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Akeidat Yitzchak... The Binding of Isaac

November 7, 2014

Every week, Jody Hirsh, the JCC's Judaic Education Director, provides a Judaic message that is featured at the top of the JCC's weekly email newsletter. Below is the Shabbat message for Friday, November 7, 2014.

Akeidat Yitzchak... The Binding of Isaac

This Shabbat, the parsha (Torah Portion) is Vayera which includes the account of “The Binding of Isaac.” Abraham, following God’s command, is prepared to make a sacrificial offering of his beloved son, Isaac. It is a troubling story. Yes, Abraham is stopped before he actually sacrifices his son. Yes, according to the account, the whole incident is only a trial, a test. But the fact that Abraham is praised for having the faith and willingness to follow this divine command is troubling. Why? How? How is this righteous? Our rabbis have spent literally millennia interpreting and arguing. The story remains, symbolically, one of power and mystery, and the image of the Akeida (the Binding) has so often been used by artists and poets.

The British anti-war poet, Wilfred Owen (1893 – 1918) served in World War I, and, ironically, died in action. His use of the story of Abraham and Isaac in his famous poem,  “Parable of the Old Man and the Young,” is one of the most stunning uses of Biblical imagery in a modern poem.

Parable of the Old Man and the Young

So Abram rose, and clave the wood, and went,

And took the fire with him, and a knife.

And as they sojourned both of them together,

Isaac the first-born spake and said, My Father,

Behold the preparations, fire and iron,

But where the lamb for this burnt-offering?

Then Abram bound the youth with belts and straps,

and builded parapets and trenches there,

And stretchèd forth the knife to slay his son.

When lo! an angel called him out of heaven,

Saying, Lay not thy hand upon the lad,

Neither do anything to him. Behold,

A ram, caught in a thicket by its horns;

Offer the Ram of Pride instead of him.

But the old man would not so, but slew his son,

And half the seed of Europe, one by one.

Shabbat Shalom