Thursday, November 13, 2003

HERE'S A READING OF THE AQEDAH (the story of the binding of Isaac in Genesis 22) and it's later interpretations in light of both its ancient Near Easter context and current events (Jerusalem Post). Excerpt:

Even in our generation, we in Israel are witnesses to hundreds of parents who are forced to change the natural order of the world and to bury their children - sacrifices of a cruel terrorist enemy.

The Talmud records just such a harrowing tale concerning a woman whose seven children were murdered by the Roman emperor because they refused to bow down to an idol. The distraught mother cried out: "My children, go and say to Abraham your father, you sacrificed before one altar, whereas I sacrificed before seven." Then the mother threw herself off a roof and died. A voice came down from heaven, crying out: "The mother of the children rejoices" (Babylonian Talmud, Gittin 57b).

For many parents who are faced with the agony of seeing their children's lives snuffed out in sanctification of God's name, the biblical model of the parent who has passed such a challenge is Abraham, in accordance with the plain meaning of God's first command.

Indeed, so powerful was this Abrahamic model that an ancient tradition had it that Abraham actually slaughtered Isaac and God brought him back to life. Rabbi Abraham Ibn Ezra makes reference to it in his commentary on the verse, "And Abraham returned to the lads... and Abraham dwelt in Beersheba" (Genesis 22:19), where he writes: "Isaac isn't mentioned because he was still under Abraham's jurisdiction; the one who says Abraham slaughtered him and left him and afterwards he returned to life is saying the opposite of what the text teaches."

Nevertheless, the Midrash Hagadol states that God brought Isaac to Eden for three years - until he came back to earth to marry Rebekah - and the Ashkenazi prayers for the morning before Rosh Hashana make reference to the "ashes" of Isaac on the altar which constantly evoke divine mercy.

The midrashic tradition that Isaac was actually sacrificed is explored by Shalom Spiegel in The Last Trial.

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