into the problems with that. So I read this story, literally. Why not?
10:40:32 Someone is held up as righteous by his willingness to deceive his family in order to kill his own child in sacrifice to a deity in which I did not believe.
10:40:44 A deity that would require this extreme blind faith and fearful obedience and then rewarded by guaranteeing the violent appropriation of all others lands by a single family lineage.
10:41:02 It seemed troubling to me. At least my interpretation. This is a desire of the character of God in the story and a mindset.
10:41:13 I felt at the time this is associated with the worst. Ecomaniacal autocrats.
10:41:22 Some names may come to mind today. Needless to say, for me, there were a few ethical and rash and rational flies in the ointment, to put it lightly.
10:41:36 For a while? The question I asked myself was How can anyone interpret this story in a meaningful way? However, I soon realized I was asking the wrong question because many interpret it in a meaningful way.
10:41:55 The question that actually led to mine reaching some sort of peace and I did with this and reaching some sort of peace and I did with this and other stories of peace and I did with this and other stories of my Jewish heritage and I did with this and other stories of my Jewish heritage and the people that do find meaning in them was not what does it really mean.
10:42:11 That was a waste of time for someone with my philosophical bent, my literal rational bent.
10:42:17 The right question was, Why should I bother exploring this at all? And answering that is what truly reoriented my thinking away from my criticism and even my duration of anyone who believed the man-made stories in sacred texts.
10:42:38 And toward A deference. For other ways of meaning making and into deeper relationship with those whose Spiritual perspective is very, very dissimilar to my own.
10:42:56 So why bother? Well first, my ancestors and many of my living relatives are enriched.
10:43:04 By stories. Such as this one. If I believe I am descended from sensible, intelligent, thoughtful, and compassionate people, and I'm sure there's some in my family at some point.
10:43:20 If I believe that I'm descended from these wonderful people, how can I? If I believe that I'm descended from these wonderful people, how can I dismiss them as ridiculous?
10:43:27 For finding meaning in something that I don't. In fact, would it not be my obligation to then explore how they might interpret such a story to understand my ancestors.
10:43:42 And further, it's not just my lineage. I don't agree that Abraham populated the earth.
10:43:49 I know there are countless, sensible, intelligent, thoughtful, and compassionate people. Whose connection to a religious what I would call dogma is also seemingly irreconcilable with my own.
10:44:05 And if I am to be in relationship and work together toward mutual peace on earth. Which is exactly what the humanist ideals, my humanist ideals, demand of me.
10:44:18 It is not my obligation to consider what motive is it not. Is it not my obligation to consider what motivates these other people?
10:44:29 To that same quest for peace.
10:44:33 The fact is there will never come a day when all people believe the same thing. We're truth is singular.
10:44:42 It's always plural.
10:44:46 Were I to live as if the world would be a better place only if everyone thought like me would I not then be the fanatic that I derived?
10:45:00 And I know it's hard to believe. But it's true that I'm not always right, even as a minister.
10:45:08 There is one more very important reason I feel the need to understand the rationale behind meaningful connection to biblical face.
10:45:19 And that reason is because So many people in power Use or I should say misuse. Religious allegory that is manipulative is self-serving.
10:45:32 And often very, very dangerous. A prime example is the story of the binding of Isaac itself.
10:45:40 The sacrifice of Abraham, the binding of Isaac, called different things. I have seen numerous pseudo-intellectual essays.
10:45:48 That use this story to justify religious support for the anti-choice position. They claim that God saving Isaac is demonstrating his command to save children.
10:46:07 Now this makes the false equivalent of as I go to an embryo or fetus to a living child, which by the way directly contradicts the Hebrew Bible which by the way directly contradicts the Hebrew Bible which says life begins after the womb, which says life begins after the womb is breached, that is in the Bible, which says life begins after the womb is breached, that is in the
10:46:24 Bible. But they make this ridiculous comparison of abortion to child sacrifice and they use this story to point out the prohibition of the same.
10:46:35 They manipulate religious meaning to threaten and undermine the rights, the right of choice, and the health and the safety of women and children, which by the way also directly contradicts Exodus chapter 21, which clearly assigns.
10:46:52 More value to the life of a pregnant woman than a fetus in the Bible. So if I am not familiar with stories like the Al Qaeda.
10:47:04 Or if I'm uncomfortable with communicating other meetings, How can I contradict? This anti-choice propaganda.
10:47:13 For instance, that is so harmful to so many. So I began reading interpretations of the Al Qaeda of Genesis 22 one through 19 and what I found in these interpretations was very, very eye-opening.
10:47:30 First of all, historically, which is the lens through which I often think about biblical narrative historically, I found out the child sacrifice was actual practice in areas of the Fertile Crescent during the time of the writing of certain biblical texts.
10:47:50 Now I am by no means justifying child sacrifice. However, in a paper by many academics from institutions across the globe, including a Dr.
