What Isaac Knew

When I was six or seven, my father led me up a mountain
of stairs to my room, I had done something wrong
to this day I can’t remember what
And he punished me with his hard, self-righteous hand
“This hurts me more than it hurts you,” he’d say again and again
as his mighty hand came down on me
With piercing pain, the endless, never-healed pain
of being struck by a father

Now, in synagogue, each time the story of Isaac is read
I imagine him being led up the mountain
by a father wielding the cold and bitter knife
of righteousness, and it leads me to think about prayer
but cannot, any more than Isaac could
or forgiveness but don’t know whom to forgive
Abraham, for blindly following his God
Or Isaac, for doing the same

All I know in the end is this: I’ve learned not to say
“The Sacrifice of Isaac”
because he wasn’t sacrificed, strictly speaking
No, he was bound, and I’ve learned to say
“The Binding of Isaac”
But he wasn’t just bound, the change is wrong
Trust me: Isaac was sacrificed


–Published in Jewish Currents special Rosh HaShana supplement

Return to the first poem in the poetry gallery