It's been six weeks since Rosh Hashanah, Day II, when we came together, stood in synagogue and literally knocked on our hearts, banging them open with our fists. We called out our sins, and our pain, and we were surrounded by others undergoing the same process -- releasing the same demons.
We also read "The Akedah," the near-sacrifice of Isaac, from the Torah. Our pain and their pain inevitably mix.
|"The Sacrifice of Isaac" by VALDÉS LEAL, Juan de 1657-1659|
Why?For this post, I am not interested in the rabbinical, traditional reasons for including this story in the Torah or highlighting it in our High Holiday services. There are thousands of pages of explication of those ideas. Reading them is kind of like watching player interviews on sports channels:
- We're really proud of Abraham. He knew what he had to do and went out and did it.
- Abraham and Sarah have overcome a lot of adversity. This team shows a lot of character. This team shows a lot of poise. This team shows a lot of pride. This team shows a lot of resiliency. This team shows a lot of heart.
- Couldn't have done it without God, man. Could not have done it without God. All praises to Him
A Human StoryBoring lives make for terrible literature. If Adam and Eve never got kicked of of the Garden of Eden, would we care who they were? If Odysseus had a pleasant sailing trip and returned on time and happily to Penelope, would we still be telling the tale? What if Hamlet had just shrugged and said, "Meh. To be."
When we read Shakespeare and other works of literature, we put the characters to our own tests. We question motives, look for symbols, and rant and rave about inconsistencies and dismiss the works completely when they falter.
Torah complicates those interpretations because it contains the founding stories of us. Our people. Our God.
We are stuck with all of it, and there is no tossing it aside. Even if you try -- even if you're a "High Holiday Jew," The Binding of Isaac will come and find you.
Torah is greater than the sum of its parts and greater than us as well. There are prices to pay for holding a book in such esteem. We have to dig deeper.
Text to the Test (Genesis 22:1-19)
Isaac survived The Akedah...but
God never spoke to Abraham again.
Abraham never talked to Sarah again.
Isaac doesn't speak to Abraham or Sarah again.
So much died.
|"Old Man in Sorrow" -- Vincent Van Gogh|
Alone in the world, he is left to "Lech Lecha" all over again. Get up and go... to a new wife, a new family, and maybe even a new God, one he has not known before.
Try to see Abraham, Sarah, and Isaac as real people.
See them also as an amalgamation of all the Jewish forefathers and foremothers.
See them as us.
My Religious School students often asked me why Abraham didn't argue with God. I don't know.
- Is it because Isaac had given his consent?
- Is it because Sarah had given hers? Abraham was, after all, told to listen to all that she said, and she was a powerful woman. If she had said, "Abraham, don't do it!" would he have listened? Did she say, instead, "Abraham, you must do it."
- Does Abraham have no argument to offer?
Sit with this family in their pain.
Sit with yourself -- the self who goes up to the top of the mountain and has to make a choice.
Think about who we have already tied to the rock.
Who have we sacrificed in service of the higher powers of money, success, work, popularity, peer pressure, and society's concept of "normal"?
What things have we done in the name of God that he would not want his name associated with?