Mystical Morals for Abraham

Mystical Morals for Abraham
Melchizedek, mystical priest of God most high, gives Abraham bread and wine. Melchizedek wears a crown andAbraham wears a battle helmet.

Melchizedek: the mystical stranger who shows up to bless Abraham. And then disappears. Is he even real—not historically, but in the story? Or is he just one of Abraham’s visions?

And why would we care? Because the answer tells us something about the nature of mystical experience. How it relates to emotion. And also to morality.

Abraham’s an emotional guy. Not a rational planner. For example, God says, “Get up and go to a new place.” So Abraham goes. Then Sarah says, “Send Hagar and her son away.” So Abraham sends them into the desert with a loaf of bread and a water bottle. You see the pattern.

When Melchizedek shows up, Abraham is super-charged with emotion. Because he has just done another impulsive thing. His troubled nephew Lot has settled in Sodom, of all places. But four local kings have attacked Sodom and taken Lot prisoner. So Abraham and his team go to war to free Lot.

Abraham joins an alliance of five kings. There’s Bera, whose name means “through evil.” And Birsha, “with wickedness.” Shinab, “father-hater.” Shemever, “destroyer of limbs.” Plus, an unnamed king.

Together, they fight against four kings. King Amraphel, “speaker of wonders.” Arioch, “striking lion.” Chedorlaomer, “measured boundary.” And Tidal, the one who “knows about.”

Pay attention to their names. Thus, you’ll see: Abraham fights on the side of evil. And against the good. Just to save a troubled family member. But he wins. So, after the victory, he likely has many feelings. Joy. Relief. Guilt. Tearing him in every direction.

And out of the mess, a numinous experience bursts forth. Someone appears suddenly. Melchizedek Melekh Shalem, priest of the highest God. His name means “King of Justice, King of Peace.” Melchizedek feeds Abraham and blesses him. And then disappears.

Thus something inside Abraham shifts. He refuses to profit from the war. “I swear to the highest God,” he says, “I don’t even want a shoelace.”

Maybe Melchizedek’s visit is a vision. It bursts into Abraham’s consciousness and then fades away. Sure, it’s symbolic. But its emotional message is clear. You know what justice and peace look like. How they bless you. So, make the ethical choice and be a blessing. Abraham reads the message and pays attention.

But I, Laura, don’t always read my feelings clearly. So, I have some questions for you, readers. How do you access your feelings? Do they guide you ethically? But, when they overwhelm you, how do you hold them? Are music, dreams, tears, laughter, and ritual gateways to your feelings? And, finally, do these gateways ever open onto mystical experience?

Please do answer in the comments!

Sources: Genesis 15, Rudolph Otto, William James, Carl Jung, Bonnelle Strickling. Image: The Offering of Melchizedek, by Josef Ignaz Sattler, Saint Lawrence parish church, Gramastetten, Austria, via Wikimedia Commons.

  1. Dear Laura,

    Wow! Beautiful writing and offering here.

    Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz writes of the soul and the moments we live of “soul calling” – those moments would be moments of high emotion, those feelings and emotions of high intensity which affect us deeply. If we do not resist them or make them wrong, but listen to them, really listen, then we may be open to receive another feeling, another idea which comes in answer to our emotions, our yearnings. We are listening to the calling of our soul, he writes – a calling planted deep within our hearts, and it is from this calling -(Lech Lecha or Lechi Lach?) that we may open a portal to the next sacred moment miracle of our living. This process is the gateway to the mystical connection, lifting us out of the immediacy of response and reaction and limitation into an extraordinary possibility and connection – opening the relationship to the other and to our self and to The Source of All Blessing through the heart’s call. Something mystical may arrive. A thought!

    With gratitude for all you bring and with Shabbat Shalom,

    1. Wow, Dael, what a beautiful teaching about the meaning of “Lekh-Leka,” go into yourself, with an image of a journey through multiple gates. Thanks for reading and for writing here!

  2. This trip around the Torah, about my 14th, I’m realizing the archetypes of every actor as part of me. I am all of it. I am Adam, Eve, the Serpent, Abraham, Sarai, Hagar. What fun to explore it all! I do believe they also were real historical individuals. How do I relate to being the evil ones? I deny, recoil, resist, condemn, run, hide, and then accept. And then I dare to be Messianic, and redeem it all. What a journey! Who do I want to be the most? ME!!!!!!
    Jacquelyn Helene Contreras, S’rh Ysrael, song of Israel, Me, created in the image of Hashem, to experience the whole enchilada. Much love, Storm Troopers, because, in the end, GD is love, and love is Life, and we are as numerous as the stars, as prophesied. Together!!!! 4 ever!✨

    1. Thanks so much Jacquelyn, for sharing the ways you allow Torah stories to live in your mind and heart! I particularly appreciate you hinting that maybe Abraham, too, recognized his own shadows. Shavua tov!

  3. I am stirred by this dvar, Laura. Thank you for it and the query. My immediate reply to it is from my first teacher of NVC, Raj Gill. Her guidance is “when the emotion is strong, the pause is long.” Perhaps Abraham’s choice to ally himself with the five other kings to free Lot from captivity, was not rash. Perhaps he had contemplated his choices. In that case, how did Abraham come to choose the actions he took in all the cases you mention.

    My other teacher in NVC, Marshall Rosenberg, z”l, the founder of this movement, suggests everything one does is in the service of a universal human need. Compassion can only be said to be practiced if one’s need(s) is/are met without preventing another from having their needs met. Otherwise, violence ensues. So in all the cases mentioned, Hagar, going to war, leaving Ur Abraham acted perhaps to ensure the safety of Lot, or maintain harmony with Sarah, or create a sense of meaning to his life and heard the call. Compassion was not apparent in any of his actions.

    Pirke Avot 4:23 cautions against conversing with someone in a time of high emotion. “Soothe not your companion in the hour of his anger”. Or in his grief, or doubting a vow he has made. Yet empathy is exactly the kind of expression that soothes a troubled soul, resonant empathy that resides in spiritual connection and is a reflection of the other’s truth of feelings and universal human needs.

    What a class in Torah! Thank you.

    1. Thanks, Zelik. You have indeed presented quite a weave of thoughts. Thank you for this very positive portrait of Abraham! Philo of Alexandria sees Abraham as you do here, as well, someone whose reason overcomes his impulses. Superficially, one might say Philo’s approach is more intellectual, but he really does have in mind using the intellect as a tool to develop a better moral sense.

  4. And the place Melchizedek sets up his table is called עמק שווה Emek Shaveh – the equal valley, the even valley, the valley of equivalence, of equivocation? the valley of evening the playing field?

    1. Amazing reflection, Rabbi! Or even, if you rely on the Ba’al Shem Tov, valley of equanimity. How interesting to follow a hint that there is a place between good and evil, where justice stands. But what is that place???

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