Hineini: Here I am

This week’s Parasha, Vayera, contains one of the most profound and disturbing stories in the Torah, known as “Akeidat Yitzhak” or the Binding of Isaac. It is a story that is widely known, because it is also read in synagogue on Rosh Hashanah. Since that was over a month ago, here's a 30-second refresher:

The story opens with a statement that G!D tested Abraham and we are left to assume that what follows is the test…

Then, G!D calls out Abraham and he answers Hineini: Here I am.

G!D asks him to take his son, his precious one, Isaac, to a mountain in the land of Moriah, which means “the land of seeing”, and offer him there as a burnt offering.

What a paradox! This is the son that G!D has said will be the inheritor of Abraham's line and his legacy, but how is it possible to have an heir after the heir has been sacrificed?

Abraham does not question this seeming contradiction; instead, he takes Isaac and some servants and proceeds to travel on a 3-day journey to Moriah, the land of seeing.

They arrive at the foot of the mountain and we can picture the scene -- Abraham puts the wood for the sacrifice on Isaac's back, and he himself carries the fire and the knife for the sacrifice.

Isaac notices that his father does not have an animal to sacrifice, and yet, Isaac continues to walk up the mountain with his father.

At the top of the mountain, Abraham binds Isaac with ropes, lays him on an altar on top of the wood that Isaac carried.

At the climactic last moment Abraham is about to sacrifice Isaac -- when an angel of G!D calls to Abraham and asks him to stop. 

Then Abraham looks up, and sees a ram caught in a nearby thicket and offers it, instead of his son. For this act, Abraham is blessed and told his descendants will be as numerous as stars in the sky and the grains of sand on the seashore.

In the past, this story was interpreted as a lesson to humankind that our G!D does not desire human sacrifice in contrast to paganism. But today, what we can learn from this story for ourselves and our own lives in these very non-biblical times?

Rabbi Shefa Gold provides this beautiful poem of deep insight.

Click here to view on YouTube


Akeidah Torah Meditation

by Rabbi Shefa Gold 

Even after all we have been through,
still each of us is tested.
Through trial,
we are called into our power, potential, compassion,
and vulnerability.
We are called to expand beyond our rigid beliefs
in order to embrace paradox. 
Hineni, Here I am.

And here is the challenge:
Take what is precious to you,
what you’ve been counting on,
what you have held impervious to the forces of change,
even that — your bottom line —
and lift it up as your offering.

And here’s the paradox I must embrace:
I have G!D’s promise of wholeness, continuity,
meaning, connection, and prosperity…
and then I am called by life’s challenges —
illness, divorce, the death of my loved ones,
the loss of fortune and meaning.  

I hold these both as I walk up the mountain,
taking one step after the other,
carrying the wood, the fire, the knife.
With each step, I say Hineni, Here I am.

Here I am not knowing.
Here I am walking in the Mystery,
expanding to embrace this paradox,
trembling before the awesome contradiction
of my faith and my suffering.

Hineni. The first challenge is just showing up,
being completely present
to receive whatever Life has to offer me…
Blessing, loss,
praise, blame.
Carrying the wood, the fire, the knife…
only G!D will see the ram.
There at the peak of Mount Moriah,
the mountain of seeing,
I offer everything.
I finally surrender.
I admit that I don’t really know or see
how all this will work out.
But still, I say, Hineni.

And that’s when it happens:
The power of my complete presence
calls forth G!D’s Presence.
Against all odds, a ram appears in the thicket.
By some unimagined miracle,
I survive the vicissitudes of being human, and even thrive,
sparkling on as the stars of the sky.
Like the sand of the shore,
I am touched again and again
by the infinite ocean.

And when it’s time to come down that mountain,
I must become a blessing.
Even with my scars, doubts, and questions.
I breathe in blessing and breathe it out.
Even when that blessing is difficult or unfathomable.
To be a blessing means to know in my bones
the absolute truth of the goodness of Life, 
no matter what.
To be a blessing
is to shine that simple truth.

Shabbat Shalom

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