The Binding of Isaac


Originally published in Response, A Contemporary Jewish Review, Issue No. 69 (Winter 1999/Spring 2000), Chanita Baumhaft, ed.; © Copyright Jessie Seigel.  All rights reserved. 

Now, Abraham said it was a test
Of his faith in the wisdom of God
And of his righteousness
In fear and obedience to God,
And that, by raising the knife,
He had passed the test.

And Isaac thought it was
A test of his faith in the love
And wisdom of his father,
And that, by allowing himself to be bound,
He had passed the test.

Afterward, Sarah allowed as how God must be
An awfully insecure individual
To be playing at such so-called “tests,”
And of what worth was loyalty based in fear?
And she allowed as how Abraham and Isaac should
Both have their heads examined for
Having anything at all to do
With such a damn fool business.

“Not that anyone ever listens to me,” she said.
Then she shook her head and noted,
Not for the first time,
“The trouble ‘twixt God and me
Is that he would be an omnipotent monarch,
And myself, I am a democrat.”

Then she said no more about it.

But the ram felt
That if it was not a mean and meaningless prank
Rendering the whole of existence without meaning
(And, as related to his own situation,
A particularly nasty trick),
It must have been a test of
His own (the ram’s) compassion,
And he must have failed.

For when Abraham led Isaac
Up the mountain
With the wood strapped to Isaac’s back,
All the ram could think,
On seeing them pass, was
“Better you than me for a change.”

And when the men below,
At the bottom of the mountain,
Shook their heads sadly
At the thought that Abraham
Should give up his only begotten son,
The ram had thought, a little spitefully,
“His only favorite son, you mean.
For he has another.
And what sort of a
Sacrifice is it anyway
If you’re not sacrificing yourself?”

But still, he was drawn by
The drama of the thing
And followed them where
The men did not follow,
And saw Abraham set Isaac
On the altar
And raise the knife.

At that moment,
The ram felt some small
Sympathy for Isaac
And perhaps a little for Abraham
As well,
But mostly he felt,
As many men often do,
A wave of relief
That it was not himself.

And feeling for one instant
Safe and comfortable at last,
He sighed and thought,
“God’s in his Heaven,
All’s right with the world.”

It was then that the angel
Called out Abraham’s name
And the ram caught his horns
In the thicket.

And it was in those few moments
Before he was caught and slaughtered,
That the ram,
Understandably feeling that
He might have been set up for a fall,
Questioned whether
His fate was just bad luck
Or God’s wrath
Or the turn
Of a mad universe.