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Kids on the Altar

Posted in: Torah, torahsub by Marc on November 11, 2011

Kids on the Altar

We tend to think of the Akeidah, the Binding of Isaac, as a one-time test that Abraham successfully passed.  Yet, as many commentators have noted over the centuries, the event must have been nothing less than a terrible long-term trauma.  Yehuda Amichai, a modern Israeli poet, makes this point in the starkest possible terms in a poem entitled “Abraham had Three Sons”:

Abraham Had Three Sons

Abraham had three sons and not just two.
Abraham had three sons, Yishmael (“God will listen”), Yitzhak (“he will laugh”) and Yivkeh (“he will cry”).
Nobody heard of Yivkeh because he was the youngest,
And the most-loved who was offered as a burnt offering on Mount Moriah.
Yishmael was saved by his mother, Hagar.  Yitzhak was saved by the angel. Yivkeh wasn’t saved by anyone.
When he was small his father called him affectionately Yivkeh.  My little baby will cry.
But he sacrificed him on an altar.
And in the Bible it is written, “the ram”, but really it was Yivkeh.
Yishmael never heard again of God his entire life.
Yitzhak never laughed again his entire life.
And Sarah laughed only once and never again.
Abraham had three sons. Yishmael, Yitzhak, Yivkeh.
Yishmael (God-will-listen), Yitzhak-el (God-will-laugh), Yivke-el (God-will-cry).
. . 

Amichai, an Israeli poet writing for an Israeli audience, notes that Israeli kids pay a tough price for the ideological choices made by their parents and grandparents.  Their parents and grandparents made the ideological choice to move to Israel and now they are conscripted into the military or national service as teens, sometimes paying with their lives.

Yet, we have all seen or experienced a similar phenomenon directly.  Sometimes parents are trying to make their kids in their own image.  Sometimes they are simply trying to compete with the folks next-door. Either way, kids frequently pay a high price when their parents try to write their dreams for them.

I know that when I first chose the career path I am now on, it was difficult for my parents to accept. I don’t have children yet, but I know that when I do, if they aspire to become professional athletes, that will be really difficult for me to accept. The story of the Akeidah, the Binding of Isaac, challenges us to avoid tying down our kids to our own altars of ideology and self-image. Instead, it invites us to pack them provisions and watch from the mountaintop, tears in our eyes, as they strike out on their own journey from Mount Moriah.

Yishmael, Yitzhak, Yivkeh.

Yishmael (God-will-listen), Yitzhak-el (God-will-laugh), Yivke-el (God-will-cry).

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