Wednesday, December 05, 2012

The Akedah

The following is a short midrash (literary exploration/expansion) on the biblical story of the Binding of Isaac (Yitzkhak), that is, when Avraham is tested and takes Yitzkhak to sacrifice him. The brief story can be found at Beraysheet/Genesis 22:1-19. 

Like so many biblical tales, there is much more left out than told. The text, translated by Fox, says, 22:3, "He saddled his donkey, he took his two serving-lads with him, and Yitzkhak his son..." Of course, the rabbis have been asking, lo these thousand years and more, who are these 2 "serving-lads"? Equally (or more) provocative, the tale says nothing from Yitzkhak's POV, and indeed it concludes with this, 22:19, "Avraham returned to his lads and they arose and went to Be'er-Sheva." Where's Yitzkhak?? These, and many other questions are much commented upon.

One existing midrash suggests that one of the "serving-lads" was none other than Ishmael, Yitzkhak's half brother. Another (unrelated) midrash suggests that Hagar, wife/concubine/servant of Avraham and mother of Ishmael, is an Egyptian. Those 2 little details should provide you with sufficient points of entry into the following:

When Avraham took Yitzkhak, along with Ishmael, a servant, and a donkey up to Mt. Moriah, he said to his Egyptian son, "you stay here with the donkeys, while I take this one up." Then Ishmael cried, "What about me father?! Is there no blessing for me?"

Avraham sternly replied, "Stay with the donkeys."

Avraham and Yitzkhak returned the next day, and Ishmael saw the horror in his brother's eyes. He thought to himself, "This is a God I should fear, and this is a father I should fear. This is a God, better to know from a distance, and this is a father better to keep at a distance."

And they walked back to Be'er-Sheva in silence.