Five years ago, I led a Jewish tour of a number of Central European cities with members of my congregation. As historic and meaningful as those cities are in Jewish and European history, the ghosts of millions of murdered Jews haunted me everywhere. The memorials for the Jewish victims overwhelmed me with sadness at our people’s enormous loss in that darkest era in Jewish history.
The Akedat Yitzhak (The Binding of Isaac – Genesis 22) came to hold new meaning for me since that tour, powerfully captured here by Hayim Gouri in his poem “Heritage.”
“The ram came last of all. And Abraham / did not know that it came to answer the / boy’s question* – first of his strength when his day was on the wane.
The old man raised his head. Seeing / that it was no dream and that the angel / stood there – the knife slipped from his hand.
The boy, released from his bonds, / saw his father’s back.
Isaac, as the story goes, was not / sacrificed. He lived for many years, / saw what pleasure had to offer, / until his eyesight dimmed.
But he bequeathed that hour to his offspring. / They are born with a knife in their hearts.”
*In Genesis 22:7 Isaac says, “Here are the fire and the wood, but where is the young beast for the sacrifice?”
Hayim Gouri, a renowned Hebrew poet (1923-2018), served in the Palmach, the Haganah and the Israeli Defense Forces. After the war he was sent to Europe where he visited Displaced Persons’ Camps. He wrote of the ordeal for survivors in seeking to reconstruct their lives in the so-called normal world, in the Hebrew novel, The Chocolate Deal, New York, 1958.
From Holocaust Poetry, Compiled and Introduced by Hilda Schiff, (New York: St. Martin’s Griffin, 1995), p. 5.