The story of the Binding of Isaac is one of the most difficult in the Torah. Yet it is a central part of our people’s story–recited every year on Rosh Hashanah and by some every day as part of morning services. And it is the final dramatic episode in this week’s Torah reading, Vayera.

Theologians and philosophers often look at the story from the point of view of Abraham. The Binding of Isaac is Abraham’s big test. As the angel at the end of the story tells him, God now sees that he has not withheld anything. Abraham would go the distance, would sacrifice that which is most precious to him, in order to serve God. In this usual view of the story, the question we ask ourselves is “Would we do the same thing?”

But we can also look at the story from the point of view of Isaac. And when we do, we see something different. From Isaac’s point of view, the question becomes how to make sense of the fact that his father has done this. Isaac is passive and accepting. He goes along, and he becomes literally and figuratively bound by his father’s decisions. His father has formed him, and this event will resonate throughout the history of their family for generations to come. When we identify with Isaac, the question we ask ourselves is, “How do we accept this inheritance?” 

In my work with students, it is the Issac view that seems most salient. For many young adults, the big question is how how to come to terms with the decisions their parents have made for them. How do they accept–or reject–their inheritance: their parents’ financial support, their parents’ dreams of their careers or spouse, and, frequently, their parents’ religious and ethnic identities. Particularly in a world in which we so value individual choice and self-authorship, the image of a passive Isaac who blindly accepts his father’s actions, seems jarring.

Yet as we grow older, we often discover a bit of Isaac in ourselves. As we will see next week, Isaac recapitulates his father’s story in multiple ways. Like Isaac, we frequently find ourselves reliving parts of our parents’ lives. When they have children of their own, young adults often find comfort and strength in the traditions of their ancestors, traditions which only a few years earlier they found anathema. 

It is important to take this longer view, especially in the heat of young adulthood. Development and maturation takes time, as evidenced by Abraham himself, who goes from being the iconoclastic son of Terach to becoming the father of many nations.

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