D’var torah for the Akedah

(Shouted suddenly and boldly—with a sense of entitlement, almost in desperation, and certainly with the anger of someone who is not being heard—while running forward and leaning into the audience aggressively, arms extended out to the sides and ending in fists.)

I’m righteous!

(More deliberately, arms down, still with an implicit plea to be believed.) I am righteous.

(Animatedly, as if thinking of a new idea for persuading the audience, raising arm with anticipation.)

Let me tell you how righteous I am.

(With renewed animation and conviction, spoken in a public, declamatory style, using arms for emphasis.)

I have shared (raising hand in front of chest with crooked elbow) my bread with the orphan [Job 31:17] and (gesturing away) my clothing with the destitute [31:19]. (Swinging arm back to the front.) No traveler ever had to sleep outside once he found my door. [31:32] (Hands near head, palms facing side of head.) I have been eyes for the blind (lowering hands about half way down the side) and feet for the lame. [29:15] (Emphasizing the heightening of righteousness in the next claim, pulling hand toward body and curving fingers inward to palm in a grasping motion.) When my workers contended with me, I treated them justly. [31:13] (Said expansively, with arms also spread expansively, out to the side but rounded as if to fill out a cloak.) I have worn righteousness like a cloak [29:14] and (raising hand, thrusting it forward in a fist and pulling it back sharply, speaking like a true rabble-rouser, once again evincing the anger behind the plea) I smashed the fangs of injustice. [12:17]

(More solidly, with a consciousness of well-earned power.) I defended the needy when I came to sit in the town square. (With great emphasis and weight, clearly with the expectation that the audience fall silent and listen now.) And when I spoke, (decreasing volume to denote the fall into silence) they all fell (spoken almost silently) silent: (thrusting each hand, one at a time on its own side, in hammering gestures while ticking off the types of listeners) the youths, and the old men, the ministers, and the officers, [29:8-10] (voice rising in volume precipitously, along with arms) all of whom can vouch—that (very loud and insistent, with rising pitch till the drop on the very last syllable, each word independent, arms moving forward and back with each word, again revealing that behind the tirade lies true anger) I…am…righteous. [29:11]


(Almost cheerful, very proud of my cleverness, but quietly, with a sense of amazement at my own righteousness, arms close together with hands facing out.) I even gathered my children for regular cleansings, in case they should sin accidentally. [1:5] (Shrugging while maintaining intensity, the impulsion to persuade, arms facing audience, moving outward and to the side.) So you see?

(Big shrug with palms out to audience, ending with arms and shoulders falling to a relaxed position on the final word.)

I’ve got it all covered.

(Pause. Arms in a relaxed position, but still out to the sides in a remnant of the shrug.)

(Insouciantly, with just the slightest lift of the head while watching audience.) As you would expect.

(Same tone, with the same movement of the head but in the other direction.) Because I’m righteous.

(Switch to a more nervous tone, and edge of desperation creeping again into the voice.)

But recently God has been throwing me for a loop. (With a catch to the voice) First he sent enemy soldiers to destroy all my wealth [1:13-17], (With a greater catch) and then he made my house fall down and kill all my sons and all my daughters. [1:18-19] (With a sense of pain, pathos, and most of all degradation, pointing to belly.) Then he struck me with boils (lowering voice and head in shame and resignation, and letting hand descend a bit toward feet) from the soles of my feet to (raising hand, but without the energy to point all the way up at the head) the crown of my head. [2:7]

(With a catch in my voice, getting angry.) Nobody knew what went wrong. (Lower pitch, very bitterly, with a note of disgust on the word “friends.”) None of my friends could help me. (With honest, deep pathos, painfully slowly, almost totally drained of energy by the end.) I was ready to die. [6:8-12] (Even more piteously, in a low pitch.) So as I sat…in ashes, (a whisper, with no strength left) I just asked: (inhaling and exhaling a short breath, in exhaustion, but spoken sharply, with just enough energy to muster some anger) Why? (Another exhausted breath, and now a series of sharp but tired words) Why…does God test the righteous? [10:2-7]

(With awe.)

