Is it possible for a person to serve in a high public position, or be totally devoted to some cause or religion, and at the same time raise his or her children properly? The jarring contrast between Avraham’s efforts to save Sodom and the alacrity with which he sets off to sacrifice his own son, without hesitation, serves as the prototype for people who are completely absorbed in their cause or religion, and certainly for leaders in the Bible.
This is, of course a generalization, and in fact an exception appears in the first super-star we meet: Yosef. He rises in Egypt to the position of viceroy to Pharaoh, and he has two sons. The fact that Ephraim becomes the symbol of the Kingdom of Israel, indicates that they must have done something to earn their place of importance, even if we don’t read what acts, if any, were actually performed.
Our first national leader is, of course, Moshe, the one and only. He had two sons, and what became of them? We don’t know because we read nothing about them – except perhaps in the Book of Judges, where a Levite (theorized to be the grandson of Moshe) is elevated to the position of ersatz cohen in the northern part of the country.
The sons of the various leaders in the Book of Judges amounted to nothing that we know about, except for one, who was a total villain. The two sons of Eli the High Priest in the Book of Samuel were out and out bad. They took whatever they wanted, they extorted sexual favors and met an untimely death.
Even Samuel’s two sons who were appointed judges were known to be corrupt. They – the sons of the incorruptible Samuel! David had sons and daughters, and from them we have cases of incest, fratricide, and attempted patricide. Solomon’s son Rechavam brought about the split of Judah and Israel, and was the first in a long line of terrible kings.
Actually, we see this pattern of children not coming up to the “standards” of the parents among many people who are in the limelight or public service, whether in politics or medicine or other professions that have no respect for the difference between day and night. And of course the offspring of popular stars, in many cases. And again, this is a generalization.
What they all have in common is their concern for others, or in the case of entertainers for their own promotion, which leaves them insufficient time to provide the emotional support and role model that children need.
Sometimes there’s no choice, at least in the short run. We see doctors and nurses fighting the corona battle for more than eight months. Some quarantined themselves from their families so as to avoid possibly infecting them. School principals work to provide some semblance of order in their schools, where none is provided from above. For a while, until the crisis passes, families must take second place.
The reasons that people “subordinate” their families to a cause or religion range from the banal to the sublime. Some believe passionately in a cause. Some become involved in a cause before they have families and just can’t break the ties. For others, it’s success, making money. Sometimes the feeling that one is truly helping others obscures the family cost involved.
In Avraham’s case we like to think it is because he is so attentive to God’s commands. He obeyed the divine command to leave his home and now he obeys the command to sacrifice the child for whom he waited 70 years.
Still, it rankles to see him showing more concern for three strangers who happen to be passing by his tent, or for the bunch of sinners in Sodom or for saving his nephew Lot when he is kidnapped – than when he is told to sacrifice his own son.
It can’t be because he feels that God’s decisions are always just. Didn’t he dispute God’s decision to destroy Sodom? Is it because he recuses himself from anything showing personal benefit?
We don’t know. We can say that he was a “true believer” who felt God was looking out for him no matter what. We can criticize him and cite the book of Devarim which defines a false prophet as one who urges doing something that God would not do – such as demanding the sacrifice of your own child (of course the Torah had not yet been given and the command was directly from God).
Whatever the reason, we also understand that his total devotion came with a price tag. We do not read of him meeting or speaking again with Yitzhak or with Sarah. In fact, the next thing we hear is that Sarah died. Could it have been a heart attack when she heard what Avraham had done?
Whatever the case, we see that all our actions, even those directed by and to God, have consequences. It makes being an anonymous cog in the wheel more appealing.