With apologies to Dr. Seuss. And Rambam.
Thursday morning miscellany

This week's portion: silence


Abraham failed the test.
For Sodom and Gomorrah he argued
but when it came to his son
no protest crossed his lips.

God was mute with horror.
Abraham, smasher of idols
and digger of wells
was meant to talk back.

Sarah would have been wiser
but Abraham avoided her tent,
didn't lay his head in her lap
to unburden his secret heart.

In stricken silence God watched
as Abraham saddled his ass
and took Isaac on their final hike
to the place God would show him.

The angel had to call him twice.
Abraham's eyes were red, his voice hoarse
he wept like a man pardoned
but God never spoke to him again.

This week's portion, Vayera, contains the story of the annunciation of Isaac, the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah, Abraham lying to King Abimelech about Sarah's identity, the birth of Isaac, the casting-out of Hagar and Ishmael, a dispute between Abraham and Abimelech about a well, and the binding of Isaac. This portion is unbelievably rich with story.

We read the story of the akedah (binding of Isaac) each year on the second day of Rosh Hashanah. It feels different to me in this context -- as part of the weekly lectionary; part of the regular rhythm of Torah stories -- than it does when we're pulling it out of its usual setting in order to read it on a festival. Still, no matter when you encounter it, it's a tough story. (I've been reading it, and commentary upon it, in my Qur'an class too. In that text, the son Abraham nearly sacrifices is not named, and I'm fascinated to learn that early Qur'anic commentary tended to follow the Jewish interpretation that the son in question was Isaac, while later Qur'anic commentary switched to seeing the son in question as Ishmael...)

Anyway. This poem explores one possible understanding of the story: that Abraham blew it bigtime. It's not the dominant interpretation, in the classical tradition, but it's an interpretation that resonates strongly for me. Maybe another year I'll write a poem that looks at it a different way. That's part of the joy of reading Torah year after year, and part of the joy of this poetry practice: the stories will always come 'round again, and who knows how they'll look to me next year or in five years or ten years down the road?



Edited to add: see also The Akedah Cycle: A Sermon in Poetry for the Second Day of Rosh Hashanah.

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