October 20, 2010
God Reflects on the Death of Love
Parashat Vayera (Genesis 18:1-22:24)
“Take your son, your favored one, Isaac, whom you love, and go to the land of Moriah, and offer him there as a burnt offering” (Genesis 22:2). “And Avraham picked up the knife to slay his son” (Genesis 22:10). “Avraham then returned tohis servants” (Genesis 22:19).
As Avraham walks down the mountain, God reflects:
“He had lifted My veil. Just a boy! And yet he saw straight through to the very quick of Me, to My Secret Truth which has never seen the light of man. He was the first, oh my Avram! In all the seeing of my infinite eyes, it was only in his that I finally felt seen. I fell in love with him, as a barren woman’s heart goes out to a child abandoned in the reeds. I swaddled him and gave him a new name.
“Everyone else, all My headstrong creatures, baked cakes for their imagined queen of heaven. They said to the stone, ‘You are my father.’ They said to the wood, ‘You are my mother.’ But Avraham was different. He lifted My veil.
“The moon to Avraham was just a pretty thing, a reflecting pool at which to throw pebbles. The sun to Avraham was just a bright thing, a puncture wound in the clear blue sky.
“While I was the Great Ocean Whose crests rolled over in visions and dreams, the waters lulled his heart and lapped at his sandals.
“We frolicked the hearty years of his life while he was yet vital and strong. And finally, when his days were on the wane, I surrendered and gave him Isaac.
“In Isaac, Avraham saw Kaddish and Resurrection, eternity in a small, fleshy package.
“My Own Eternity bristled and crouched, aimed to pounce upon that tiny thing that eclipsed Me and reduced My whole creation to a child’s glue-and-glitter laughter.
“In jealousy I asked My beloved to carve that laughter up, carve it into cool, raw steaks with which to soothe My hurt.
“How like Sarah I am. She drove her husband’s son, Ishmael, out into the wilderness. How much less Godly am I than she. I wanted to drive My friend’s son only into Sheol.
“I thought nothing of the weight of the wood on Isaac’s back when they walked up the mountain together. I thought only of the weight upon Avraham, My finger pressing against the crown of his silvery head. Despite my pushing, Avraham kept thinking, ‘God will see to the burnt offering, my son. My son; the burnt offering is my son. Soon it won’t be the wood on Isaac’s back, but it will be Isaac on the wood; and no matter how heavy the wood, it is far easier to bear than the ashes.’
“ ‘Avraham, Avraham!’ I cried out to him as he descended Mount Moriah alone. Isaac’s red-rimmed eyes raked his father’s back, teeth clenched, head trembling on his unscathed neck like a full-petal rose on a thread-like stem as he sat on the edge of the altar, legs dangling like roots unearthed.
“ ‘Avraham, Avraham!’ I cried, but he did not respond. He did not hear me. My cries are unrecorded.
“Avraham does not know that when he lifted the knife to slay the boy, he scratched the glassy Heavens with its tip. He does not know that the sharp-toothed blade tore through the air, scraped the sky and circumcised My mouth so that I can never speak in the same way again. Without intention he carved out a piece of the very quick of Me, and it tumbled like jelly into the thicket.
“Avraham bound My Secret Truth to the ram, the way King Hammurabi would have a wife bound to her seducer and cast into the waters to drown.”
Zoë Klein is senior rabbi at Temple Isaiah (templeisaiah.com), a Reform congregation in West Los Angeles, and author of the novels “Drawing in the Dust” (Simon & Schuster) and “Scroll of Anatiya” (Wipf & Stock). She’s online at zoeklein.com.