Sunday, June 21, 2009

Abraham Kills Isaac at a Bat Mitzvah

My husband’s high school friend’s daughter invited us to attend her bat mitzvah. Her Torah portion was the section in which Abraham raises his knife to sacrifice his son Isaac to his God. After reading the story in Hebrew, the young woman took the opportunity to give a sermon on what a terrible parent Abraham was. To her it didn’t matter that an angel called out “Halt!” Abraham was willing to kill his son, and that was enough to win him the Bad Dad of the Bible title. Never mind that Abraham had already sent one son and his mother out into the desert where they could easily die. This time it was personal. This time he raised his own hand. With a knife. This time he would know for sure. Sarah left him after that. What kind of religion honors a man who would do such a thing? Maybe he didn’t actually do it. But he was willing to do it. In his heart, he planned the murder. He lied to his son about why they were going to the mountain, and what they were going to sacrifice. Whether he stopped when the angel told him to is a mere technicality.

Abraham’s real crime, in my opinion, was that he did not do what this young woman did. He did NOT argue with his God. This woman understands the core of religion far more than the Patriarch who supposedly founded it.

I understand what this young woman was feeling. A father killing a child is horrific. She probably pictured herself helpless bound to a sacrificial pyre by her bigger and stronger father. A God who would ask such a sacrifice is beyond terrible, and not worthy of worship. But I also understand what Abraham felt. I doubt there lives the parent of a teenager who has not wished that child dead, if only for a moment.

These are the stories. These are the conversations that keep religion, and the spirit of argument, alive.

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