Julie Pfau, Isaac Loses His Laughter

Isaac Loses His Laughter [1]Julie A. Pfau
When Abraham told him he could go along on a journey to sacrifice to the Lord, Isaac laughed with joy. At last he would learn of the ways of the God his father followed. Abraham had never included him in such mysteries, and Isaac was excited and honored. He felt as though he had finally become a man.

They left early the next morning after cutting wood. It was a long journey and Isaac had many questions. He was filled with enthusiasm and was eager to find out more about God. The questions bubbled out like his laughter. “Who is God?”

“God created the world and led us to this land.”

“But what is He like? Does He love me? Will He take care of me the way He took care of you? Will my blessings be as great as yours?”

Abraham seemed uncomfortable with these questions and would not answer. Isaac was consumed with curiosity and did not understand why his father was so distant. He decided to try a different tack. “The fire and wood are here, but where is the lamb for the burnt offering?”

Abraham gave Isaac a cryptic look and said only, “God Himself will provide the lamb for the burnt offering, my son.”

Isaac, undaunted in his eagerness, laughed and asked, “But if God provides the lamb, how is it a sacrifice to you? Why does the Lord need a sacrifice? I don’t want to hurt anything and I don’t like blood. Does God like blood? Does God like to hurt? I don’t understand father.”

Abraham became angry. “You mustn’t ask such questions my son. You will anger the Lord.”

Isaac was confused. “Why are you angry? Why does God have to be angry? Why can’t we be happy and laugh together?”

These questions disturbed Abraham. He did not know how to answer. In his heart, he was wondering the same things. But he had to do the Lord’s will, even if it did seem unjust. The questions Isaac was asking were painful. Abraham had to stop them. He dismissed Isaac’s questions, saying, “Be silent now so I may prepare myself to offer a pleasing sacrifice to the Lord.”

The rest of the journey was shrouded in silence. Finally, after three long days, Abraham and Isaac reached Mount Moriah. The servants had been left behind and Isaac was anxious about his father’s strange quiet. Isaac was uneasy as they prepared the altar. He had still seen no sign of a lamb and he was beginning to wonder if his father was confused. Lost in his thoughts, Isaac failed to notice his father picking up the length of rope they had brought and advancing toward him. It was not until he was thrown to the ground and pinned down that he began to realize what was going to happen. Abraham sat on Isaac as he tied his hands and feet and Isaac was too shocked to resist. The boy’s thoughts were numbed by the horror of what was happening. He wanted to scream, but he had no voice and his father’s weight on his chest left him without breath to cry out or plead for mercy.

Abraham stood up and looked down upon his son, looked upon the young body rigid in panic, looked into those eyes filled with terror. He looked away. “The Lord has demanded you in sacrifice. I must obey the Lord no matter what He asks. You are the lamb of God.” With that, he lifted his son and heaved him onto the altar.

Isaac was still stunned. Something in him would not accept that this was really happening. His mind could not comprehend the horror of a father murdering his own son. He could not believe that he was about to die. A scream crashed upon his mind, but his voice was gone so he could only scream to God in his head as his father raised the knife.

But Abraham stopped. “The Lord has provided another sacrifice,” he said as he gazed blankly into the sky. Like a sleepwalker, he lowered the knife and turned to the bushes where a ram was struggling to detach its horns. Abraham took what was left of the rope, bound the ram and carried it to the altar, placing it next to his son. Isaac looked into the animal’s eyes and saw its fear. Suddenly he was covered with a spray of blood as his father slew the animal. Abraham began to pray. Isaac began to scream. Isaac wondered which of them God heard.

After a time, Abraham remembered to untie Isaac and set the wood afire. Then he turned to his son who was still covered in blood, and said, “Did I not tell you the Lord would provide? Come, let us return home.”

Isaac looked upon his father with hate, saying, “Today you have sacrificed your son. What you have given in sacrifice you may not reclaim.” So saying, Isaac turned his back and walked away, mumbling through his tears, “Who is this God? Who is this God?” Isaac never laughed again.

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[1] This midrash appeared in CCARJournal: A Reform Jewish Quarterly (Winter 2000) 77-79. Author’s Note: I wrote this midrash four years ago and I submit it now in response to “Isaac Speaks” by Constance Golden as printed in the Summer 1999 issue of this journal. I must ask, Why put yourself in anotherís shoes if, in the end, you are going to impose the same voice of devout justification that is found in the commentaries? Would it not be more appropriate to allow the voices of pain and uncertainty to exist, as they so often do in real life, without an answer? I believe that “Isaac Loses His Laughter” is more faithful to the experiences of many of the wounded in our communities. We must not only realize that Isaac speaks, we must realize that it is possible that Isaac loses his laughter.

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