I continue reading for my class–“Abraham, Then and Now.” I find myself wondering about the meaning of the Akedah, about the fact that, as Bruce Feiler says, it is such a personal story. What could be more personal a sacrifice than the sacrifice of a man’s son? Of course, in modern times people have questioned whether the sacrifice of the son is not a cruel, barbaric act (worsened rather than otherwise by the reading of Søren Kierkegaard). During World War I, Wilfrid Owen wrote that the Abraham’s back home were sacrificing their Isaacs to the battlefield. Bob Dylan wrote the similar words, “God said, “Abraham will you kill me a son…” Both imply that the blood stains of Isaac are unjustifiable even if they were made at God’s command. The Question is put even more forcefully in Ellie Wiesel’s Messengers of God, because as a Holocaust victim he finds the sacrifice of a single child to God inexcusable. Yet as Ellie Wiesel also comments, Isaac’s name means “laughter” because it is by laughter that we survive the pain and war-torn world.
Despite the doubts that these three and others bring up, I find myself believing there is a deeper meaning of the story, which both Bruce Feiler and Jon Levenson hint at. It is the idea that a person may be required–we don’t ever know for sure–to sacrifice what she loves best for God. This is the real meaning of the scripture. Jon Levenson insists that the Akedah is an act of love for God. Both mention that Isaac’s sacrifice in rabbinic and Christian thought comes to see suffering not as a punishment but as a sign of chosenness. She who suffers is drawn closest to God. Because of this at critical times in my life I have found meaning in the fact that I have a mental illness… it is not because I am chastised or blamed but because I have been picked for some special purpose that I have Bipolar Schizoaffective Disorder. I know this sounds egotistical, and yet I believe the private pain I have felt due to my illness is a gift. It is perhaps this chosenness which led me to Judaism.
In Bruce Feiler’s book he emphasizes the fact that in Genesis the first words spoken directly about Abraham (as opposed to his family) are about his dream from God. Abraham was the type of person that as an old man would follow a dream, leaving all he knew behind him… I recognize that in myself, because there never was any way of knowing that as a Jew or as a writer I would succeed. I could have, I suppose, gotten a nine-to-five job like most people. Yet I wouldn’t have been happy with it. I don’t blame the person who works that ordinary factory job so he can live for his wife and kids on evenings or during the weekend. I just couldn’t do it. I really couldn’t. I needed to do God’s work first. This is despite knowing that both kinds of people need to exist to make a world, but the people who keep the system going and the people who question how the system works. There has to be both the mystic chasing God and the farmer planting his crops in the ground–without both a civilization dies.
However, I do not believe I have ever been asked, “Give me your son, your favorite one.” I do not know how I would answer if it were asked of it. Perhaps that is because outside of my dreams of God and writing, I am not sure what my “favorite one” is. I live in my Mom’s house, but calling Mom my “favorite one” except that I already know she will die before me. Similarly, there will be no estate in particular: I have one sister and four stepsiblings, and the money–such as it is–will be split six ways. Yet, there is a freedom to this, I admit. In a sense I could leave my mom’s house at any time without losing much. People don’t realize it, but there is a freedom to having “nothing to lose.” But that means I do not know what I would give God if he demanded a sacrifice. I guess I could complain of this fact, as Job did. Yet it does not seem all bad, I have the freedom to live for God.