Elie's Expositions

A bereaved father blogging for catharsis... and for distraction. Accordingly, you'll see a diverse set of topics and posts here, from the affecting to the analytical to the absurd. Something for everyone, but all, at the core, meeting a personal need.

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Tuesday, October 11, 2005

Akeida Revisited

There were a number of very heartfelt and thought- provoking posts before Rosh Hashanah on the Akeida, the story of the Binding of Isaac which is read from the Torah on the 2nd day of that holiday. The ones I read - and I'm sure there were others I missed - were by Mirty, Jack, BlogHead, and especially Shira of On the Fringe, with a lot of excellent comments and a spin-off response by Treppenwitz.

Well, Rosh Hashanah has come and gone, but since a special selicha on the Akeida has been part of our selichos recitation (for those who say them) this entire week, I feel it's still timely for me to add a couple of additional thoughts.

First, as I mentioned in Mirty's comments, the Akeida must be taken in the context of its times, when child sacrifice was the norm and the shocking part of the story would not have been that God asked for the sacrifice initially, but that He prevented it. Thus the clearly intended moral of the episode, for those and for all times, is that God abhors human sacrifice. Certainly there are many later passages in the Torah corroborating this point.

However the question still remains as to why God chose to test Abraham in this apparently cruel manner. In Mirty's comments I supposed - and many in Shira's comments said it in much more eloquent detail - that this was intended to serve as a object lesson to future generations, to help us deal with loss of children through the many uncontrollable, tragic events that we as a people and individuals would suffer. This symbolic interpretation of the Akeida certainly resonates with me on a personal level. But as always, I also need to find a more direct reading of the story.

Treppenwitz hit on a key point when he stated that Abraham's test was one of obedience, not belief. But I would add that the obedience test was only possible, because Abraham's belief in God was so strong - so real.

Several writers commented that they would fail an Akeida test if God posed it to them today. I think these comments are not religiously rebellious, but simply realistic. In practice I think almost none of us would respond positively to such a Divine request, simply because we would never really be sure it was God doing the asking! I know that if I heard mysterious voices asking me to do anything, let along sacrifice one most precious to me, I would get my hearing checked or seek treatment for schizophrenia. Even if I became convinced that I wasn't hearing things, how could I ever be certain that it was actually God - the God - talking to me?

But Abraham's faith, and connection with God, was such that he absolutely knew that this was really God's direct command, and furthermore, that whatever God wanted would come out all right in the end. I think the key to this is in the only line of dialogue that Abraham has in the entire episode. In response to Isaac's question regarding the sacrifice, Abraham replied "God will see to the lamb, my son." His belief that God was taking care of them was complete.

But even so, the trial was, as our sages tell us, the most difficult of the many that Abraham had to endure. Even with perfect faith, going through the act, until God stopped him, could not have been anything but excruciating. To make a somewhat mundane analogy: when people go bungee jumping or skydiving, no matter how much they know that the cord/parachute is there, they must still experience a thrill of fear before jumping.

Abraham's belief in the God was not just unproven blind faith, but as solid as our belief in "real-world" objects like bungee cords and parachutes. And so must Isaac's have been as well, for him to experience this event and come out with his relationship with God unscathed.

And thus, Abraham became the one and only individual asked directly by God to perform a ritual child sacrifice. Not because God ever wanted such a horrific event - as demonstrated by its conclusion - but to prove Abraham's unshakable faith and obedience for all time.

May we all use Abraham's experience to strengthen our belief and service to God, when faced with our own personal trials. And, as we say in the selichot, my God continue to use the merit of the Akeida, our forefather's ultimate trial, as an advocate in our favor for all generations to come.


At 10/11/05, 11:01 PM, Blogger Jack Steiner said...

This just sends my brain in circles, in a good way, but in circles nonetheless.

At 10/14/05, 1:44 PM, Blogger benros52589 said...

we dont understand when many things happen but we must believe and be strong


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