Over the past eight years terms have crept into our vocabulary, such as “homeland security,” and “weapons of mass destruction.” Words have meaning and words have power. They have power to harm and power to heal. One phrase that bubbles up in my consciousness when I look back over these eight years and when I read this week’s potion is “Shock and Awe!”
Shock can fill us with awe and that idea intimidates me. I am uncomfortable with being filled with awe. I do desire some awe in my life. I want some awe. When the foothills appear over the horizon I want to feel some awe. When I see my children, I feel some awe. When I pray in the morning and the quiet calms my soul, I feel some awe. But I am wary of being filled with awe. I am wary of losing my reason to awe. I am wary of awe filling me to such an extent that I can no longer think or decide or use my judgment. And shock fills me with awe. When I am in shock, reason wants to flee and awe wishes to fill.
In this week’s potion we are taught the lesson through two of Avram’s tests. Avram is tested by G in relation to the cities of Sdom and Amorah and in relation to Avram’s precious relation, Yitzhak. In the first, G informs Avram that these cities are so evil that every last human resident must be destroyed. Avram feels the awe of G at hearing this news. And yet Avram, unlike No’ah before him is not shocked into silence. Avram’s awe is tempered with his awareness and he stands up for justice, even to the Source of Awe. Avram challenges G; “Would you destroy the righteous with the wicked?” “What a curse it would be for the Judge of the world not to use judgment!” (Gen. 18:23, 25). Every time that I read this potion, my breath stops for moment. Avram bravely, brazenly, brashly, stands up to G for justice. Avram can do this because he is reasonably awed, he is awed into reason, he has some awe but is not filled with awe to such an extent that all reason falls away. We are in awe of Avram.
Later in our passage, G seems to ask Avram to slaughter his own son. Can you imagine the shock of such a concept. Avram is shocked into silent. It is his shock and awe. Avram is so shocked that he filled with awe, all reason, all righteousness fall away in the furor of fundamental extremism. In response he does not say a word but saddles his donkey and takes his knife. He takes his son to a mountain and so filled with awe, that he would have fulfilled the awful command. If only the shock had not filled him with awe, he would have realized that G was not telling him to kill his son, rather G told him to take his son up to the mountain and teach him of the sacrifices (see Rashi on Gen. 22:3).
In the case of Sdom, Avram is not shocked out of reason. He has some awe and his response is awesome. In the second case Avram suffers from shock and awe. He is so shocked by the thought of what he thinks that G has commanded him that he is filled with awe. And the result of being filled with awe could have resulted in something awful.
And that is the transcendent teaching of shock and awe. Shocked into awe and the results will be awful. If our awe is reasonable, that is if we carry with us on our life journey some reason and some awe, our responses can become awesome.