To What End Am I? Isaac’s Answer
I’ve always felt some empathy for our patriarch Isaac, and I’ve always felt he got kind of a bum wrap. Never mind the almost being sacrificed by his father thing. He’s given short shrift in the Bible, not nearly the extensive narrative that Abraham or Jacob receive. Besides the sacrifice, he’s only known for giving his older son’s blessing to his younger son, Jacob. So this is my midrash (my interpretive take) on what Isaac would really say, if he could tell his own story, with some perspective from things I’ve learned in life.
Before starting, I’m indebted to my blessed teacher and friend, Rabbi Nadya Gross, for pointing out the single line early in the Torah reading that can be translated literally as “If this, then to what end is this that I am?” In other words, “If this is the situation, what am I (or to what end am I)?” Reb Nadya says this is one of her favorite lines in Torah since it beautifully encapsulates spiritual direction. I’m grateful because the concept of a favorite line in Torah hadn’t even entered my mind!
My wife asks, “To what end is this that I am.” The wise woman that she is, and true to her habit of finishing my sentences, she asks for both of us.
My story is barely told in our legends. Generations to come will refer to me just as the one who was spared on Mt. Moriah. Is that my legacy? My father was the one who first heard G!d and who was given the blessing of the covenant. My son got a new name (or two)! And I’m just the one who didn’t die? WTF? Well I’m here to set the record straight.
I’m also referred to as strength and discipline (gevurah). Damn right. It takes strength to live with my past. I am also laughter, and I’m a well-digger.
I see the two parts of me come into this world, the much maligned wildness and earthiness as well as the introspection. I love that wildness. We all should. Don’t let others disparage it because we’ve become so separate and isolated from “the field.”
I feel G!d’s voice in the moist soil in my hands and under my fingernails; hear It in the rustling of the dry Cottonwood leaves in the breeze or falling to the ground in the Autumn afternoon, or see It in the group of bucks that greet me as I enter the forest. I feel the connection to Mother as well as father, even though my biological mother died so suddenly.
I don’t say much. Perhaps it’s because of my father. He was the great G!d-seeker, after all! The bold adventurer, so damn sure of the Voice he heard that he was willing to sacrifice and abandon his own children! That’s a lot to think about. Or maybe, silence is just my way.
Whatever it is, in these times I’d rather dig. Dig into the earth. Dig past the layers of clay and rock that resist and oppose my discovering my Destiny. Don’t believe the story. It wasn’t just my servants who dug.
I look for those Living Waters within. Yes, I follow my ancestors’ wisdom. I invoke their names, and I say their prayers. I am here to transmit their wisdom to my descendants, expand on it.
This is one reason why I dig my father’s wells: to understand, to see the Divine flow in them…and in him. This is my way of processing my trauma. I look to understand his blessings, the ones he received and the ones he gave. In this way, not only do I carry on the blessing and promise made by the Holy One, but I can bless him too.
The books treat me like just a bridge between generations. Is this my Destiny, just to be a bridge to my children? The story doesn’t relate how when my children were born, I felt I had found my calling, to be a father. A loving father.
A father to heal the wounds from my father. I’m not perfect at it, and I’ve made mistakes. It’s not easy, and it takes vigilance, and even though some of my story repeats my father’s story, at least my sons are talking to each other, and they’ve reconciled and forgiven and love each other. If my work has healed just one wound that they won’t carry forward, then it’s been beneficial.
I’m not the first man to do this work, and I won’t be the last. I had to let go of the rage I held about being a sacrifice. I had to integrate the pain and the blessings of being my father’s son, and in the process become the blesser, the one who blesses my father and my children. Because by being able to bless him, I replace him as Sovereign in my consciousness. I become the King archetype. As a King, I choose to bring in the Lover, the energy my father forgot in his focus on the Magician/Thinker. All those psalms and that “Song of Songs” may have never happened without my bringing in love.
As I dig, I create space. I clear my own soul to be the conduit of blessings for those who need it. I love the physical work. I integrate this physicality and earthiness that I love with the thoughtfulness and introspection that I also love. In the hole, in the nothingness (the ayin), I seek G!d. I find my blessing that I offer (to both sons) about the bounty of the Earth, the “dew of the heavens and the fat of the earth.”
This is all very serious stuff! My mother laughed at the thought of me. What if we didn’t take ourselves quite so seriously. You know, in the end, it’s all a bit comical. I’m an old man who can’t see, but I can’t tell the difference between goat skin and my own son? Really? REALLY? Maybe it’s not Jacob who’s the trickster. Maybe it is me. Maybe my blindness is to show what a fine line there is between two seeming opposites. Our lives, our relationship with the Divine, are an ongoing process of decisions that really aren’t clear until years later. Just like getting lost in the wilderness, you lose your way in life by a series of decisions, not just one big one. Or MAYBE it’s just a reminder that I could be wrong too.
This is my legacy. This is what I am. This is my wisdom I pass on to my sons and all of their children. Show up fully. If some Dude wrestles with you and gives you a name, own it. None of this one minute I’m Jacob, the next I’m Israel stuff. Crack a joke once in a while. Don’t wait until something called the Borscht Belt comes around to laugh. Share joy with your sons, or they may end up fighting and throwing one another into pits. And love as fiercely as you wrestle.