Rosh Hashanah Morning 5780: A Midrash
After the Akedah: In Abraham’s Tent
Two weary dust-worn travelers, elder and younger, wandered home into Abraham’s Tent, relocated to Kiryat Arbah. Sarah took one look at them both, and her kishkes knew. This had not been an ordinary journey from which father and son returned. So is the insight of a wife’s mind, such is the anatomy of a mother’s heart.
Something had occurred. Her husband and her son clearly transformed and somehow different. The tension hung between them and permeated the Tent’s air.
It was late evening, and Abraham and Isaac put down their bundles. The firestone. The knife. And stripped down their filthy clothes. With barely a hello they headed for their beds.
Sarah felt suspended in the weight of the moment. What was this about? What happened? She sat still longer-than-a-while in a tense darkness at the petering fire. Finally, her curiosity overtook her patience.
She crept to the corner where her son lay. He was wrestling with angels in his sleep, well, what she hoped were angels.. He looked so young or was it the reality that she was now well over a century, and everyone looked so young? She reached out a withered gentle hand to stroke the boy’s hair.
“Isaac,” she whispered. “My only one, Isaac.” The boy stirred at his mother’s touch.
“Ima?’ he murmured softly.
“Yes, my son.”
“Ima… I looked up to him. He was my Aba, my hero. Now he’s a nightmare. When I sleep. When I wake. How can I ever, how can I ever trust him again? How can I ever forgive him?”
Sarah knew that there comes a time, when all teenagers stop idolizing the footsteps of their parents. That there arrive moments, when the all-knowing father or mother, becomes the know-nothing adult.
But Isaac’s forlorn tone told her that there was more to his words than the natural maturation of a young boy into adulthood, forging his own path, separating his own identity from the adults that raised him.
“What happened my son?”
The words spilled out of him. How they had risen early and walked three days. Left the ass and the servant’s behind. How he had carried the wood and Abraham the firestone and the knife. How he had wondered about the sacrifice, but it was his Aba, so he trusted in him, and in God… and then how they built the altar, and the world spun slowly around him, as he found himself strapped tight to the wood, and his father raising the knife to kill him. How he had let out a wail, and for a moment his father seemed to hesitate, and how he had let out a cry, and his father seemed to come to his senses.
“Hineni. Here I am,” Abraham said, his face aglow in ecstatic awe.
At that moment, Abraham unstrapped him, and took a ram caught in the thicket. A ram for a burnt offering.
“Then Aba smiled,” Isaac told Sarah. “He smiled and told me that the mountain Moriah is now called Adonai Yireh, because of a vision of God. That I would have many descendants and they would know blessing because of what we had just done. Then he told me to walk together with him to Beer Sheba.
Do you know how hard it was to walk with him, after what he had just done? How I just wanted to flee? Then we came here… to you, and now, it’s all just one long night terror. Why did he do this? What was he thinking? How can I forgive him? How, can I, forgive him? I don’t want to speak to him ever again. I will not speak with him ever again.”
Sarah abruptly realized she was holding her breath, she was not breathing through this emotional harangue, words that made no sense and made sense. Tears soaked her face. Her heart shattering, shattering, all at once.
She finally breathed a response into being, knowing it was beyond inadequate: “Oh my son. Sleep my son. Rest my son. I am here my son. With you my son.”
She was shaking as her hand stroked his hair.
The fire was now blackened embers. But she did not need firelight to make it to her husband’s corner of the tent. This time her touch was not so gentle. She shook him.
“Abraham, you need to wake up.”
He stirred. She shook him. Her voice spoke with increasing urgency.
“Abraham, you need to wake up. We need to talk. Not tomorrow. Not in a few days. Now.”
“I am tired Sarah.”
He sat up, somewhat bewildered by her tone.
“Isaac told me. He told me what happened. Who are you? What were you thinking? He’s our son. Our favorite. The one we love. He is our long-awaited for Isaac. And you took him to a mountain … to sacrifice him? What the hell…”
“God spoke to me.” Abraham said. “It was the final test..The final proof of my loyalty and obedience. It was my moment to show him I was worthy of the covenant, of the promises, of the task of being a patriarch to descendants, as numerous as the stars of heaven, and the sands on the seashore…”
“Abraham. Look at me. This is me, Sarah. This is your son, Isaac. We are your loved ones, your family.” Her voice quivered.
