by Rabbi Ellen A. Greenspan
The dramatic story of the Akedah, (Gen. 22:1-19), concludes as Abraham returns to his servant lads and travels to Beersheva. What strikes me about the end of the Akedah is that the text never mentions Isaac’s unbinding or his return to Beersheva with Abraham. In the very next passage of Torah, (Gen. 23:1-2), we read about the death of Sarah. I have written this story from Sarah’s perspective, to help us envision what happens between the binding of Isaac and Sarah’s death.
Isaac was so excited to go on a journey with his father. But I didn’t have a good feeling about it.
Abraham was too silent, deep in thought – leaving the two servant boys to gather the necessary items for their multi-day trek. Why would they need so much fire-wood?
Usually, when Abraham would go off by himself, he was open with me and would tell me of his plans – where he was headed, what he planned to do on his excursion. But this time…silence.
I only heard after the fact about everything that happened. I don’t know if Abraham would have told me at all, but Isaac confided in me after I asked him why he was so quiet and subdued when they returned.
According to Isaac, the trip started off normally enough. He and his father trekked through the desert along with two servant boys and a donkey to carry their gear.
Although when Isaac asked where they were going, Abraham was evasive – which really is not like him. He is a smart man and doesn’t usually venture into the desert with out a destination. It is too dangerous. But Isaac related to me that this time Abraham said something like “God will tell us where to go.”
Abraham puts a lot of faith in God. I used to think it was too much faith – way too much trust – until Isaac was born. He is such a gift. What a blessing to be given a child when I was long past the age of child-bearing. God predicted that we would conceive a son. Although I was skeptical, I have to give God credit and my gratitude. So, I thought, maybe Abraham’s relationship with God is OK.
But now…after the story Isaac told me…I am not so sure.
As they approached Mt. Moriah, Abraham asked the servant boys to stay with the donkey so he and Isaac could go up the mountain to pray. I’m still not sure how Abraham knew where to go – and Isaac didn’t seem to know, either. Isaac thought it was a bit strange that they should have to climb a mountain to pray when Abraham has taught him that God is everywhere. And Isaac also wondered why they were carrying so much fire-wood, a fire-stone and a knife.
When Isaac asked, Abraham used the God excuse again. “God will provide us with a lamb for the sacrifice.” Come on, Isaac thought, how is a lamb going to wander our way at the right moment, and on a mountain, no less? But, I know that when it comes to God, anything is possible.
But then, Isaac said, everything got weird.
“Father made an altar out of stones and the fire-wood and then looked around as if he were waiting for something. Then he grabbed me. He tied me up and threw me on top of the wood. I struggled and cried and made it very difficult for him, but he is stronger than I am.
“Then, he took the knife in his hand and raised his arm – and the knife – above my head.”
“Nooooo!!!! Father, what are you doing?” I called out.
I am speechless. Horrified. What was Abraham thinking? Does he really trust a God that would require such a thing? I don’t want to believe in a God like that. I don’t know if I can possibly have any faith in God’s wisdom any more.
My poor Isaac. No wonder he is subdued. Traumatized is more like it…
Anyway, the end of the story is that Abraham found a ram caught in the bushes behind him. He freed the ram from the tangled branches and offered the ram as a sacrifice instead. Isaac brought back the horns…he showed them to me.
Isaac did say that Abraham was in tears, that he was clearly distraught over the whole thing. Abraham almost forgot to untie Isaac – but Isaac called out to him. It was as if Abraham was in his own world. Isaac said Abraham was startled when he cried out to him…like he was in a trance or something. But, Abraham cut the ropes with his knife, and Isaac freed himself – without Abraham’s help, really. Then they returned to the servants and the donkey in silence.
I am totally shocked that Abraham did not have one of his usual arguments with God. I mean…just last week, he was arguing with God to save Sodom and Gomorrah.
Now, when God asks him to do an unthinkable task…he doesn’t argue or question. I don’t know if I can go on…having faith in Abraham’s wisdom – or God’s.