The weekly Torah portions have never resonated more.
When Abraham woke up that morning, was his stomach queasy? Did it take him a few moments to remember why he was so unsettled and nauseous? Or when he got up early, was it because he had never really fallen asleep?
Did he know he was being tested? When he heard his name and replied, “Hineini” – “Here I am”- could he possibly have anticipated what God would ask of him? And once he knew, what were his thoughts as he saddled his donkey? Did he wish he had hesitated?
When he is told “take your son…and lech lecha [go] to the Land of Moriah,” did his mind begin to wander? Did he flash back to 62 years earlier when he first heard those same words, “Lech lecha,” when he was commanded: “Go from your land, from your birthplace, from your father’s house?” (Genesis 12:1) Did he remember the excitement and anticipation around his aliya? Could he have realized at the beginning what it would entail in the end?
And what about Isaac? Was he resentful of his father’s passion and total commitment? Did he understand on that very morning that he was the intended offering? Was he ready to make the ultimate sacrifice?
Growing up, I felt that this story sounded so distant. The characters so unrelatable. The events so scary and foreign.
But now I live in a community with many religious olim from English speaking countries, and I am surrounded by people – my family, neighbors, and friends – who heard that initial call of “Lech lecha.” People who left their countries, their birthplaces, their parents’ homes and moved to the land that God showed us. A land where we were promised we would become a great nation and be blessed and where those who curse us would be cursed.
None of us thought it would be that easy. We knew learning a new language would be difficult, the culture would be foreign, the food would be spicy, the education and health system not what we were used to.
We knew it would take time and patience until we felt comfortable and at home.
But we moved for our children, for their future, so that they could feel at ease in this country. So that their home and their homeland would be one and the same. So that they would not contend with that tension. So that they could grow up here, speak Hebrew fluently, be at ease with “charif” food and “charif” personalities, be comfortable with the culture and live in the land of our ancestors, in the place we know we are meant to be.
We knew the day would come when they would be asked to serve their country, would don uniforms, would be given guns. But we tried not to think too much about that second “Lech lecha,” the one of the akeidah. We only “saw the place from a distance.” (Genesis 22:4) We saw the holiness, we saw our history coming alive, we saw our future, and we saw our destiny. We saddled our donkeys and packed our belongings, the wood that we’d need to make fire.
And then our children grew older and asked, “But where is the lamb for the burnt offering?” (Genesis 22:7)
Abraham replied, “God will see to a lamb for an offering, my son. And the two of them walked on together.” (Genesis 22:8)
Abraham was committed to God, he heeded his command, he did what he was asked; but that does not mean he was at peace with it. He was a dutiful servant, and he trusted his master. Ready at the pivotal moment to say “here I am.”
But it is Isaac, his child, who then moves ahead willingly. He has full understanding of what needs to be done, of the sacrifice it will require.
The Midrash tells us that “even when it became clear to Isaac that he would be sacrificed, the two of them walked together with the same heart.”
But wasn’t Isaac scared? How did he move forward? From where did he draw the strength? We don’t know how the story would have continued if Isaac had resisted, if he had put up a fight, if he hadn’t walked on together with his father. Perhaps he is the one who gave Abraham the strength to move forward, to believe that somehow it was what was necessary, even if it could never be fully understood.
The young men and women of this country, those who moved here and those who were born here, have answered the call of “Lech lecha” with a resounding “Hineinu.” “We are here.”
Our soldiers give us strength. They don’t hesitate. They charge ahead with conviction.
They sing, they dance, they learn, they pray.
They send us videos, they tell us they are prepared, they promise us that they will win.
And they lay their lives on the altar.
We can’t breathe, but they have not paused to take a breath. They go full steam ahead and won’t stop until the job is done. They know what is on the line. This is their country. They are fully at home and are here to stay. There is no other land to which to go.
In this week’s Torah portion of Vayera, Abraham hears the Angel of the Lord. The one that calls out from the heavens and says:
“Do not lift your hand against the boy; do nothing to him, for now I know that you fear God: for you have not withheld from Me your son, your only one.” And Abraham and Isaac return home together.
Here in modern day Israel, that is not always the case. Sometimes the kids come home… and sometimes they don’t.
And yet, as a nation we pull together, and do not withhold our children. Far too many have already been sacrificed. The pain is suffocating. Where is the Angel of the Lord?
We are waiting to hear his voice.
And meanwhile, our children keep us strong and keep us going.
“Here we are.”
And we are here to stay.