One of the most enjoyable things about being a writer is the opportunity to learn and experience new things and different cultural events, and then write about them. This is an opportunity to expand our range of understanding.
Rosh Hashanah is a time to examine our lives and make changes. One of the stories associated with this holiday focuses on the moral dilemma of the bible story of Abraham and Isaac.
“The story of Abraham’s attempt to sacrifice his son, Isaac, known as the akedah, is central to the standard Torah reading on Rosh Hashanah. You probably know it. Abraham hears God’s voice. It tells him to kill his son Isaac. Abraham obeys. He ties up his son and is on the verge of stabbing him with a knife when God sends an angel to stop him. Abraham’s readiness to commit murder has troubled Jews for millennia. The traditional religious interpretation is that God was testing Abraham’s loyalty. But blind obedience to authority is not a concept that we endorse.”
The akedah tells the tory from Abraham’s point of view. (http://www.pitt.edu/~lbrush/Akedah.pdf)
The ethical dilemma Abraham is faced with helps us define our own moral boundaries and parameters for conduct. But that line of thinking is fine for non-writers, but our task is larger: to try to understand the story from all points of view, to dramatize without judging so that our readers can draw their own conclusions.
From my point of view, as a small child, I found Abraham despicable because he chooses an outer being’s command to do something that is taboo to our basic impulse which is to reproduce ourselves. I was offended by the adults around me who dared to think they could interpret and act on God’s will when it was in opposition to their feelings. For me, the denial of our feelings was and is the deepest betrayal to a higher being that we can commit.
If Abraham had listened to his feelings, which naturally as a father would be to protect his son, and said to God, “No way, ” there would be no story to tell, no Torah portion to read on the High Holiday. So this divide between societal or religious command and feelings is a good place to find a high degree of conflict.
As a teenager, I adored the work of Leonard Cohen. His song, The Story of Isaac, tells the story from the son’s point of view. This is what I mean when I say that we must look at a dramatic situation from different points of view. The questions that arise are the true grist for the writer’ mill. One question to consider is why Isaac doesn’t run when he realizes what his father intends to do?
The door it opened slowly,
My father he came in,
I was nine years old.
And he stood so tall above me,
His blue eyes they were shining
And his voice was very cold.
He said, “I’ve had a vision
And you know I’m strong and holy,
I must do what I’ve been told.”
So he started up the mountain,
I was running, he was walking,
And his axe was made of gold.
Well, the trees they got much smaller,
The lake a lady’s mirror,
We stopped to drink some wine.
Then he threw the bottle over.
Broke a minute later
And he put his hand on mine.
Thought I saw an eagle
But it might have been a vulture,
I never could decide.
Then my father built an altar,
He looked once behind his shoulder,
He knew I would not hide.
You who build these altars now
To sacrifice these children,
You must not do it anymore.
A scheme is not a vision
And you never have been tempted
By a demon or a god.
You who stand above them now,
Your hatchets blunt and bloody,
You were not there before,
When I lay upon a mountain
And my father’s hand was trembling
With the beauty of the word.
And if you call me brother now,
Forgive me if I inquire,
“just according to whose plan?”
When it all comes down to dust
I will kill you if I must,
I will help you if I can.
When it all comes down to dust
I will help you if I must,
I will kill you if I can.
And mercy on our uniform,
Man of peace or man of war,
The peacock spreads his fan.
So here are two points of view about this story. The next question I will ask myself as a writer is: Whose points of view are missing? The angel God sends to stop Abraham, the poor Ram who is sent to replace Isaac, and of course, God himself.
If you wanted to explore this story for yourself, set a timer for ten minutes and answer the following questions: What is your opinion about this story? And that of your characters? How do you think God would tell it?
Have a sweet and prosperous New Year.
Professor Marilyn Horowitz
copyright(c) 2014 by Marilyn Horowitz