Friday, November 7, 2014

Bold! - Vayera

“I was too afraid” is one of the sadder things I have heard people say to their family members when explaining why they didn’t tell their son or spouse something they thought the other would not take well. This blog post is about the merit of being bold, taking risks at a personal level as well as at the political level. The latter is front and centre for me because I am meeting with key people at both federal and state level and will be advising them to do something “courageous” in the words of “Yes Minister”.

I was sitting at my desk thinking about the Australian Curriculum Review when I received an email from one of the authors of the review, Dr. Kevin Donnelly. He suggested that I look at his recommendation number 15 as well as what he wrote regarding religion and spirituality on page 155; he also directed my attention to some harsh criticism of his suggestions. The timing could not have been better.

Recommendation 15 reads as follows: “ACARA revise the Australian Curriculum to place more emphasis on morals, values and spirituality as outlined in the Melbourne Declaration, and to better recognise the contribution of Western civilisation, our Judeo-Christian heritage, the role of economic development and industry and the democratic underpinning of the British system of government to Australia’s development”.

Recommendation 15 can be seen as simply promoting one heritage above others, without considering how this might impact on intercultural understanding.  However, thanks to Dr. Donnelly, I read this recommendation in the context of his broader writing on the subject. It is beyond the scope of this post to unpack it all. Suffice it to say that, based on the points he raised, I think it is reasonable to suggest to Governments that they boldly embrace a modified, inclusive version of this recommendation. This can foster interfaith understanding, and is standard practice in the UK and in many countries around the world.  This approach could provoke criticism on the part of people who object to either Christian or Muslim content in the curriculum. However, a group of academics and practitioners, known as “REENA”, have been engaging secularists and religious people to support the inclusion of religions and other world views in the curriculum. 

With the funeral of Gough Whitlam on our minds, it might be time to look afresh at the merits of bold government action.  

The theme of fear and courage also plays out in the Torah reading in the relationship between Sarah and Abraham, her husband. Three visitors, messengers from God, promised Abraham that Sarah would give birth to a son (1). Sarah overheard this and laughed. God complained (2) about Sarah‘s laughter and lack of faith in this divine promise, due to her advanced age (3). When confronted by Abraham, Sarah denied that she laughed because she was afraid  to tell Abraham that she doubted what he appeared to believe.   

One commentary states that “Her fear is compared to a loyal servant who fears (upsetting) his master and erred... When the master reproaches him for what he did…he can’t find the strength to admit what he did because of the great fear, so he denies it but, in the denial itself, he (implies) that it was true that he did so”. 

However, Abraham tells Sarah it is more fitting to admit that she did laugh because God wants people to acknowledge their wrongdoing (4).  Equally, that was what Abraham wanted and Sarah needed - to discuss their different initial responses to the angels’ prediction and to know that it is ok in their respectful relationship to confront difficult issues.

There are many reasons for fear. This is a call to overcome fears with courage.


(1) Genesis 18:10
(2) I am bothered by the fact that God spoke to Abraham about Sarah, rather than talking to Sarah directly. According to one commentary, it is not God who directly accused Sarah, but one of the messengers (angels in human form), sitting inside the tent with Abraham. The angel could be seen to be addressing Sarah’s doubt, thereby completing his mission of reassuring them about the miracle of a child in their old age (Radak, Rashbam, R. Bachya. Note: the word “God”, can also be understood to mean God as represented by the angel.
(3) Genesis 18:12-15
(4) Ohr Hachayim


  1. Interesting! Is it Abraham's encounter with Sarah's fearfulness that then inspires him to stand up forcefully to God and advocate passionately for the people of Sodom?

    1. Thank you Shoshana for your comment. I wondered about the juxtaposition of this exchange about the fear and denial with the next passage about Abraham's pleading for Sodom. It is almost a completely separate topic, yet the there is no new parsha. Can you please elaborate about how you think one influenced the other?