How shall we think about Akedat Yitzchak — the “Binding of Isaac” — the story of Abraham’s readiness to offer his son Isaac as a burnt offering to God (Genesis 22:1-19)?
How can the story enhance our self-examination this Rosh Hashanah?
The story does not make sense. God has fulfilled a promise; Abraham has satisfied a lifelong yearning. Abraham is now a father. Yet God asks Abraham to harm the child, and Abraham prepares to comply.
As a teaching story, it’s designed to twist our hearts. To push us into self-reflection as we cry out with questions, moving from the story’s characters to ourselves. Who is God? Who is Abraham? Who are we?
Who is God? What sort of spiritual forces move us? When do we feel we hear God’s voice? When we are loved? When we yearn for peace? When we feel guided by ethical principles? When a powerful, creative, boundary-breaking impulse overwhelms us? What sort of divine guidance do we hope for?
Who is Abraham? Who are our spiritual role models? Do we place some people on pedestals, expecting perfection? Do we imagine individuals so resilient that nothing can wound their souls? Do we have compassion for people whose resilience cracks? Do we understand that the most scarred among us might be the greatest channels of spiritual healing?
Who are we? How do we evaluate ourselves? Do we trust that our hearts and minds are prepared for life’s challenges? Or do we wonder: what would we do if we were really tested? If so, do we run towards or away from those tests?
Life is filled with tests – tests of values, mission, and character. In real life, absolute values cannot be lived absolutely. Sometimes we orient our whole lives along a path, and the road suddenly closes. When that happens, what qualities of thought and feeling will guide us? What kind of inner posture do we desire? How shall we develop it?
How shall we live on this first day of the New Year and beyond?