The Trauma of the Knife

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David Wolpe:

A few weeks ago I had brain surgery to repair a breach that opened from brain surgery seven years ago. The experience gave me an insight into the story of the Akedah, the binding of Isaac. (Gen. Ch. 22)

Commentators ask how God could have instructed Abraham to sacrifice his son, or why Abraham acquiesced. More rarely do we wonder about Isaac. Most assume that when Isaac survives he is traumatized and damaged. Some note that he and Abraham never speak again after this experience. How could he undergo such an ordeal and not be devastated?

When I left the hospital three days after surgery I was surprised that I felt buoyant. I recalled Churchill's words after fighting in the Boer war: "It is exhilarating to be shot at without result." Unpleasant as the whole experience was, I had gone under the knife again, and emerged healthy and whole.

Perhaps Isaac knew that each of us must endure a test. We are not all Abraham, but we are all Isaac, all literally or figuratively under the knife, all tested. No one escapes fear, loss, sickness, sorrow. But we do control our reactions. Isaac's name is often translated "laughter" but "Yitzkhak" literally means "he will laugh." Yet the Bible never tells us when Isaac does indeed laugh. As I walked out into the sunshine after being under the knife, I thought maybe, just maybe, Isaac laughed as he came down the mountain.


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Jeffrey Goldberg is a national correspondent for The Atlantic and a recipient of the National Magazine Award for Reporting. He is the author of Prisoners: A Story of Friendship and Terror. More

Before joining The Atlantic in 2007, Goldberg was a Middle East correspondent, and the Washington correspondent, for The New Yorker. He was previouslly a correspondent for The New York Times Magazine and New York magazine. He has also written for the Jewish Daily Forward and was a columnist for The Jerusalem Post.

Goldberg's book Prisoners was hailed as one of the best books of 2006 by the Los Angeles Times, The New York Times, The Washington Post, Slate, The Progressive, Washingtonian magazine, and Playboy. He received the 2003 National Magazine Award for Reporting for his coverage of Islamic terrorism and the 2005 Anti-Defamation League Daniel Pearl Prize. He is also the winner of the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists prize for best international investigative journalist; the Overseas Press Club award for best human-rights reporting; and the Abraham Cahan Prize in Journalism.

In 2001, Goldberg was appointed the Syrkin Fellow in Letters of the Jerusalem Foundation, and in 2002 he became a public-policy scholar at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars in Washington, D.C.

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