10:48:02 Josephine Quinn of the prestigious Oxford University's Faculty of Classics.
10:48:06 They wrote, perhaps it was out of profound religious piety. Or a sense that the good the sacrifice could bring the family or community as a whole outweighed the life of the child.
10:48:24 Now we have to remember that's a tough statement. We have to remember the high level of mortality among children.
10:48:32 It would have been relatively sensible for parents not to get to attach to a child that might well not make its first birthday.
10:48:42 Which was often the case. We think of it as a slander because we view it in our own terms, but people looked at this very differently.
10:48:53 2,500 years ago. And further, even in 2,022. How differently do we really look at child sacrifice?
10:49:04 Even if not in name. In the twentieth century. Countless parents proudly supported their children's participation in even the bloodiest of wars.
10:49:19 Is essentially sacrificing them for the sake of what they consider divine? Divine Liberty How many people righteously and rightfully make the difficult choice of not having children of their own at all.
10:49:36 For the sake of what they consider divine. This is the survival of the planet. Saving it from the disaster that will come from overpopulation.
10:49:47 So if people in ancient Canaan, when the mortality rate of children was almost insurmountably high, truly believed the life of their child would be meaningful as a savior of humanity.
10:50:02 How much can we actually criticize that determination? It's just something to think about. It's very, very difficult.
10:50:11 And some interpretations of this text, this. Sacrifice of Is it also reframed it, not as blind obedience to God, but as a test of trust after Abraham had shown a lap of trust.
10:50:27 I also see it personally as a game of chicken where Abraham, he never planned to do the sacrifice, but he was testing God.
10:50:39 There are so many interpretations. That talk about balancing the needs of home versus community as I mentioned with regard to saving humanity by giving up what is close to us.
10:50:51 And some of these interpretation talked about negotiating dual commitments to humanity and to God. How do we negotiate that?
10:50:59 And other interpretations talked about the balance between autonomy and heteronomy in the covenantal relationship where there is a need to sometimes submit and sometimes to challenge.
10:51:11 Which refers to a later piece in the same Torah portion in which Abraham actually argues with and challenges God.
10:51:19 And some interpretations talked about the Torah as being what they call incredibly developed, where the story is rewritten constantly to make it more relevant to new generations and that God didn't save Isaac in the original and he did in a later version.
10:51:40 There is the humanistic Jewish. Account words of Rabbi Peter Schweitzer, which I will read now to whom it is important to identify culturally as Jewish.
10:51:52 But at the same time, it's OK to directly contradict parts of the Torah, the Hebrew Bible, in favor of others that make sense to him.
10:52:04 And he writes that he strives to become the Abraham that rejects the command. To become the Isaac that doesn't just go along for the ride and goes on to quote the book of Psalms.
10:52:18 Well, may the words of my mouth and the meditations of my heart and the deeds of hands be thoughtful, caring, and kind to others and to myself.
10:52:29 Which is also in the Bible. Those are all different kinds of interpretations and there's more. To conclude, the purpose.
10:52:38 And certainty. Oh, I'm sorry. The purpose. And certainly the result.
10:52:46 Of this exploration of this troubling story. Was not to somehow spin this story, the binding of Isaac as a story that I would look to for meaning.
10:52:59 I probably wouldn't. I'm still just as humanistic as when I started the exploration.
10:53:06 I'm no closer to a belief in the God of Abraham, nor did I expect to be with expiration.
10:53:13 However, just thinking about it does make me consider what I personally believe to be divine in this world and what I would sacrifice.
10:53:27 For what I believe to be divine. If I truly aspire to the greater good of all humanity as a humanist, If I center love that is transformative and radical and justice-oriented as a Unitarian Universalist, if the natural world is divine and all powerful to me, what would I sacrifice to demonstrate that I trust and respect and those sings that are my divine.
10:53:55 No, I would never give up a child. But what about giving up something really important to me like my privilege?
10:54:05 My comfort. What about giving up my safety? In taking on challenges that would put me or my family in peril.
10:54:16 To ultimately save humankind and the planet.
10:54:21 I cling to so many unnecessary and unacceptable things in my life simply out of comfort.
10:54:30 And out of routine.
10:54:34 What of those would I sacrifice? For my own idea of the divine. Rocheshana heralds an opportunity for new beginnings.
10:54:46 This was the quote at the beginning. For self-reflection, for self-evaluation, for self-renewal, these are the tasks we are called to by the chauffeur's blast.
10:54:58 Our minds are open to broader issues, but Rosh Hashanah reminds us to begin with self-improvement.
10:55:06 And this Roshashana, the end of this week, this Jewish New Year, I will accept this invitation to examine my offenses.
10:55:16 And I will seriously consider why I would sacrifice. To make meaningful reparations. And meaningful change going forward.
10:55:27 And I would humbly ask. That you might consider, what would you sacrifice? For whatever you consider.
10:55:36 The Divine.