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Sarah’s Lament: An Art and Poetry Collaboration

By Ori Z. Soltes

Published Oct 6, 2022

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An Art and Poetry Collaboration

This pairing of a poem and a painting, focused on a re-thinking of Sarah’s role as a human being in the story of the Akedah, is from an ongoing collaboration between poet Ori Z Soltes and visual artist Elaine Langerman on diverse subjects.  

 

Sarah’s Lament 

“And Abraham took the wood for the burnt-offering, and laid it upon Isaac his son; and he took in his hand the fire and the knife; and they went both of them together… and Abraham dwelt in Beersheba… And Sarah died in… Hebron… and Abraham came to mourn for Sarah, and to weep for her… and… buried Sarah, his wife, in the cave of the field of Machpelah…” — Gen 22:6, 19 and 23:2, 19.  

 

On that cold autumn morning, 

I never realized  

that I would never see 

my Abraham again. 

  

I felt my husband 

stir and rise 

while darkness hovered, 

  

and, half-awake, 

half still dreaming, 

I heard him call 

  

gently 

to Isaac, 

who responded with surprising 

  

ease, 

and I heard them 

leave the tent, together. 

  

Later, when my senses 

were fully there 

and bearing  

  

my morning tea  

out to the dawn, 

I scanned 

  

the distant hills 

toward Moriah, 

and I understood  

  

that he had also taken 

our two best 

servant boys 

  

and our finest mule. 

By the cooking fire 

I shivered, 

  

  

and not from the cold, 

when I saw  

the empty space 

  

where my sharpest, 

  

largest kitchen knife 

  

was no longer 

bound in its place. 

  

Too many days later, 

toward evening, 

one of the boys arrived 

  

as a messenger 

from my husband,  

to inform me 

  

that all was well  

with him 

  

and with Isaac, 

my son, 

  

safe, after events 

that even the lad 

  

who waited patiently 

at the foot of the mountain, 

could only surmise. 

  

Father and son, together, 

offered a ram, 

it seems,  

  

to the mighty God, 

the invisible force, 

the voice 

  

that has commanded 

Abraham 

since before we were wed. 

  

My son 

is safe  

with his father, 

  

  

in Be’ersheva, 

the messenger reported. 

  

  

Yet, as suddenly 

I have begun to feel 

the weight of my years, 

  

I find myself 

consumed by questions. 

  

Four, to be precise: 

  

What really happened  

on that mountain peak— 

so awful that my husband 

  

never returned to me? 

  

How have he and Isaac fared, 

after that moment, 

without my mediating  

presence to  

  

bind them 

together? 

  

Will I see them again, 

ever, 

before some cave-like 

  

burial site 

swallows me? 

  

Is all the pain 

that I have felt 

since that fateful dawn—  

  

forgotten by Abraham 

who once thought me  

so beautiful, 

  

that he shamed himself  

before 

the pharaoh in Egypt; 

  

torn from my beloved Isaac, 

my song and my laughter, 

  

my one 

and only son,  

whom I love 

  

as far as the farthest star 

and back again 

  

—as fully as the desert 

is full of sand: 

  

is my pain a punishment 

sent from my husband  

and his God 

  

for forcing Abraham 

to send away 

that Egyptian handmaiden, 

  

Hagar, 

and Ishmael, 

her son? 

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Ori Z. Soltes teaches at Georgetown University across a diverse range of disciplines.

Reflections

Reading between the lines 

How does the Midrash handle the Akedah? Where is Sarah in the rabbinic discussion?  

Taking the Torah IRL 

Why is it intriguing and important to think about the biblical patriarchs and matriarchs not only as heroes and heroines but as everyday people?  

Analyze 

Given the previous question: why might Abraham not have returned to Sarah after the Akedah? He never saw her alive again. What was he afraid of? 

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