Thursday, February 24, 2011

View from the mountaintop

Until I heard my brilliant colleague Fran Snyder say this at an interfaith program tonight, I'd never realized: "The only person who dies in the akedah [the story of the binding of Isaac] is Sarah." This is one of the insights of the midrash, which notices that Sarah disappears from the story at the point where Abraham is commanded to sacrifice Isaac, and the next thing we hear of her is that she dies. Sure, an advanced age is given, but the rabbis don't let the numbers get in the way, any more than we should be taken in by the late addition of chapters (her death is Gen 23:1 but unconnected to what follows). Like Kierkegaard later, they can't imagine how Isaac and his father will return and continue their lives as before; they can't imagine their telling Sarah - or not telling her. Instead, they find a variety of creative ways of having Sarah's death result from the (non-)event on Moriah. In one, the adversary (satan) appears to her in the guise of Isaac right after the sacrifice is interrupted and tells her what happened. She kills herself.

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