Is it possible that God does not want to be taken too literally, especially where common sense is concerned? That appears to be the message behind "My Father My Lord," an awardwinning Israeli film that, in its modern retelling of the Abraham and Isaac story, comes off as a Biblical parable of its own.
Written and directed by David Volach (himself a product of the Hasidic community), the Hebrew-language, English-subtitled film tells the story of a loving, but strict Orthodox rabbi, Abraham Edelman (Assai Dayan, son of Moshe Dayan) and his relationship with his beautiful 10-year-old boy, Menachem (Ilan Griff).
Menachem is naturally inquisitive, which forces his dogmatic father to answer questions in an often nonsensical way. Alover of animals, Menachem sees a German shepherd jump in an ambulance to be near its dying owner. The boy asks whether a heaven exists for good dogs. His father responds, "No, because animals have no wills, no souls, no commandments."
The boy is fascinated by a dove nurturing its young on a windowsill nest. To his horror, Rabbi Abraham shoos the bird away, justifying the act with an obscure commandment from the Torah. Though the subservient wife/ mother Esther (Sharon Hacohen Bar) weakly remarks that the Mamma bird will return, the father says, "We do everything in the Torah without asking why."
The film culminates in a swimming trip to the Dead Sea. Esther is not allowed to be with her son on the men's beach, a religious law that has tragic consequences. While Rabbi Abraham is absorbed in prayer, the boy ventures to the sea to fill a bag with water for a pet minnow. Menachem disappears. As night falls, the distraught parents watch as a helicopter spotlight searches for the boy, whose drowned body is eventually found.
In the final heart-wrenching scene, the rabbi sits in the back of synagogue unable to give his sermon, as his bereaved wife in the balcony pew drops prayer books on his head. The pain of the parents is overwhelming, powerfully conveyed by Dayan and Hacohen Bar. Abraham keeps excusing his negligence by saying, "I was wrapped in the hands of God."
The Edelmans must ask themselves whether Menachem's death is a test of their faith or punishment for a blind devotion that overshadowed parental responsibility. In the Biblical story, Isaac's life is spared. Here, Menachem's isn't. Why?
"My Father My Lord" has a profound intensity that lingers long after you leave the theater.