And God Said Unto Abraham
or How Services Hit Me Today
Today was Rosh Hashanah — the Jewish new year. So I went to services this morning with my wife and kids. We were late so we sat in back. Well, the kids went to their kid stuff. And then my wife and I sat in back of the sanctuary. The way back.
It’s been awhile since I’ve been to services, but my wife likes to go. Truth be told I’m not very religious. I tend to be more cultural than devotional. That is, I like the food. Oh, and as it’s Rosh Hashanah — the shofar. I like when they blow the shofar. It sounds like some guy on a mountainside warning the people in the valley below.
SHIT’S ABOUT TO GET REAL, Y’ALL!!!
It’s a pretty badass sound, especially if whoever’s blowing it has a little showmanship and the acoustics are just right.
Anyway, I ended up focused on the backs of people’s heads and what they were wearing and whether or not it was ill-fitting. (Yes, I’m a terrible person when I’m bored. And hungry.) I was only half-paying attention to what was being said or what we were supposed to be reading, but then the Abraham and Isaac binding scene made its appearance.
I know you say you’ll obey me and everything, but I need to know for sure. I have to really trust you.
So, hmmm, let me think how I can get you to prove yourself.
Take your ti —
Ok, got it. I want you to sacrifice your son Isaac on a mountain.
Fast forward to Abraham building an altar on a mountain with wood that Isaac helped carry…
And then to Abraham tying up Isaac and placing him on said altar…
And finally to Abraham wielding a knife over his innocent son…
SHEM HAM AND JAPHETH, DAD?! WHAT THE GEHENNA ARE YOU DOING?!
Whoa, whoa! Guys, hold up. Abe, it’s cool, man. It’s cool. Put the knife down. God was just kidding.
You got punk’d. He just wanted to see how far you’d go. But you passed. You totally passed. You aced it, man!
Yeah, God totally trusts you now. You’re like Luca Brasi. It’s all good.
Ok. Um, I still want to burn something, though.
WHAT IS WRONG WITH YOU, DAD?! YOU ARE FREAKING ME OUT!
There’s a ram over there stuck in the thicket. How about that?
Yes. That will do nicely.
God does like smoked meats.
I never really consider the above story other than when I listen to Bob Dylan’s own paraphrasing on Highway 61 Revisited. But I thought about it today. Because the thing is I have a son. A pure sweet boy of four. No way I’m taking him on a murderous mountain hike should the good lord come knocking on my door. We’d have to figure out some other kind of trust fall exercise.
Of course, if Wikipedia has taught me anything, it seems they used to live a lot longer back in the day*. Apparently Isaac was 180 when he passed away. So maybe he was already a sullen pimply teen who didn’t listen to his parents much anyway when Abraham decided it was fine to trick and murder him on Mount Moriah.
It’s also possible Abraham was actually testing God. ‘No way he’s gonna make me do this. That shit be cray!’
But how about Isaac? How about the long term psychological ramifications/scars of your father tying you up and attempting to kill you with a knife, and knowing full well he’s going to burn all the evidence.
What is it like today when you think of your father?
It’s hard, you know. I mean I have good memories of him. But the image of him tying me up on that altar with a knife in his mouth is forever —
It was in his mouth?
Yeah. Dad just wore a robe, y’know. And when he was tying me up he didn’t think to set the knife down. So yeah, it was in his mouth.
It must have been terrifying.
It was absolutely terrifying! It took me decades before I’d ever go anywhere alone with him. I mean, you know, how do you trust a man like that?
Which is kind of ironic.
How do you mean?
Well, because of how God trusted him.
But it wasn’t just the Stranger Things version of Father Knows Best that got my attention. They were playing all the hits today; including Unetanneh Tokef, the ‘who by fire’ bit. I forget it’s not just a Leonard Cohen song. It’s pretty haunting stuff, especially if you follow current events or pay attention to climate change.
And then at the end there was the sermon itself. Look, I like a good sermon. I do. But the guy delivering it — not sure who he was — felt every word of it was of GRAVE IMPORTANCE so he only grouped three together at a time.
I want to… say that I… would like to… begin by saying…
It was PAINFUL because you could tell he practiced it that way. But credit where credit’s due — it was a good sermon. It was about living your life how you’d want to be eulogized. He name-dropped Alfred Nobel, inventor of dynamite. When Alfred’s brother died, the paper mistakenly ran an obituary about Alfred — ‘the merchant of death’. Alfred was like, ‘Oh, snap. That is NOT how I want to be remembered.’ Hence, the peace prize.
Good anecdote, good message. But dude, pick up the pace. It was like half an hour. He could have just said to be cool, be nice, be generous and included the Nobel bit and we would have been good-to-go inside ten minutes.
Anyway, for lunch we had bagels, and tonight we would have had brisket if I hadn’t recently derailed the meat train. But we had apples and honey for dessert out on the back deck and that brought it all back home.
Like I said, I’m a big fan of the food.
But I digress.
I wish you and yours a happy 5778 and to be inscribed for a blessing in the book of life…
*I suspect they were marking time by a different calendar. Or it’s all in sage years?
Note: I still have until Yom Kippur to atone for the part about the sermon and the part about everyone’s ensemble.