Excerpt from Redeeming Relevance in the Book of Genesis

Chapter 1RedeemingRelevance 9657108942

Redeeming Our Souls: Avraham’s Ninth Test

Biblical Heroes

We are not always sure what to think of our Biblical ancestors. Sometimes their feats appear superhuman, and at other times their mistakes are too painfully clear. For the inexperienced student, this creates a certain cognitive dissonance, which may lead to hasty and forced interpretations aimed at creating more homogeneous characters. As a student becomes more experienced and sophisticated, he will likely become more comfortable with this lack of uniformity, realizing that rather than a weakness, the Torah’s nuanced portrayal of our ancestors is quite true to real life. Thus, if the Torah is trying to teach us about the lives of real people, we should not expect to read about artificially one-dimensional characters, as this is not the nature of actual men and women. While appropriately sophisticated, this realistic complexity still creates some confusion as we attempt to find a proper perspective on the Torah’s great figures. 

Indeed, maintaining an appropriate perspective of our Biblical heroes is one of the most serious issues that a Jewish Educator must face. Making them too great or not great enough is as pernicious as it is common. The cost of misunderstanding our heroes’ actions and thinking of them as “just like everyone else” is clear to most religious Jews. Without the needed reverence and awe for for them, they lose their power as the effective role models that they have been from time immemorial. Consequently, most traditional commentators carefully examine actions that seem incongruent with a certain character’s standing, seeking to find more subtle explanations than what would appear from a superficial reading.

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Redeeming Relevance in the Book of Genesis: Explorations in Text and Meaning by Rabbi Francis Nataf

Published by Urim Publications 2006

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