And I heard God’s voice. He answered me…

(Quietly, but with sureness. Keep eyes wide open, as someone always alert and always watching. Maintaining the entitled voice of Job but adding the deep, calm tone of God. Spoken with understanding of Job’s confusion, although not going so far as to show sympathy.)

(With great variation in the voice for the first phrase, quizzical.) You may be righteous, but…that doesn’t mean (emphasizing the following words) you can set the course of history.

(Carefully explaining to someone who has made an incorrect assumption.) I will not erect a hedge around you and everything you do. [1:10]

(At a higher pitch, with a bit of upbraiding, on the verge of mockery but avoiding it.) If everybody who was righteous had it hunky-dory, (pointedly) it wouldn’t be a very hard choice, would it?

(Deeper voice, slowly, with an emphasis on the first word, hand rising toward the stars.) I have spread the stars in the sky [38:31] and (hand descending toward the earth) placed the earth’s foundation, [38:4] and I will decide when to bring down the evil-doers. (With a firm, sudden vocal stomp.) So. (Hammering on almost every word.) No matter how righteous you are, (with even more emphasis, very slowly) you are not in control.

(A pause and a tiny expellation of breath along with a nervous shifting of feet, marking a transition to a new character, even though it isn’t obvious till the new beginning of talking with a new accent.)

(Shift tone, not suddenly, but in a thoroughgoing change of personality. Adopt a slightly prissy, sissy tone throughout, with a bit of sing-song modulation that gets stronger with emotion. The character also has a tendency to clip words at the end of sentences: “set,” “done,” “heat,” etc.)

(Gesturing toward self with a casual wave of the hand. Speaking with casual entitlement.) Yes. It’s me. (Raising voice a great deal, gesturing with a wave toward self to bring someone over, and with exaggerated sing-song.) Yes, over here. (As if being forced to admit something, not wanting to suggest actual pride in the moniker.) I’m righteous. (Holding hand flat done in front, almost shoulder level, and waving it to suggest height. Voice stays up in pitch right through the end of the sentence. Now true pride is evident, perversely distorted.) In fact, I’m a member of what I like to call the ultra-righteous set.

(Maintaining same speed but adopting a more narrative tone, chatty.)

I’m so righteous, I wouldn’t go to (cattily) that evil city, Nineveh. (Casual explanatory tone, folding arms.) Because (stare at audience for emphasis) if the people of Nineveh turned back and (a little rise and dip in pitch on the next word) God gave them comfort, [Jonah 3:9] (as if the logic is obvious, and stating the final words with a Q.E.D. assurance, although being very proud of figuring it out and being right) justice would not be done.

(Unfold arms and place wrists on hips coyly. Again do a tiny ululation in pitch at the word “God”; come to a sudden halt on “that.”) I had an argument with God about that. [4:2] (Looking askance and away, mouth straight, as if talking about something everybody has heard before and the result is too obvious to be worth even mentioning. Makes a “tsk” sound. The next two words are spoken in a voice low in both pitch and volume, somewhat drained but still whiny.) God won. (Returning a bit to narrative tone and sing-song, dropping arms to sides.) But he took me along for the ride.

(Now in full narrative tone, chatty. Shifting back and forth liltingly from foot to foot.) So here I am standing on a mountain, looking out to see what will happen to Nineveh, and what do ya think happens? (Reaching up. Said with a sense of outrage, and a change of pitch on the word “God”) God takes away my shade and leaves me in the burning sun! [4:7-8] (With shock, but also tossed off like an everyday phrase among the mortified.) I was ready to die! [4:3] (Back to story-telling tone, hand down.) So I said (this time a long, sing-song whine going up, down, and up again on the first word): God! Do you know you’re always doing this? (Thrusting hand down.) First you plunge me in the frigid water, (thrusting same hand up toward the sky) then you leave me in the deadly heat! (With unrestrained, loud volume, obnoxiously, with another whine on the first word, extremely long and sing-song, a true cry of pain.) Whyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyy does God test the righteous?

(Complete change of tone—very straightforward and with the same touch of awe as Job) And I heard God’s voice. He answered me…

(Form face into extremely serious expression, as if appalled but seeing the need to get a point of view across in no uncertain terms. Maintaining the sing-song voice of Jonah but adding the deep and assured tone of God, but speaking softly.)

