Posts Tagged 'Akedah'

This Trial: Ribo on the Akeydah

The nadir of VaYerah, this week’s Torah portion, the Torah, and Humanity is when Avraham is asked to sacrifice his child. It is hard to imagine anything worse. There is nothing I love more than my children. I would do anything to protect them, it is hard to imagine hurting them, let alone killing any of them. This request for sacrifice is understood to be the 10th and hardest of Avraham’s Nisyonot– trials. It is hard to relate to this test. How do I make sense of it?

I was thinking of these Nisyonot when listening to Ishai Ribo’s Nisayon Hazeh– this trial. I just love it. Enjoy:

Ribo sings:

This trial/challenge is not quite so simple it just seems naïve, landing on me heavily this challenge still does not fade. I require some help, to little much (very much) forgiveness.

I can only assume that the severity, if not the absurdity, of this trial required Avraham to ask for some help and even forgiveness. That part of the story is painfully missing. In many ways I would to place Winnifred Crane Wygal’s Serenity Prayer into Avraham’s mouth. He wrote:

Father, give us courage to change what must be altered, serenity to accept what cannot be helped, and the insight to know the one from the other.

Similarly at the end of the song Ribo sings:

And give me the wisdom to understand it all because only you are able to give me the wisdom to change, to improve, to repair.

The zenith of these trial’s is Avraham’s capacity to know what he could not change and live with the consequences. I hope that none of us have to contend with trials or ordeals like this in our lives. But we all can learn to ask for the wisdom and serenity to do better. We all need to change, improve, and repair ourselves and the world.

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The Binding: Fenrir and Isaac

On the Second day of Rosh HaShana we read arguably the most central texts to Jewish life, the story of the test of Avraham. As we read God commands Avraham to sacrifice his son on Mount Moriah in Jerusalem. Isaac is bound and placed on the altar, and Avraham raises the knife to slaughter his son. A voice from heaven calls to stop him, saying that it was a test; a ram, caught in the undergrowth by its horns, is offered in Isaac’s place.

The Bible doesn’t specify how old Isaac was at the time of event. One clue to his age is when Isaac notices wood and fire but, seeing no animal, asks Avraham about it (Genesis 22:7). This implies that Isaac is at least old enough to know what the proper sacrificial process is and perceptive enough to ask his father about it. From the chronology of Sarah’s life we learn that the oldest he could have been was  36 or 37 when he was offered as a sacrifice (Sanhedrin 89b and Genesis Rabbah 56:8). So, Isaac was certainly not an older man when he was to be offered as a sacrifice, but neither was he a toddler. Probably the most useful clue to how old Isaac was their climb up the mountain.  Isaac is the one carrying the large pile of wood (Genesis 22:6). This fact tells us Isaac wasn’t a small child when he was to be sacrificed; he was at least a healthy teenager.

What is invested in the age of Isaac? If he was strong enough to carry the wood up the mountain, then he was probably physically and mentally strong enough to resist being sacrificed. The fact that Isaac allowed himself to be bound and placed on the altar shows that Isaac continued to trust his father.

I was thinking about this question recently while reading up on my Norse mythology.  And yes I was preparing to take my boys to see Thor: Ragnarok which is coming out in theaters soon. I read the story of Fenrir  the monstrous wolf  who is foretold to kill the god Odin during the events of Ragnarök. As the story goes Odin foresees that Fenrir will kill him so he gets the gods to capture him in hopes of saving himself. The gods plan is to control Fenrir to preempt his destroying the world by binding him in chains. Like a virile teenager Fenrir enjoys the challenge and is happy to prove his growing strength in breaking their chains. Eventually they produce Gleipnir, a magical slender unbreakable silken strip. Even though he wants to prove his strength Fenrir is no fool and does not trust them. He concedes to be bound as long as one of them will place their hand in his mouth. Everyone refused to place their hand in Fenrir’s mouth until Týr put out his right hand and placed it into the wolf’s jaws. They bind him and like the wolf from Peter and the Wolf the more Fenrir kicked, Gleipnir caught tightly, and the more Fenrir struggled, the stronger the band grew. At this, everyone laughed, except Týr, who there lost his right hand.

Why does Fenrir want to be bound to prove his strength? Fenrir is driven by pride and glory. Like a teen Fenrir needs to test his limits to understand himself. This growing power is exactly what the other gods fear in him and leads to his tragic capture. Ultimately he is limited by his drive for success. And while the gods do this for self-protection, it is not without a price.

Coming back to this test of Avraham the story of Fenrir is a fascinating foil. First of all it is not ever called the test of Avraham, but rather the Akedah, the binding of Isaac. If in fact he is not a young lad at the time of his binding, it is easy to see him as a teen. What is Isaac proving by carrying the wood, let alone being complicit his binding, getting on the alter, and almost sacrifice? Isaac is seeking to push his limits and understand the limits of his own body and his relationship with his father.  And what does the binding of a 37-year-old man mean?  Like Fenrir does Isaac have something to prove? We never see Avraham and Isaac interact again after the Akedah. Might their relationship be severed like  Týr’s right hand?

Coming back to Rosh HaShana the story of Fenrir is also a fascinating foil. What drives us to success? Might these traits that help us grow and strive for more also limit our success? In what ways are we heroic or tragic in proving we can deal with being bound?  May we all find a way to be unbound this coming year. Shana Tova.

 

 


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