TEST OF FAITH
In this week's Torah portion, one of the most profound acts in the history of Man unfolds - the akeidah (binding of Isaac). It was a supreme test of faith which demonstrated the extent of Abraham's devotion to Hashem.
In this week's Torah portion, one of the most profound acts in the history of Man unfolds - the akeidah (binding of Isaac). It was a supreme test of faith which demonstrated the extent of Abraham's devotion to Hashem. It would once and for all silence any doubts about whether Abraham's and Isaac's faith in Hashem was absolute and perfect. The akeidah tested every fiber of Abraham's mind, body, and soul. It contradicted earlier Divine assurances, was a reversal in policy against human sacrifice, and would take from Abraham that which he most loved and stood for his entire life. Yet the aged patriarch responded with genuine enthusiasm and joy to fulfill the Divine will, no questions asked.
The intense drama of the akeidah stems from the great stature of the individuals and what they represent. The first of the patriarchs, Abraham, discovered Hashem from a careful study of the creation and concluded that its most prominent feature was kindness. In order to resemble the Creator, Abraham therefore selected this character trait as his own to serve Hashem. The akeidah would demonstrate that Abraham's kindness was not simply a product of a good heart or generous disposition, but was highly disciplined and used as a tool in the service of Hashem which could be completely overridden if necessary.
Isaac is a very complex figure. His birth is miraculous. He is passive, and he personifies the awesome spiritual trait of strict justice. He lives his life in accordance with the most demanding guidelines possible in the service of Hashem. Abraham had some followers; Isaac had none. According to the Malbim, one of the preeminent Torah commentators of the 19th century, the world could not exist with Isaac in his full intensity due to the strict form of justice which he represented. In a kabbalistic sense, the natural order and the constellations were opposed to his very existence. Isaac, born from a miracle, could only survive if his offspring would remain worthy of a miracle. Should there be any deviation, they would come under the control of the natural order which would call for their possible destruction.
The akeidah would somehow transform Isaac so that the forces of nature would no longer oppose him. There was no soul mate for the original Isaac. Following the akeidah, a suitable match is born for Isaac, as he is now transformed into a "new being." This transformation process seems to parallel what the sages say took place in Hashem's mind concerning which primary middah (character trait) to employ in the creation of the world. Our sages teach us that originally, Hashem thought to create the world using the character trait of strict justice. However, since Hashem knew that it could not endure in this mode, He joined it with the measure of compassion and mercy.
Even the manner in which Hashem commands Abraham in the beginning of the akeidah, and toward the end, seems to follow the above pattern. The original request to take Isaac is conveyed through the name of Hashem which corresponds to the measure of strict justice, Elokim. The command to spare Isaac is voiced in the name of Hashem which corresponds to mercy and compassion. The akeidah, therefore seems to be a reenactment in human terms of what took place in Hashem's mind during creation regarding the form of justice which would be appropriate for this world.
As to what happens to Isaac after the akeidah, the text is silent. Some commentators say that he temporarily entered the Garden of Eden to recuperate from the experience. Others say that he was enrolled in the academy of Shem and Eiver, where he devoted several years to the study of Torah until he later reappears in the text to meet his newly betrothed wife, Rebecca. Isaac is later associated with the planting of seeds and reaping of great harvests. Isaac's ways remain hidden from a view, yet they produce vast physical and spiritual bounties.
The exemplary and unflinching service of father and son in this unprecedented test of faith demonstrates what it means to be a person who truly fears Hashem. It forms the basis of future Temple service where an animal will be accepted as a substitute for one's self as a sacrifice. Nowadays, we approach Hashem in prayer in the name of our forefathers. Due to their devotion, they are referred to as Hashem's chariot in this world, as they responded to the Divine will instantly and fully, as does a chariot to the demands of its rider. On each Rosh Hashanah, we read the Torah portion about the birth of Isaac and the akeidah as a source of merit, and sound the shofar which keeps alive the memory of their holy lives.
Steve Lerner writes from Atlanta.
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