Monday, November 16, 2009


I'm reading Shalom Spiegel's The Last Trial right now. It's about Jewish legends concerning the akedah, Abraham's binding and near-sacrifice of his son, Isaac, in Genesis 22.

The book has several interesting details, such as parallels to the akedah in Greek legends, in which someone is about to sacrifice his child and ends up offering an animal instead. Or Jewish explanations for why Genesis 22 states that, after the akedah, Abraham returned to his servants, without even mentioning Isaac. Or attempts to provide a rationale behind human sacrifice, which usually concerns a desire for a good harvest and protection of the community.

What stood out to me was a passage in Sekel Tob (p. 64), whose date I do not know. In rabbinic midrash (at least in one view), Isaac's age at the akedah is calculated according to the time of Sarah's death. The rationale is that Sarah died in sorrow and horror when she heard what Abraham had done. One story says that an evil demon, Samael, told Sarah about the akedah, causing her to drop dead. In Sekel Tob, Isaac's soul leaves his body during the time of the akedah, and he sees his mother in Paradise. But the soul returns.

The point of the story may be that Isaac faithfully went through with the akedah, even after learning that his mother was dead after hearing of Abraham's deed. His devotion to God was that great! I'd like to think, however, that the story is about closure. The story of Sarah dropping dead after learning about the akedah has often made me sad. Abraham lost his wife, and Isaac lost his mother, all because of a test that God gave to Abraham. Was the test worth all that, even if Abraham didn't end up killing Isaac? I'd like to think that Isaac in Paradise let his mom know he was okay, and that Sarah perhaps understood that it was all a test: that God wouldn't really make Abraham go through with the sacrifice. Maybe she understood things from God's perspective, whatever that was.

An afterlife can create potential for closure. I think of the movie, the Sixth Sense, in which the boy who sees dead people comforts his mom that her dead mother is proud of her every day. He saw his late grandmother appearing to him as a ghost.

At the same time, it's also important to make peace with people now, while they're still around.

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