A Jewish Mirror

The Sacrifice of Isaac – Marc Chagall 1966

Rabbi Tonti said in his D’var Torah this Thursday that the Torah is a Jewish mirror – if you don’t see yourself in it, then you are not looking at it the right way. I love this idea, because I believe that the Jewish tradition of text study is at the root of how we distinguish ourselves in Jewish schools–it provides the opening for learning and practicing the social-emotional skills that our students are developing during these crucial early years. In Breisheet (Genesis), the stories of our founding mothers and fathers portray rich and complex relationships, holding up a mirror filled with troubling and inspiring reflections of our own lives.

This week’s reading, which includes the binding of Isaac, is one of the most challenging stories in the entire book. The story begins powerfully, with the words below following immediately after God calls Abraham’s name, and Abraham responds, “Here I am.”:

וַיֹּ֡אמֶר קַח־נָ֠א אֶת־בִּנְךָ֨ אֶת־יְחִֽידְךָ֤ אֲשֶׁר־אָהַ֨בְתָּ֙ אֶת־יִצְחָ֔ק וְלֶ֨ךְ־לְךָ֔ אֶל־אֶ֖רֶץ הַמֹּֽרִיָּ֑ה וְהַֽעֲלֵ֤הוּ שָׁם֙ לְעֹלָ֔ה עַ֚ל אַחַ֣ד הֶֽהָרִ֔ים אֲשֶׁ֖ר אֹמַ֥ר אֵלֶֽיךָ

And He said, “Take your son, your only one, whom you love, Isaac, and go to the land of Mo-riah and make him a burnt offering there on one of the mountains that I’ll say to you.”

(Genesis 22:2, translation by Richard Elliot Friedman)

Many commentators note that the formulation of the verse includes several unnecessary phrases (“take Issac” would have been sufficient on its own), all of which heighten and emphasize the impossible nature of G-d’s command. Abraham is instructed to sacrifice “your son, your only one, whom you love, Isaac.” How are we supposed to see ourselves reflected in the story of a man who wakes up early the next morning to kill his own child? At just what angle should we hold the mirror to see ourselves reflected in this story?

This story raises several questions for me: In what ways might I be sacrificing my own children? Are there decisions that I make, or actions that I take that are to their detriment, rather than their benefit? Whom or what do I worship that requires such sacrifices of me? Are we making our parenting decisions for ourselves, or for our children? What does a meaningful, successful life really mean in my society? What do success and meaning look like for me? What will success and meaning look like for my children?

We will be exploring these and related questions in my upcoming PTO coffee on Wednesday, November 4th 8:30-9:30AM.

This is the type of reflection that the story of the binding of Isaac could inspire us to do. It is a tough job to hold up this particular mirror and look into it honestly, but is certainly appropriate work for all of us parents to do.

Wishing you a Shabbat Shalom,