The Temple Institute: Temple Talk: Marcheshvan 16, 5770/November 3, 2009

"And it came to pass after these things, that G-d tested Avraham"
(Genesis 22:1)

How odd that Avraham remained silent when G-d commanded him to "take your son... Yitzchak... and bring him up there for a burnt offering." (Genesis 22:2) He was outspoken on behalf of the residents of Sodom when G-d disclosed to him His plans. He shared with G-d his doubts concerning his future generations, (before Yitzchak was born), yet now, when faced with his greatest challenge, spiritually, emotionally, intellectually and ethically, he is silent.

Concerning this verse, Rashi, the classic Torah commentator, wrote: "Take your son: He [Abraham] said to Him," I have two sons." He [G-d] said to him," Your only one." He said to Him," This one is the only son of his mother, and that one is the only son of his mother. He said to him," Whom you love." He said to Him," I love them both." He said to him," Yitzchak."

Traditionally, this midrash is understood to teach us the great and impartial love Avraham felt for both his sons, and certainly this is the case. But there are other insights we can gain from Rashi. Perhaps Avraham was testing G-d. Perhaps Avraham wanted to hear from G-d who He intended by "take your son." Avraham had two sons, but he knew that only Yitzchak would inherit Avraham's spiritual legacy and destiny, as promised expressly by G-d.

It is reasonable to assume that if G-d had answered "Yishmael" instead of "Yitzchak," Avraham would have sensed the danger and immediately beseeched G-d's mercy and sense of justice, as he did in the case of Sodom. This is certainly how any loving father would react to G-d's impossible demand. Yet when Avraham heard from G-d that the intended offering was to be Yitzchak, he immediately was reassured, knowing that Yitzchak's well being had been promised by G-d, and in the completeness of his faith and trust in G-d, knowing that nothing, not even G-d's own seemingly contradictory command, could threaten that.

Understanding the exchange between G-d and Avraham in this light, we can safely say that this was the moment that Avraham passed the test. This is where Avraham expressed his complete trust in G-d. The actual performance of G-d's will, from setting out on his three day journey to the land of Moriah and seeing from afar the mountain that G-d chose, to grasping the knife to slaughter his son, all was done with relative ease, for Avraham already knew for a certainty in his heart and in his mind, that G-d's word, no matter how seemingly frightful and contradictory, would never contravene His promise to Avraham, that through Yitzchak Avraham's seed would be established.

Today, more and more of Avraham's descendants through Yitzchak, the children of Israel, are returning to the very spot where Yitzchak was bound, the spot of the Holy Temple. Many onlookers ask the same questions that Avraham himself may have been asked: "Aren't you tempting fate? What will the descendants of Yishmael have to say about this? Isn't what you're doing careless and dangerous? What if something goes wrong? Are you certain this is what G-d intended?" As difficult as it may be for outsiders who, like the boys who accompanied Avraham and Yitzchak, but remained behind at the foot of the mountain, (ibid 22:5), the answer is resounding: "No, we are not afraid. We are not tempting fate, but acting according to G-d's word. Yes, sometimes it is difficult to see and to comprehend how G-d's promise will ultimately be fulfilled, but that never causes our trust in G-d's promise to be diminished. And yes, the children of Yishmael, brother of Yitzchak and son of Avraham, will, too, come to see the purpose and the truth and the love contained in G-d's promise to Avraham."

It is this unwavering faith in G-d which we have inherited from our father Avraham, that allows us to pursue G-d's promise with the same steady gaze and surety of grasp that Avraham exhibited when he went to Moriah. It is this trust in G-d that brings us back, time and time again, to His Holy Mountain.

Tune in to this week's TEMPLE TALK as Rabbi Chaim Richman and Yitzchak Reuven discuss the war of the four kings versus the five, in which Avraham takes up the sword to redeem his brother-in-law Lot, and Melchitzedek, (otherwise known as Shem, the son of Noach), the high priest of the L-rd on High, in the city of Shalem, later know as Jerusalem, as the lineage of the high priest is passed on to Avraham, and last but certainly not least, G-d's final test for Avraham: the binding of Yitzchak on Mount Moriah.

This week's TEMPLE TALK is only one part.

Part 1