Friday, December 30, 2016

I have some serious issues with the Binding of Isaac.

I have some serious issues with the story of the Binding of Isaac.

Throughout his life, God continually tested Abraham and I’ve always thought he failed this test. After all, he argued with God about the destruction of the people of Sodom and Gomorrah, you’d think he could have come up some argument to at least try to save his own son. Since my Orthodox teachers say Isaac was 37 when he walked up Mount Moriah, I think he was the one who passed the test. Abraham was over a 100 years old at this point. Isaac was younger and stronger than his father, he could have gotten away. But he chose to honor his father, to honor God by allowing himself to be bound on that altar. Some stories say he even demanded to be bound so that he would not flinch away when he saw the knife descending and thus ruin the perfection of the sacrifice.

Discussing this with a Rabbi I know he told me I was wrong, that I didn’t understand what the test was.

Me: “Kill your son?” No. “Do whatever God tells you to do without question?” No.

Rabbi: “Consider… what is the most important thing Abraham would have lost if he had sacrificed Isaac?”

Me: “Ummm…” Not my most impressive response.

Later I spend some time trying to figure that out, by imagining myself into Abraham.

The presence of God says: “Sacrifice your son, your only son, the one you love.”

Confused, Abraham finally stammers: “What?”

But God is already gone.

Abraham plops down in the desert, frowning, thinking: What just happened? Surely, the God I have loved and worshipped all these years wouldn’t command me to kill Isaac. Surely I must be mistaken! He promised me that Isaac would carry on my name, my work; that, through him, my offspring would be as numerous as the stars!

Kill him? Surely not. I must have misunderstood. He’s always told me He didn’t want human sacrifice and I’ve taught that to everyone.

Sarah, my beloved Sarah, will never forgive me!

And what of my followers? They will all think that I’m a hypocrite, a liar, a charlatan! That I’ve misled them - for some nefarious purposes of my own. My followers will all desert me. Sarah will leave me. I’ll be completely alone!

And will they be wrong?

I’ve told people for a hundred years that the one God of the Universe doesn’t require or want human sacrifices. I meant it, didn’t I? It’s true, isn’t it? Or have I been deluded all these years, not truly understanding Him.

Or maybe He was indeed communicating with me, but I misunderstood what He revealed. After all, I am not one who sees God face to face. Do I truly know what he wants of us – of me?

He wants me to kill my son.

He wants me to kill my son.

He wants me to kill my son.

No matter how he says it, or how many times he says it, Abraham has trouble bringing himself to believe it.

Killing anyone is morally wrong. How can it possibly be right to kill my beautiful boy, my wonderful boy. Flesh of my flesh. Whom I love beyond all things. My Isaac?

But… God did command me. I am certain He did. Why would He do that? Why would he do that to me? Haven’t I served him long and faithfully? Haven’t I done all I was asked to do? Left my home and my family.  Travelled through hostile lands. Risked my wife’s virtue, even her life. And my own, for that matter.

I already turned out one son at God’s word. How can He ask this of me? How can He? Isaac is innocent… a good man… He loves God!

An old man, crouching in the desert, weeping, alone.

Standing finally, staring up at the sky. Softly, so softly: All I can know is that You are. And I am certain You did command me. I’d like to think there must be a good reason, but I don’t know what it is.  Perhaps it is something I can’t know.

Abraham, wiping tears from his eyes, walks slowly back toward his tents. And after stopping for a look at his sleeping wife and son, he begins to prepare the items he will need for the trip he will begin in the morning. The task will not be easier if he puts it off.

It will be a long sleepless night. Perhaps for the first time since Isaac was a baby, Abraham sits and watches him sleeping.

I will lose my reputation. My life’s work.

But You are God and you commanded it.

I will lose my wife. My descendants.

But You are God and you commanded it.

I will lose my son. My only son. The one that I love.

But You are God and you commanded it.

Who am I to ask You to spare me this?

If the test was the question “Are you willing to lose everything you value because I commanded it?” And the knife at Isaac’s throat was the answer, then perhaps Abraham did pass.

But I have to say, I am still not entirely convinced. God took everything from Job, and he cried out at the injustice of it. Why didn’t Abraham? 

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