I was absent from Hebrew School the day we got back our final exams, but my friend Rich told me all about it.
“And you should have seen how red the teacher’s face was when he handed back the papers,” Rich said as he ran toward me. “He was foaming at the mouth, and said, ‘And you can tell your friend Mr. Fuchs he got the lowest grade in the class, A ZERO!’ And then he ripped up your paper and threw it in the trash.”
What great sin earned me this public excoriation from my seventh grade Hebrew teacher? On the final exam, I wrote in answer to the question: Who are the three patriarchs? “Abe, Ike and Jake.”
The B part of my punishment was an angry phone call from the teacher to my mother informing her that I need to return during summer vacation to retake the exam. She was mortified, and I can still hear her telling me about it.
I laugh when I think back on that day. Today I would be quite content if our religious school students could identify Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, and I would not be at all angry if they decided to use nicknames.
While I certainly think the teacher went way over the top, I came to appreciate the message he was trying to send. While we Reform Jews do not take the Torah literally, we do take it seriously. It is not OK to treat it derisively
I do not know if the Abraham of the Torah really walked the desert sands 4000 years ago. I do know that the character of Abraham the Torah presents has had a profound impact on my life.
I marvel at the courage of this Abraham in leaving everything behind to make a Covenant with God in a still ongoing effort to make the world a more just, caring and compassionate place.
I admire the way Abraham stood up even to God until he was clear that God was not acting unjustly in destroying Sodom and Gomorrah.
And yes, I admire Abrahams’s willingness to risk the censure of many modern thinkers because he followed God’s command to Mount Moriah to teach humanity the still unlearned lesson about the abomination of human sacrifice.
No, I do not take Torah literally, but—but I hope my seventh grade teacher would be pleased that I have learned–we should treat it reverently because the lessons it teaches can help us to make this world a better place.