One of the most powerful of biblical images is the Akedah, the “binding of Isaac;” notice, not the “sacrifice” of Isaac, as we sometimes see, but the “binding.” Last night, a Radical Faerie friend whose interesting profession it is to provide software packages to community groups and “earth-friendly” businesses told me a story which brought this to mind.
He said he had a friend in San Francisco who is gay and the son of a priest. When the father found this out he told his son, according to my friend, that even G-d could not come between his son and his love for him. Here is another story: a wonderful man I know, long in a committed relationship, of great kindness and glorious intelligence was excommunicated by his beloved LDS (Mormon) community; his own father “turned him in.” All of this reminded me of a wonderful midrash (explanation of the biblical texts) on the story of the death of Sarah, our mother.
In Genesis twenty-three, the second verse we read: “And Abraham came (or returned) to mourn Sarah. Why should he return? Where was he? Why was he away during the last illness of his beloved “first wife.”
A clue is found in the story of the Akedah in chapter twenty-two where we read: “And Abraham returned to his “young men” or “lads” or “male servants.” But there is no mention of the return of Isaac. Where is Isaac? Seven verses later we are told of the death of Sarah.
There is no one interpretation. But some of the rabbis have taught that it was Abraham who did not pass the test and Sarah who did. It was Abraham who, maybe, turned back to the vision of the horrible “gods” of the people among whom he was born, whose devotees said that heaven desired the death of children. When the angel spoke to Abraham and said: “Do not raise your hand against the boy; do not touch him..” Isaac maybe ran. Back to the tents, back to his mother.
Can we even imagine that scene? “Where have you been? What is wrong.” And then, “Oh mother, father built an altar and put wood on it, and then he bound me…” And, say some, Sarah put his shoes outside the tent and divorced him.
There is never only one interpretation. That is why scripture is an ever-flowing fountain, giving us spiritual drink in every time and generation. But we can say, in light of this midrash, that the priest passed the test of the Binding.