MRJ Men's Stories - The Akedah - It is all our stories

The Akedah - It is all our stories

Jeff Levine

The approach of the New Year brings so many emotions and memories.  One memory many of us struggle with is the Rosh Hashanah Torah reading of the Akedah; the binding of Isaac. The story troubles us as we read of Abraham preparing to sacrifice his son in answer to God’s test. 

Commentators have wrestled with the emotions of the players; the turmoil of Abraham, the angry bewilderment of Isaac; the silent torment of Sarah.  As we seek to make ourselves anew this High Holiday season, so must we make anew this story for our own selves. This is a story for every Reform Jewish man, for that matter, every modern man.

Like Abraham we have regrets over sacrifices made for the sake of our careers and our egos.  Few of us are strangers to the bemoaning of our own spouses and children over our distractions as they are bound on an altar built of our endless quest for achievement. Too often though, we make ourselves blind to the pains and yearnings of our loved ones and deaf to their pleas.

In the story of the Akedah, an angel called out of heaven to Abraham halting the sacrifice.  Hearing the voice, Abraham lifted his eyes and saw a ram caught in the thicket and offered it instead of his son for the sacrifice. 
The voices of our spouses and our children are the voices of the angel.   I learned this when I heard the voice of my son when he was eleven.

I had taken him to visit a URJ camp that he was thinking about attending the following summer.   We traveled up the night before our visit and checked into a nearby hotel.  We went swimming in the hotel pool and tossed a ball around in the water for a while.  After going into town for dinner together we returned to the hotel for the night and sat in the lobby and played backgammon for an hour before heading back to our room.

As I bent down to tuck him in for the night, he said to me, “thank you for a nice trip daddy.”  I was astonished that he found the day all that notable.  I told him that we didn’t really do anything special; we just went swimming a bit, had dinner and played some backgammon.  My angel replied to me, “yeah, but I got to be with you.”

I went to bed with my tears in my eyes realizing how often I had sacrificed him.  My son didn’t know it, but he had caused me to lift my eyes and see his pain for the endless hours of aching for the moment his father would spend some time with him.   I anguished over how many times I must have been deaf to his pleas for his father.  I treasure that night in my life as a time when I was able to see the world through his eyes.

This Rosh Hashanah, let us strive to hear the voices of the ones we love.  Let us lift our eyes to see the ones right in front of us, the ones who want more than anything for us to be a meaningful part of their lives, every moment of every day.  Then we will have made ourselves anew.

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