January 17, 2019

A Letter to Sarah

Dearest Sarah,

The boy is alive. Shaken — we both are. Butalive. I’ve sent him home to you in Kiryat Arba. I’ll remain here inBeersheba. I need some time alone to think things through.

From the beginning, this has been someadventure. “Leave home!” I was commanded. “Leave behind all thatmakes you who you are — family and place, culture and memory. Theblessing is yours only if you come naked, stripped of all thatprotects you in this world — position, patrimony, prestige.” Iobeyed because I heard a truth more compelling than any I had everknown.

You came with me. Out of love. Out of loyalty.Out of the hope that this might bring you the one thing you craved –a child. An end to your bitter barrenness. I strained to hear thevoice of God. You prayed each night to hear the cry of an infant. Itold you about the promise: Like the stars that fill the sky, ourchildren will cover the earth. You chuckled: Just one would be enoughof a miracle — a sign that we were indeed chosen.

I went out to war and defeated kings. Youfought the despair of the advancing years. And when, in yourdesperation, you gave me the handmaid Hagar, I could hear again onlythe voice of God’s promises. I couldn’t hear your anguish, yourloneliness.

The son that Hagar bore was my son, but notyours. He had all of my drive, my passion, my impulses. He had mystrength. He even had my temper. But nothing that’s you. None of yourwisdom, your patience, your tenderness. None of your laughter. Inthat, he was a dangerous creature. You were right in sending himaway. He would have destroyed us. He may yet.

And then came Isaac. “Come and know the boy,”you said. “Teach him your vision, the ways of God.” But I wasn’tthere. Having defeated kings, I took to battling God: “Shall theJudge of all the earth not do justice?” Again, you chuckled: Shallthe father of great nations never come home to meet hisson?

Then came that unfathomable commandment: “Takeyour son, your only son, Isaac, whom you love, and go to the land ofMoriah, and offer him there as a burnt offering.” For the first timein my life, I was struck dumb — silenced with fear and with pain.For this I abandoned my homeland and my kin? Where is Your promise?Your justice? But now He was silent.

I thought of waking you to say goodbye. But Iknew that this would kill you. You endured the ravages of our journeyand childbirth at age 90. But this was too much. So I rose early,made the preparations and took the boy.

The three days of journey were the longest daysany father has ever endured. It was the first time I had ever spenttime with the boy. You were right about him. He is the best of usboth. With each step, I grew to love him more. With each step, wedrew closer to our destiny.

How many times did I turn back? Swearing atmyself for once thinking that man can comprehend the ways of God,that man can think himself God’s partner in covenant. I could wrestleout of Him a concession for the few righteous of Sodom, but nothingfor my own son? Still, something drove me on. I needed to know,ultimately, if He would go through with it. Would He break Hispromise and cast us away? Is He like the gods of the land, demandingthe blood of children as His tribute? Or is He a God of life? Ineeded to know.

We went up the mountain. I bound Isaac to thealtar. We cried together, our tears mingling. And as I raised theknife to fulfill the commandment, I heard a voice — stronger andmore clearly than any I had ever heard. It was your voice, Sarah. Andit commanded me to drop the knife, to lift up the boy, to comehome.

You were right all along. No need to seek Godon the mountain top. That is the way of loneliness and death. Homeand heart are where God lives. No need to hear God’s voice from theheavens. The laughter and song of children are enough for anyone whoneeds to hear God’s voice. You were right, Sarah. I’ll be homesoon.

With all my love,


Ed Feinstein is rabbi at Valley Beth Shalom inEncino.

All rights reserved by author.