Mother/Daughter on Avram and Terach
by Shellen Lubin
October 31, 2020
SHELLEN: No matter how old we are, no matter how new or old the issue with which we struggle, the parent always goes half way with the child, the parent only goes half way with the child. Even when the parent is gone from the earth, even when our parents are just in our heads, in our hearts, we still hear their voices. Depending on the parent, depending on the relationship, that halfway can be good or bad--can hold us up or tear us down--can guide us or cripple us, all of the above. But, either way, that, too,only goes half way. At its worst, it can only stymie our progress half way. At its best, it can only guide us and be there with us half way.
ZIJA: Always half? Exactly half?
SHELLEN: Metaphorical half. Philosophical half. Never fully taking over, never fully gone. Parent and child, so deeply intertwined,interlaced, learning from each other, in myriad ways.
ZIJA: Abraham smashed the idols, which showed his father,Terach, that the way forward was not polytheism, but monotheism.
SHELLEN: Terach stopped in Haran because he saw his son,Avram’s, way forward and knew he could not take him there,could not follow him there.
ZIJA: But was monotheism really an improvement? Now I study Paganism, and see its beauty and its value.
SHELLEN: Paganism? Like ritual sacrifice? The religion of the peasantry?
ZIJA: No, like polytheism, male and female gods, not writing off the female as bad, or evil, or superfluous. And, for that matter,not writing off peasants. None of this hierarchical power structure.
SHELLEN: Well, it does mean inspired by the ancient world ...
ZIJA: Inspired by the world itself ... mother nature ... that world that is about to spit us up and cough us out if we don’t learn howto treat the earth--and each other--better.
SHELLEN: This is one of those “glamorous tests” Nancy speaks of, yes? An essential defining moment in not just our individual little lives, but in the life of our country, our democracy. Everything is on alert, the stress level is through the roof. We must do all we can do every moment we can these last few days to set this right.
SHELLEN: For God’s sake.
ZIJA: For our sake.
SHELLEN: Lech l’cha. The first words of this parasha.
ZIJA: Go for yourself, go by yourself, go for your own sake.
SHELLEN: This is the path of ethical monotheism.
ZIJA: But not all monotheism is ethical.
SHELLEN: Of course not! Not when it is fundamentalism. Not when it is used to justify power and control and abusive hierarchies.
ZIJA: Is there a path forward?
SHELLEN: Judaism tried to create a path forward out of unethical polytheism.
ZIJA: And when portions of it became unethical, Christ tried to create a path forward from that.
SHELLEN: My parents were secular humanists. And I saw how atheism tried to create a path forward out of unethical fundamentalism, and religionism itself.
SHELLEN: Excessive zeal for the religious path, putting religion above people, above ethics, apart from ethics. We know some good examples of that!
ZIJA: So ethical is the common importance, the relevant theme. How do we support and encourage people to behave ethically?
SHELLEN: Exactly. How? How do we get them to understand, to feel, the virtue of long-sighted selfishness instead of short-sighted, mercenary, unethical selfishness? Morality takes the conscription of good and bad and takes them away from the individual, from the capacity to assess and determine, and ascribes them to a concretized system that tells you what is right and wrong, that conscribes for you yes and no. And once a system is created, someone finds a way to abuse it, finds the loopholes, finds a way to use it for their own self-centered ends.
ZIJA: Stories. That’s how.
SHELLEN: Art. All the arts.
ZIJA: Individual stories make us care, remind us of the humanity of all people.
SHELLEN: Remind us of the consequences of our choices and actions on real people.
ZIJA: And art makes us feel.
SHELLEN: Feel beyond words. Feel beyond good and bad, right and wrong, yes and no. Feel metaphorically.
ZIJA: Feel philosophically.
SHELLEN: Isn’t that the whole concept of midrash? The Torah, the stories of the bible, are metaphors, are stories, with characters, to get us to feel, to get us to think about what we believe, what is right for us.
ZIJA: Right for our families and communities.
SHELLEN: Right for our country.
SHELLEN & ZIJA: Right for the world.