There is a comfortable, rational way of looking at life, which fits quite comfortably into normal frames of consciousness. It is acceptable. This is why "Reason" and reasonableness are often the underlying tone of the voice of the media, claiming to speak for everyone, whatever the message which is really being conveyed. Perhaps surprisingly, Reason can also include what we might term "religious" perspectives and valiant, apparently heroic behavior. The person who makes reason his theme can be dedicated to an ideal, and might carry out extraordinary deeds to further it.

In fact, Reason can also skillfully use false premises and lead to false and dangerous conclusions. In the right circumstances and environment, reason can lead to mass abortion and euthanasia, even to terrorism. The heroes of the French Revolution claimed to worship Reason and also organized "The Terror" in Paris in 1793-4 in which men, women and children of the nobility, as well as thousands of others, were led to slaughter at the guillotine, watched by an appreciative crowd.

By contrast, there is a Jewish concept of reaching beyond reason. This does not mean "religious fundamentalism." It means the perception that the logical structures of Reason need guidance which comes from absolute values which transcend culture, nationalism and revolution, such as the sanctity of life: everyone's life.

The Jewish theme of reaching beyond reason means a bond with G‑d which is higher than our own intellect, and an awareness that our lives are based on Divine premises: the miraculous rather than the natural.

It is intriguing that among the many interpretations of our Parshah (the Torah reading of Lech-Lecha, Genesis 12-17) there is a presentation of the difference between the path of Reason and the path beyond, exploring the contrast between the two sons of Abraham: Ishmael and Isaac.

Abraham's wife Sarah was not able to bear children. As was quite conventional in that time, she gave him her young Egyptian maid Hagar as a concubine, and Ishmael was born. Later in the parshah, G‑d told Abraham that his wife Sarah would miraculously bear a child. He would be named Isaac and he would be the true inheritor of Abraham's message to the world.

Abraham's response was, "if only Ishmael would live before You!"1 Abraham seemed content to have only one son, Ishmael, as long as that son would go on a path "before You," a path of closeness to G‑d. Yet G‑d insisted that Isaac alone would be his inheritor.

What distinguished Isaac and Ishmael from each other? Ishmael was born naturally, and Isaac was born miraculously, from a mother of 90 who had always been barren. Ishmael was circumcised at thirteen years old, an age of recognition and understanding; Isaac was circumcised at eight days, at a stage before intellect and rationality.

Thus Ishmael is explained by commentators as signifying Reason, while Isaac expresses the Jewish dimension beyond Reason.2 The link of Ishmael with Reason might explain why today some descendants of Ishmael, in the battle of the vast Arab territories against the miniscule Israel, seemingly have the sympathy of quite a number of people.

Yet the message of Abraham, through Isaac, Jacob and the Jewish people, is that all human beings have a potentially positive role in creation. To realize this they too need to make the step beyond rational, to accept absolute moral standards and principles such as that of the sanctity of life. This step beyond is the path to the future.