Out of Necessity: A Midrash

Caryn Aviv
August 29, 2014
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My hardest question every year is how to confront the difficulties of re-reading the Akedah. The story upsets and horrifies us, but what bothers me most are the silences. Every year, I am particularly bothered by the narrative’s utter silence about Abraham’s inner emotional experience and the absence of Sarah’s voice in this pivotal Genesis text.

This year, I want to figure out a way to write Sarah into the Akedah. Not only because we read this story every year for the High Holy Days. Not only because this core Jewish narrative revolves solely around fathers and sons. Not only because Sarah has been such a dominant voice in the Torah up until this point and then disappears entirely. I want to write Sarah into the text, because had her experience been included, she might have taken the narrative in an entirely different direction. Time for a midrash.


I am tending the breakfast fire outside the tent early in the morning, when I hear a rustling inside. I’ve heard that sound before. When Abraham starts to mumble, as if he’s talking to himself, I get alarmed. By now, I know what it means. Something beyond my comprehension always unfolds in these moments.

I quickly pull my skirt up to stand and quietly press my ear against the skin of the tent, straining to listen. “Hineni,” I hear my husband say. Then a low murmur unfurls, as the leaves of the oak trees that shade us rustle in response to the rustling inside the tent. I feel my body begin shake and a trickle of sweat forms in the hollow of my back.

As I listen, my throat tightens when I realize what is being asked of Abraham – the most horrific demand possible from the Divine.

No. No. No. You will not take my beloved son, my only son, the son I love beyond words. One hand flutters to my throat, and one hand covers my mouth to conceal a scream, but I can’t control it.

“Abraham! Abraham!”

“Here I am, Sarah. What’s wrong?” Abraham rushes out of the tent, looking alarmed. He sees my face, drained of its color, my lips blue, and he holds me in his arms as I crumple to the ground.

I look at my husband directly in the eye and say in a low, slow growl, with clenched teeth: “You cannot do what the Divine One has asked of you. After everything we’ve been through. I won’t allow it. Look! Take any of these lambs for an offering, but do not take my son. Our son. Our only son.”

Abraham shoves me angrily and yells, “Why were you eavesdropping again!  Don’t ask me to do this! I must listen and do what is asked of me!” He stalks off, furious, and calls for Isaac and his stablehands. Isaac comes running out, ever the obedient child.

Ten minutes later, with his supplies gathered, Abraham glowers at me as I hug and kiss my son, and try to conceal my tears. “This isn’t happening, this isn’t happening, this isn’t happening,” I say inside myself. I am too frightened to say anything to Isaac, and I can’t even bear to look at Abraham. I watch with deep anguish, as my beloved child walks away with his father towards the mountains.

Soon after they leave, I return to the fire, sobbing. Then, when I have no more tears left to cry, and all I feel is an empty numbness, it comes to me. Yes.  Here I am. I look back towards the mountains. I will do what I need to do. I quickly gather a pack with some bread and a waterskin.  I furtively look to see if anyone notices. And then I run, silently, breathlessly, as hard as I can, towards Moriah. Toward my son.

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Caryn Aviv is Associate Director/Jewish Educator with Judaism Your Way in Denver, CO. Caryn taught Jewish Studies at various universities for ten years, and has published widely in the areas of contemporary Jewish culture, gender and sexuality in Judaism, and Israel Studies. In her voluminous spare time, she's an aspirational vegan yogini and is studying for rabbinical ordination through ALEPH: The Alliance for Jewish Renewal.


  1. I appreciate the rendition of your Midrash on Sarah’s reaction to the imminent event of the Akedah. You have portrayed Sarah as caring nurturer with her love and compassion for her son, Isaac. The matriarch also shows deep anguish and sobs uncontrollably by the fire. When Sarah is left numb by the impending thought of losing her son, a spark seems to be kindled in her heart and soul. the matriarch then rushes out to Mt. Moriah to do whatever is in her power to nurture her son one final time and perhaps supplicate the Lord for mercy.

    I have enjoyed reading your Midrash, and I now know what a great matriarch goes through in her struggle to maintain stability and keep her family together.

    Posted by
    Alan Freshman
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