Examining the story of the Binding of Isaac, known in Hebrew as the akeidah and read in synagogues this Sabbath, David Wolpe considers his own experience having undergone brain surgery twice. He writes:
When I was recovering from my second surgery, they put a plaster cast around my swollen head (insert joke here), and I was immobile and pretty miserable for a few days. However, when they cut the cast off and I could go home, I was suddenly and unexpectedly exhilarated. This giddy moment gave me a new way to look at this passage. The vast majority of the commentary on the akeidah deals with the motive of God and the reaction of Abraham. (And there is also a beautiful Yehuda Amichai poem about the fate of the ram.) Relatively little is written about the feelings of Isaac.
How did Isaac feel about the akeidah? There is room for more than one feeling in the human heart, and surely alongside his perplexity and faith there was fear. Yet after the angel cried out to Abraham and Abraham withdrew his hand, could there not also have been exhilaration? Would Isaac not step away from the altar, as I did from the hospital, with the electrifying recognition that he had been under the knife and survived?
Yes, it is quite different to face a knife intended to sacrifice you (especially when wielded by one’s father) and a scalpel intended to cure you. But in both places the Angel of Death hovers overhead. Everyone who has faced death in any of countless ways, as so many of us have, understands the enveloping nature of the trial and the astonishment of pulling through.
We often translate Isaac’s name as “laughter.” Strictly speaking, of course, Yitzḥak means “he will laugh.” Yet there is no instance in the Torah of Isaac actually laughing. When did our patriarch fulfill the destiny implied by his name? After I left the hospital, I imagined that perhaps, as he walked down the mountain, Isaac laughed.