I would have failed the Akeida, no question about it. I’m not even sure I would have made it up the mountain to begin with, with my child trusting me, following me. I certainly couldn’t have bound him and then lifted a knife, ready to sacrifice him. When the command came to take my child’s life, I would have ran it through all the reasoning in my mind and found some way not to believe that G-d had sent such a command. I would have found some way not to obey, some morality that made it ok to refuse.
I know this because I failed my own personal Akeida.
A few years ago, we reached a point in the conversion journey where I was asked to make a sacrifice that really isn’t that uncommon among Orthodox Jews living away from bigger communities. Actually, when I’m honest about it, I wasn’t even asked to make the sacrifice, just to be willing to consider it as a theoretical possibility in the future…and even that was enough to send me running. The sacrifice was the possibility of having to send my children away to boarding school at some point, if it was deemed necessary for their own well-being and spiritual growth and religious education. This is something that many parents have had to do and I’ve known parents who found the strength to do it. Even the Rabbi asking us to consider this had done it himself, so it was not that I was being asked something completely unreasonable or exceptional.
And yet…I wrestled with this.
My children have been a constant in a life that’s been full of change and we’ve been through a lot together. The mere idea of sending them away from me…was heart rending. I knew I couldn’t honestly say that I would. I couldn’t promise that if it came down to it, that I’d be able to find that strength. I couldn’t picture it. It felt like handing over my responsibility as a parent to strangers. It felt like a huge mistake in the making. I felt I had two choices…
1. Lie. This was the easy way out that a lot of people might have considered. After all, at this point, it was only a theoretical. I might never be asked to actually do it, so why jeopardize our conversion over something that might never happen?
2. Admit my weakness…and give up.
I couldn’t lie. I had a feeling that was the sort of bluff that not only wasn’t morally right to do, but also would eventually be called. G-d knew I didn’t have a decent poker hand and I’ve never had a good poker face. It was a gamble I simply wasn’t willing to take. We tried to talk the issue out with the Rabbi at the time, but whether through communication issues or because this was a test for us…calls went unreturned and we slipped quietly away from our conversion process, defeated.
I failed my Akeida LONG before I was even commanded to go to the mountain.
For whatever reason, it never occurred to my husband and I that there were other ways to fulfill this requirement. I have no idea why it never popped into our heads that another option might be…we ALL move when/if the time came that the kids needed more education than could be found where we were. We both have jobs that either allow us to work remotely or are pretty easy to move elsewhere. Why hadn’t this seemed a viable option before? For whatever reason, this astoundingly simple solution didn’t come to either of us until years after we’d left our conversion process. Maybe fear had clouded our judgment or maybe we just weren’t ready and G-d felt we needed to wander more? It’s hard to say, but at the time, the only options seemed to send the kids off, as young as 10 years old, or give up.
Now, I’m facing that failure, the fact that when I faced my own Akeida…I faltered.
I’m also becoming aware that as much as I might like to wrap it up in a way that makes me sound like a good mother, sacrificing her own wants and even needs for the sake of her children, my failure was more a selfish one. What if sending the kids off had actually been in their best interest? The Rabbi had even said that it would only happen if he felt the kids were being harmed by not being in a full time school. It wouldn’t have been done unless he felt there was great need. The harsh truth is that…I’m the one who wasn’t ready to even think about letting go of them…even if it was what was best for them. It was my own selfish desire to hold on to them longer. My children had nearly become idols and I was willing to sacrifice my Judaism to them. I was afraid to be without them, afraid of what boarding school might be like, afraid my kids would come back and not be…mine anymore. I was golum from Lord of the Rings, jealously guarding them, my preciousssses, but was it really from love or just my own selfish need for love?
Wow…that really is a lot to take in.
And so, now that I’m back on the path, it’s time to face my failure and admit…I was wrong. It’s time to see if I can make amends…if I’ll even be allowed to try. It’s time, as my grandmother would have said, “to eat some humble pie.” I thought I knew better than the Rabbis and, at least in this case, I was very wrong.
Am I ready to trust or, when faced with my next test, my next Akeida, will I falter again?