Our scene at the beginning of the Akedah (binding) is already poignant enough, including the first and only conversation between Abraham and Isaac that we will be privy to in Torah. Though our verse has taken on a new and all the more current meaning given the intervening events of Newtown, CT.
It seems appropriate, in turn, that the entire conversation revolves around a simple exchange that includes Isaac’s first ever word: “Father;” followed by Abraham’s response, “Here I am, my son.” A show of mutual respect and admiration that is worthy of two thirds of our forefathers.
Then Isaac spoke to Abraham his father and said, “Father–”
And he said, “Here I am, my son.”
And he said, “Here are the fire and the wood, but where is the lamb for the offering?”
OK, you know the routine. This is a powerful verse on many levels. First, consider what may be troubling, or of concern to you about this verse. We will then catch our breath, and sneak a peek at what Rashi has to think.
Might you be wondering why both Isaac and Abraham called out, as if they could not see each other – perhaps given darkness, or perhaps the fog that they walked through? We can picture Isaac bent over, bearing the load of wood on his back – did that contribute to his inability to see Abraham? Or might we question the quiet gentleness that they used, at this profound moment of Isaac’s impending doom? Do you wonder why Isaac assumes that a lamb will be sacrificed, when we know that various other animals were fair ‘game’ for the task at the time? Or how about the fact that we already know that the two of them are bringing along not only fire, and wood, but a knife as well, yet Isaac fails to mention (or perhaps see?) that.
So we can’t wait to peek down the page of our Torah text, to the portion where we will finally learn what’s bothering Rashi.
Nothing. Nada. Nyet. Kloum.
Instead, Rashi moves straightaway into verse 8.
In other words, Rashi either has, or at least shares, no thoughts regarding our current verse 7, leaving us to wonder instead, “How can anything not be bothering Rashi?” Was he asleep at the grape press? How can any self-respecting, wine-vinting, French-speaking, script-writing Torah commentator arrive at this verse, in this scene, and not have the slightest reservation or lesson to teach?
The new answer?
He’s trying to get us to think for ourselves! Darn that Rashi! Well we’re not going to fall for it. We’ll move on. But first, there are just a couple things. OK, a few perhaps.
First, what does the knife really tell us? As we recall from the previous verse, where Rashi was considerably more verbose, the particular word that is chosen to describe the knife has somewhat unusual connotations, revolving around ‘eating’ the flesh that it cuts. To the point where Rashi previously felt compelled to suggest an ‘alternative’ meaning, in which the People of Israel would instead somehow ‘consume,’ or benefit from, the sacrifice of Isaac.
These two interpretations may not be as different as they seem at first blush. We were reminded of other instances in which a legacy is defined as being eaten, or consumed by later generations, as in Isaiah 58:14 where we read:
14 (if you honor the sabbath)
Then you can seek the favor of the Lord.
I will set you astride the heights of the earth,
And let you enjoy (feed upon) the heritage of your father Jacob —
For the mouth of the Lord has spoken.
For that matter, how else would you describe the process of accepting one’s inheritance, particularly in a ravenous fashion, and in a manner that stands far apart from to today’s simple ‘downloading’ on ancestry.com.
When left to our own devices, we can almost begin to see the manner in which the various parts of this scene, and iterations of the word for knife, may tie into each other, including G-d’s ability to ‘devour’ our enemies, as well as the fire that ‘consumes’ the sacrifice, one’s desire to ‘consume’ their heritage, and the knife that will literally or figuratively permit them all to occur.
So as we break, and eagerly await a week filled with Rashi’s own words, we think back to the scene that is about to unfold, and hope that indeed time might heal all wounds, with the only thing that survives being the heritage and legacy we are given by those who have gone before, including those who have most recently gone.