Balancing the Needs of Home and Community

Why did Abraham beg for mercy for the city of Sodom but not for his son Isaac?

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Given the terseness of the Biblical text, it is difficult to make an argument from silence, but I am struck by the fact that the Biblical text records Abraham's many conversations with God and with foreign leaders, but only one with Isaac. That single conversation comes while they are on their way up the mountain, knife and wood in hand. Perhaps Isaac was willing to walk toward oblivion, with the ram mysteriously absent, so long as it provided an opportunity for father and son to "walk together."

Recognizing His True Son

One could read the text as proof that Abraham did not love his son. Before the Akedah [Binding of Isaac], God refers to Isaac as "your son, your only son, whom you love," (Genesis 22:2). Afterward,God twice refers to Isaac as "your son, your only son" (Genesis 22:12,16), omitting the phrase "whom you love." I believe that the opposite is true--I have always perceived great tenderness and love in the way Abraham carried the dangerous objects himself, and the way he responded to his son with the same "hinneni" ("Here I am")--the same"presence"--that he offered to God.

Rather, it took the threat of the knife for Abraham to appreciate the relative importance of the single, unique soul that he and Sarah had made together, as opposed to the many souls/followers that they had "made"in Haran and brought with them to Canaan (Genesis 12:5). It took an unfathomable divine decree, for Abraham to be truly present with his son. All of us face the test of Abraham. Will it take a moment of crisis before we walk together with those we love?

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Rabbi Joshua Heller

Rabbi Joshua Heller is the rabbi at Congregation B'nai Torah in Atlanta, GA. Previous to that, he served as director of the Distance Learning Program at the Jewish Theological Seminary.