Abraham interrupted… “God spoke to me… “
Sarah found the strength to speak her truth. She took his hand.
“I am speaking to you now. I am your wife, with whom you have a relationship. This family has sacrificed again and again as you have pursued faithfulness with God. I changed my name. I left our wider family to live an itinerate life in the wilderness in this Tent. You have put my life at risk more than once as we have passed through the territory of Kings, like Pharaoh and Abimelech. I have been by your side through every God-given test. Listened to your deliberations and supported you in your actions. But this. Abraham. Sacrificing our son? The son I birthed in our old age against all odds. This, Abraham, is our son, our connection to the future. This, you do not risk! This, you do not sacrifice.”
Sarah began to sob. Three staccato notes. As the Shevarim sound of a Shofar. She could not help herself, her broken heart vibrating through her voice. She began to wail. Nine howls as the Teruah sound of the Shofar.
“For this I cannot forgive you.”
Abraham withdrew his hand. He looked bewildered. “God spoke to me.”
“I speak to you. You put us your loved ones last. I am going to sleep over there.”
As she pointed beyond the fire pit, now darkened of any glow.
“Abraham, this time your thoughtlessness has put your relationship with your family on the line. You have traumatized your son. You are killing me.”
It seemed like days, though the hours were few, till morning broke on the horizon.
Abraham stirred unable to go back to sleep. His wife was not next to him. He could hear Isaac tossing in the bed beyond. His son had tossed all night. Come to think of it, his son had been restless like that every night since Moriah.
Abraham’s mind turned to his conversation with Sarah the night before. Could he make up with Sarah? His mind turned to the events on Mount Moriah. Would his son ever talk to him again?”
In that morning light the reality of the last few days seeped in. He rose to set and kindle the morning fire himself. But his mind was not with his hands. His head ruminated on all that had passed. He could not let it go. He could not let it go. A man of faith became a man of doubt.
Yes, he had passed God’s test. He had assured the generations to come would be secure. But, his own family. What of their relationship? Had he really done the right thing? What if he’d killed Isaac? What if Isaac was traumatized? What if Sarah left him? What if they both left him? And what if… what if… God forbid… it was too late to be forgiven?
He went over to lie by his wife. Wanting some comfort from his doubts. She was lying so still. He reached out to touch her.
Sarah’s body was cold and stiff like a ram’s horn-bone. He listened for her breath. No breath.
There would be no comfort. No breath of forgiveness could be requested now. Her voice cut through his memory “…You have traumatized your son. You are killing me.”
He called out to his son, the one named for laughter: “Isaac?”
But even if he could be heard, there was no response.
“Isaac?” No response.
“Isaac. Wake up… Son, your Ima is dead.”
Where his son lay a human wail began. A Tekiah. A Tekiah Gedolah. In the primal cry Abraham in a moment grasped all foolishness.
He had not just acted thoughtlessly. That would have been challenging enough. He had been remiss and untimely in recognizing his folly. Inept and late. Forgiveness more challenging because of his blinkered world view. Forgiveness more improbable because of his myopia.
Abraham sat in his open tent between his dead wife and his traumatized son. Abraham sat, just a man, open to his own vulnerability. He knew not what to do, except to talk to God. What else was left for him in the moment?
“God, because of my lack of merit, help those who come after me to recognize their own folly. Forgive them. Give them the strength to ask forgiveness of others. Let them recognize the importance of finding forgiveness for others. And give them the ability to find forgiveness in themselves.”
The fire he had built began to build. Abraham sat in the realness of the growing light of day. His son continued to wail. Could he forgive himself? The question hung over his head. Abraham was alone. He so wanted to hear God’s response. He so wanted to know that it would be okay. But God’s voice would no longer come.
All that resounded, was his own head-voice over and over:
“Forgive them. Give them the strength to ask forgiveness of others. Let them recognize the importance of finding forgiveness for others. And give them the ability to find forgiveness in themselves.”