This week’s Torah portion (Genesis 22:1-19,) usually referred to as “The Binding of Isaac” is one of the most challenging of all the scriptures for contemporary people to understand as it is so very difficult for us to imagine that a loving god would ask anyone to sacrifice their own child in order to demonstrate their obedience and fidelity.
Here we have G-d commanding Abraham to take his son, his “only son..whom he loves, and go up the mountain to “..offer him there as a burnt offering.” These days if anyone “heard” G-d tell them something like that they’d be considered psychotic or deranged.
However, I don’t want to examine this aspect of the reading and the unlimited possible interpretations of it, but rather to look at another part of the reading that spoke to me: how “Abraham took the wood of the burnt offering and laid it on his son..” Two things stand out in particular. The first is how children, by virtue of their birth into their family of origin (or adoption) have no choice but to be at the effect of their parents’ world view, religion, social location, prejudices—all those things which are part of their ancestral traditions or the parents own life experience and learning.
Children are born free of preconceived notions of hierarchies, biases, and the like, so the traits and beliefs that are exhibited by their parents, who naturally want them to internalize them, become a burden for them to carry if it is not in their nature to embrace them. So, too, can a parent’s aspirations for a child become a burden if the child doesn’t share the same dream for himself.
Second, after we leave our families and enter into the world as supposedly autonomous individuals we can continue to carry those things with us so that they go on contributing to the formation of our identities and world views. Sometimes we are even unaware that this is occurring, we have so embodied the beliefs of those who reared us.
And then on top of it all, as we go on carrying this burden, we add to it our own burdens—stuff like bad life-style choices, unhealthy relationships, and addictions. So then taken together, all these things become, just like the sticks being carried up the mountain by Isaac, the things that could burn us up and maybe eventually, lead to our own deaths.
So, let us pray that G-d reveals to us what burdens we are unnecessarily carrying on our backs that were put there by our parents and then by ourselves. And instead of being bent over with the weight of them, ask G-d to relieve us of our burden so that we can become the people that G-d created us to be before we even were born.