September 20, 2007
In Quest for Meaning
(Page 2 - Previous Page)Who is God? Our ideals, values and principles. What does it mean, "Sacrifice your son to God?" It means: Educate your children on certain principles and by certain ideals. Why is sacrifice and death involved here? Because living by principles is a dangerous enterprise in our world, and perhaps it has been that way throughout history.
"Here I am!" means I am perfectly aware of those dangers, and still I am committed to educate my children on the principles of civilized society, read: God's command.
In this sense, we are all Abrahams, and our children are all Isaacs. And we are still walking together, generation after generation, on that risky, yet promising road to Mount Moriah.
And what happens at the end of the story? An angel comes and says: "You did the right thing, Abraham, Isaac will live on." Then God promises Abraham to multiply his descendants and make them the blessing of all nations, which means: civilization survives; humanity comes out victorious.
True, a ram dies, but humanity wins.
Progress is a bloody journey. There are victims by the roadside, especially those who pushed hard, and those who carved new pathways, but the caravan makes it uphill okay.
Of particular significance are the angel's final words:
"And I will make you into a great nation and all other nations on earth will be blessed by you," in other words: "Forget about personal reward or personal redemption or reaping pleasure in paradise -- your reward lies in the progress of mankind."
It is a somewhat secular interpretation, I admit, but it is the only way I can make sense of the story, free of contradictions.
Justice? Reward and punishment? Sure! But on a collective, not individual scale. And it ties of course to Danny's story: His trust in humanity; his unyielding honesty, love of life, talking with strangers; befriending the suspecting; living his principles and drawing others to those principles.
He may have pushed too hard, at the wrong time perhaps, but the caravan goes on, inching its way uphill. Humanity will prevail: "Veyitbarchu becha kol mishpechot haadama" -- (and all nations on earth will be blessed by you). Amen.
Last month, I wrote a little poem on this tension between individual and collective notions of justice. It is dedicated to Danny and to all the Isaacs on the road to Moriah.
(To Daniel Pearl)
It seems unfair, a waste,
To journey like a shooting star,
One thousand cosmic years through space.
To smile one time, just once,
Emit your brightest ever light and swing
In daring curvature to nowhere,
Like that actor on the stage
Who ends the play to no applause,
And bows to empty seats, yet glows.
Unfair, a waste,
But a child may chance to stare
And see that daring curvature, remember?
Which may just set this child in motion
Remind him of those cosmic years, of freedom,
And jolt his mind to point up north
Beyond the curtain of prediction,
Dare to shed the bonds of earth
And bend the course of expectation.
Unfair? A waste?
My eyes to shooting stars, to motion.
My heart to one that just passed by,
Softly traveled, bright, secured,
Measuring the path of your world, oh God,
Like a wandering minstrel, with kisses.
For century after century
From way before the beginning of time.
Akeida -- The Sacrifice
(In memory of Daniel Pearl)
By Batya Dagan
A lamb is being caught in the thicket
trapped in the green
was it there all this time
when Abraham bound his only son
the light of his eye the heart of his life
to the altar he built
because so commanded his God
Abraham does not ask
does not wonder and just does
for God knows and he does not know
he only knows that his heart is exploding
that his veins are freezing
that his mouth is full of ashes
then God's voice is being heard
a voice sweeter that honey
clearer than a running brook
and the voice says to Abraham
leave the child alone
here in the thicket is your sacrificial lamb
my son my beloved the father of my nation
all I gave you you gave me
never will I try you again
but the sweet voice of God was not heard
when Daniel was bound
and there was no lamb in the thicket
only death was caught in the green
I am a Jew says Daniel
and to this altar he was tied
and on this altar he was sacrificed
and all of Israel is crying
and all of Israel is mourning
the loss of Daniel
Daniel who stood the test
and gave his God all that God gave him.
Batya Dagan is an Israeli artist and poet.
Judea Pearl is president of the Daniel Pearl Foundation, an organization committed to interfaith dialogue, and co-editor of "I am Jewish: Personal Reflections Inspired by the Last Words of Daniel Pearl."
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