The Bible Says What? ‘God tells Abraham to sacrifice his son’

The Bible Says What? ‘God tells Abraham to sacrifice his son’

Rabbi Mark Goldsmith takes a controversial passage of the Torah and gives it a progressive angle

Sephardi Torah scrolls
Sephardi Torah scrolls

The Akedah, the passage in Genesis Chapter 22 where Abraham is asked by God to take his son Isaac and burn him as a sacrifice, is one of the most commented upon in the Torah.

It is one of our Torah portions for every Rosh Hashanah, so every rabbi in the world has given sermons about it many times.

On face value it is horrendous that God should test Abraham in this way. At the beginning of the narrative, Abraham is all too willing to go through with it.

Then it becomes clear that Isaac has worked out what is happening and is ready to be that sacrifice. He chooses to walk on together with his father Abraham, when he has worked out that his father has a knife, fire and wood and that the only thing apparently missing is the sacrifice – which must be Isaac himself.

Abraham does not, of course, kill and sacrifice his son. He is stopped by a messenger from God, who enables Abraham to substitute, for Isaac, a ram, caught in a bush by the horns which will in future be sounded as our shofar.

Surely parents do not meekly, obediently sacrifice their children? Surely if that were to happen the children would complain bitterly, run away and refuse to do as they are asked?

When we consider the pressures that we as a society, without complaint, put on our children, at school, through the media to which they have access, though our expectations of them, it seems that we are willing at least to sacrifice their childhoods.

The extraordinary statistics on the proportions of children with mental health challenges bear this out.

Our children comply to please us parents and to fit in. That’s where we need to listen to a messenger who says enough, nurture the whole person and not only what is required by their school or social group.

  •  Mark Goldsmith is rabbi of Alyth Synagogue 

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