The imagery of this week’s reading is an indelible part of the Western tradition’s iconography: Abraham’s son Isaac bound on an altar; Abraham with sacrificial knife raised; the hovering angel staying his hand; the substitute offering, a ram, caught in a nearby thicket.
A test of faith by a demanding god? A story demonstrating Jewish opposition to child sacrifice? A metaphor about faith?
The reading is given twice in the Jewish calendar: in the annual cycle, and as part of the new year services. For me, the core of the story is about surrender: Abraham to HaShem, and Isaac to Abraham.
We usually think about the story through Abraham’s eyes. Here’s some questions to think about this week:
To whom or what do you surrender? Why?
Which voices do you listen to, inner and outer? Which influence your actions?
Is your devotion to the divine the standard you most value and act by? Is there some requirement of belief so great you would never obey?
Can you truly know your faith without having it tested?
Is sacrifice necessary to validate it?
What if you turn the story on its head, and look through Isaac’s eyes?
Who do you obey?
What binds you or limits your options in life?
Are these constraints imposed by others, or by you?
Life offers many opportunities to wrestle with these issues. They’re rarely this dramatic or potentially lethal. But every day we make choices, big ones and little. Concepts like surrender and trust can be teachers. They can help us to approach every choice we make as a holy act. Thinking about each Yes or each No in a holy way helps cultivate awareness. Not just intellectually but viscerally.
This process is more than taking your spiritual cod liver oil. It’ll strengthen your core values and also help you make better choices. Choices that’ll influence your long-run consciousness and beingness as well as your shorter-run clarity.
As long as we’re here in human form, it all comes back to how we live. Each time we act with deeper awareness and intention can be a holy moment.