09 November 2011

Abraham's Choice: Paradise or Barbeque

I was seated at a large oak table in the printroom of the Metropolitan Museum of Art. In a quiet ritual, one Rembrandt at a time was placed on a delicate easel in front of me as the tissue paper protecting the picture was slowly removed. As his etching Abraham Entertaining the Angels was uncovered, I saw that only two of the angels had wings. The figure facing Abraham had no wings. Perhaps Rembrandt wanted to show that although they looked like men to Abraham, they were really angels in disguise.

The Torah (Genesis 18:1-7) relates how three angels disguised as men appeared to Abraham while he was sitting at the entrance of his tent in the heat of the day. When he looked up and saw three people a short distance from him, he ran to greet them and invited them to eat with him. He rushed to his wife, Sarah, and asked her to bake cakes for their guests.  Then Abraham ran to the cattle to choose a tender, choice calf. The midrash questions why Abraham ran after the calf.  The calf ran away from him into a cave. When inside, he discovered that he had entered the burial place of Adam and Eve. He saw intense light emanating from an opening at the end of the cave. He was drawn to the light. As he approached, he saw the Garden of Eden through the opening. This deeply spiritual person, the partiarch Abraham, found himself standing at the entrance to Paradise. About to cross ove the threshold into the pristine garden, he remembered that his wife and three guests were waiting for lunch back at the tent. What should he do?  Should he trade Paradise for a barbeque?  The Torah tells us that he chose to return to the tent and join his wife in making lunch for the three stangers.  They sat together in the shade of a tree and enjoyed the barbeque.  We learn from this legend that we ourselves create heaven or hell in our relationships with our spouses, children, friends, neighbors and strangers. Visions of Paradise far off at the end of a cave or in some heavily realm above are mere mirages or fraudulent lies. Abraham knew that he and Sarah had the power to create heaven together in their tent.

Excerpt on the Vayera Torah portion from The Future of Art in a Postdigital Age: From Hellenistic to Hebraic Consciousness, pages 159-160.

See Miram working together with Mel in their kitchen to create Eden preparing their Shabbat meal for their children, grandchildren, and great-grandson.  Link to the Torah Tweets blogart project at  http://torahtweets.blogspot.com/2010/10/vayera.html