Abraham, Knife

By Howard Goldenberg

He gets up early. There’s a task he has to carry out. He wonders if it’s a test. He looks down at himself. Circumcise yourself, the Voice said.

This is going to hurt. He knows he must do it right: the target organ is the sole organ of generation. After the knife has finished its work, that organ has to work for generation. You will be father to nations…

He sharpens the knife. It’s the best Hittite bronze, this ma’acheleth, this knife that makes others to eat. He looks at the earthenware jug. Will he take wine? Wine will dull pain, will it dull the surgeon? No, wine will wait. There will be time for that after He gives him a son.

Hooded eyes look down again, calculating, reckoning. How much will suffice? How much will be too much? He raises the knife. It trembles in his hand. Vision blazes, the eyes widen, the blade strikes.

***  

He’s up early again. When he hears the Voice he knows he has to act. It’s always daunting, always a task. Or a test? Take your son…

I have two sons. At least I used to have, before the Voice commanded: Listen to the voice of your wife. My wife told me to send the boy away. But still, which son does He mean?

Your only son…

He can’t mean Isaac! There’s the Covenant, the promise: father of nations…

Isaac, whom you loved. 

Well, there it is. No doubt, no further questions. So, up early, he saddles the ass, he takes two servant lads and they set off for the place which the Voice said to him. On the third day they stop at the foot of the mountain. Abraham speaks to his lads: You two stay here with the ass, and I and this lad will go on; we’ll bow ourselves down and we’ll come back to you.

Will we come back to you?

Both of us? 

Either of us?

How will I face his mother?

Why didn’t the Voice command me this time to hearken unto her voice?
So Abraham takes the wood pieces for the offering and he takes in his hand the fire and the voracious knife.

And the two of them go on together.

No speech in their mouths.

Silent climbing.
At length he hears the voice of his son: My father!

I’m here my son.

Here are the fire and the wood pieces; but where is the sheep for the sacrifice?

And Abraham says, God will see a sheep for sacrifice to Himselfmy son.

Isaac does not speak again to his father. Not ever.

And they go, the two of them, together.
And they come to the Place that God said to him.

Abraham builds an altar.

He arranges the firewood.

He binds his son. 

He places him on the altar, atop the firewood.
And Abraham stretches forth his hand.

And he takes that voracious knife to slaughter his son.

He moves deliberately, without haste, he allows time, as if awaiting the Voice, as if doubting the Voice, as if he now were the one setting a test.

The hooded eyes open wide. He is blinded by vision: he hears a Voice, the voice from heaven of a messenger.

Abraham.Abraham!

Abraham says here I am.

He heeds the voice.
Abraham lifts up his eyes and he sees a ram and he slaughters it in the stead of his son.
The two descend.

They do not speak.

In hearkening unto a Voice that comes from heaven, he has obeyed.

No-one but he hears the Voice. Or the voices.

Were both the same true Voice?

If they were not the same voice, which was true?

The father and his son go to Beer Sheva and Abraham settles there.
What does Sarah hear from Abraham?

What does Sarah hear from her son?

What does she know?
The next we hear of Sarah is of her death in Kiryath Arba, which is a good distance from Beer Sheva.

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