That’s…your…(enormous emphasis, without raising volume, on final, rolling, drawn-out word) role! (Faster but maintaining the same low-key, utterly uncompromising tone.) (Strongly spoken, with a rising stress place upon “good.”) Righteousness is no good (pause to let that sink in) when it stays at home (pause, then with some levity, and a bit of Jonah’s typical clipped ending on “away”) or runs away. (Plodding seriousness, and a definite echo of Jonah’s clipped style on “heat.”) You’ve got to take the heat. (Haughty but explanatory, with some mockery and a bit of a twist to the face.) If you can’t care about a city of one hundred twenty thousand people [4:11] we’ll start you off (thrusting arm up as before) caring about a gourd (lightly, with a greater twist of the face into a sneer, showing the triviality of it) that lived and died in one night. [4:10] Because until you care, (with ultimate tone of disapproval, almost dismissively) you have no right to call yourself righteous.

(Total shift of tone again. Make fists, stick out thumbs. Look down at resulting odd position of hands. Raise thumbs to point toward torso. Put on a sly smile, look up, lean confidentially toward audience,) Hey.

(Raising arms a bit to emphasize the pointing to torso.) I’m righteous. (Cockily, pointing finger out at audience just a bit, challenging them to a riddle.) You want to know how righteous I am? (same finger shaken a bit at audience.) I’m so righteous I never even died, but (dramatically and with power, throwing an arm up to the side and toward the sky while still engaging with audience and facing forward) was taken up into Heaven in a fiery chariot [II Kings 2:11] so I could come back and (swinging arm down and across body, saying the rest of the sentence without taking a breath) do more righteous things—now wadya think of that (arm thrown toward audience) for being righteous?

And if you’re not sure what’s right, (with a generous wave of the arm across the audience from one side to the other) I’ll come around some time and set you all straight.

So I’m righteous.

(With a sudden change to a serious tone.)

But even I have been tested by God. (In a somewhat loose, even slightly rolicking, story-telling style) Once I was pursued by my enemies, and separated from the few friends I had left, and abandoned in a cave in the wilderness. (Very seriously, with pauses to emphasize each comparison) Just like Job—and just like Jonah—I was ready to die. [I Kings 19:4]

And I heard God’s voice. He said, (With a feigned surprise that preserves Elijah’s boisterousness—but this is in Elijah’s voice; he never changes his voice to directly represent the voice of God) “Why are you here, Elijah? [19:9] Come outside and stand before me. [19:11]”

(Swinging arm broadly.) At first a great wind rushed by (loudly, with an excitement leading to exaggerated diction) cracking mountains, and I thought, (in a great shout of excitedment, with arm raised to herald God) “God must be in the wind!” (abrupt change to a very fast and restrained delivery, arm dropped suddenly) but he wasn’t. (Slight pause, and somewhat excited again, raising arm toward what he has seen.) And then came an earthquake, (slight pause, raising other arm in the same way) and then a fire…

(Suddenly quiet. Hand extended out in front with palm pointed inward. With enormous pauses.)

And then…I noticed…a slight (pause, and let the fingers flutter independently to show the rustling, then stop the fluttering when speaking the word) rustling. [19:12] (After a pause, in a whisper of awe.) And I realized…

(Quieter still.)

(Quite slowly and deliberately, with weight on each phrase.) Perhaps God tests the righteous so they can learn to cut through the cacophony of (rising again and again to each word, laboriously) anger, and (disapprovingly) pride, and (said sadly) despair, and (carefully enunciated) other human failings—(with a good deal of animation, truly pedagogical) because they have to, (more slowly again) in order to learn to (letting each word drop in the silence) notice that slight (again a pause and letting the fingers flutter just before and during the word) rustling.

(As quiet as possible, while still being heard. Hand in the air. Very slow. Hand extended, but no more fluttering.)

Moses noticed a slight rustling…

(With a flicker of awe, a bit faster) …and it was a burning bush. [Exodus 3:2]

(Pause. Slowly again.)

Abraham noticed a slight rustling…

(Again a bit faster, with awe, hand outstretched in front) …and it was a ram caught in a thicket. [Genesis 22:13]

(Long pause. Let hand fall. Turn away.)

Andy Oram
16 September 2004

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