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04/06/2015 07:08:00 AM


Genesis 18:1 - 22:24
by Rabbi Edward Feinstein

Dearest Sarah,

The boy is alive. Shaken -- we both are. But alive. I've sent him home to you in Kiryat Arba. I'll remain here in Beer Sheba. I need some time alone to think things through.

From the beginning, this has been some adventure. "Leave home!" I was commanded. "Leave behind all that makes you who you are -- family and place, culture and memory. The blessing is yours only if you come to naked, stripped of all that protects you in this world -- position, patrimony, prestige." I obeyed because I heard a truth more compelling than any I had ever known.

You came with me. Out of love. Out of loyalty. Out of the hope that this might bring you the one thing you craved -- a child. An end to your bitter barrenness. I strained to hear the voice of God. You prayed each night to hear the cry of an infant. I told you about the promise: Like the stars that fill the sky, our children will cover the earth. You chuckled: Just one would be enough of a miracle -- a sign that we were indeed chosen.

I went out to war and defeated kings. You fought the despair of the advancing years. And when, in your desperation, you gave me the handmaid Hagar, I could hear again only the voice of God's promises. I couldn't hear your anguish, your loneliness.

The son Hagar bore was my son, but not yours. He had all of my drive, my passion, my impulses. He had my strength. He even had my temper. But nothing that's you. None of your wisdom, your patience, your tenderness. None of your laughter. In that, he was a dangerous creature. You were right in sending him away. He would have destroyed us. He may yet.

And then came Isaac. "Come and know the boy," you said. "Teach him your vision, the ways of God." But I wasn't there. Having defeated kings, I took to battling God: "Shall the Judge of all the earth not do justice?" Again, you chuckled: Shall the father of great nations never come home to meet his son?

Then came that unfathomable commandment: "Take you son, your only son, Isaac, whom you love, and go to the land of Moriah, and offer him there as a burnt offering." For the first time in my life I was struck dumb -- silenced with fear and with pain. For this I abandoned my homeland and my kin? Where is Your promise? Your justice? But now He was silent.

I thought of waking you to say goodbye. But I knew that this would kill you. You endured the ravages of our journey, and childbirth at age 90. But this was too much. So I rose early, made the preparations and took the boy.

The three days journey were longest days any father has ever endured. It was the first time I had ever spent time with the boy. You were right about him. He is the best of us both. With each step I grew to love him more. With each step we drew closer to our destiny.

How many times did I turn back? Swearing at myself for once thinking that man can comprehend the ways of God, that man can think himself God's partner in covenant. I could wrestle out of Him a concession for the few righteous of Sodom, but nothing for my own son? Still, something drove me on. I needed to know, ultimately, if He would go through with it. Would He break His promise and cast us away? Is He like the gods of the land, demanding the blood of children as His tribute? Or is He a God of life? I needed to know.

We went up the mountain. I bound Isaac to the altar. We cried together, our tears mingling. And as I raised the knife to fulfill the commandment, I heard a voice -- stronger and more clearly than any I had ever heard. It was your voice, Sarah. And it commanded me to drop the knife, to lift up the boy, to come home.

You were right all along. No need to seek God on the mountain top. That is the way of loneliness and death. Home and heart are where He lives. No need to hear His voice from the heavens. The laughter and song of children, are enough for anyone who needs to hear God's voice. You were right, Sarah. I'll be home soon.

With all my love,



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Sat, August 15 2020 25 Av 5780