Who was Avraham avinu - Abraham our forefather - and what is our connection to him? Why did G-d subject him to so many trials? After all, he is referred to by G-d as "Avraham My friend." (Isaiah 41:8) Didn't G-d promise him, "'I will make of thee a great nation, and I will bless thee,'" (Genesis 12:2) "And I will make thy seed as the dust of the earth...," (ibid 13:16) "'Fear not, Abram, I am thy shield, thy reward shall be exceeding great.'" (ibid 14:1), and finally, "'... My covenant will I establish with Isaac, whom Sarah shall bear unto thee...'" (ibid 17:21) What then was Avraham's final trial, the binding of Yitzchak - Isaac - all about? Doesn't G-d's command to Avraham to offer his son Yitzchak as an oleh - burnt - offering contradict both G-d's promise and Avraham's faith in G-d?
The place to search for the answers to these questions is in the very story of the akeida - the binding of Yitzchak - itself. By examining both what was said, and what wasn't said, we can begin to shed light on who Avraham was, and what is it that truly binds us to him despite the passing of over three millennia from the days in which he walked the earth.
G-d contacts Avraham, and the Torah records the words spoken: "And He said: 'Take now your son, your only son, whom you love, even Yitzchak, and get you into the land of Moriah; and offer him there for an oleh, (a burnt-offering) upon one of the mountains which I will tell you of.'" (ibid 22:2) Midrash teaches us that when G-d said "Take your son," Avraham replied, "I have two sons." G-d clarified, "your only son," but Avraham rejoined, "Ishmael is my only son from Hagar,and Yitzchak is my only son from Sara." G-d responded, "whom you love," to which Avraham answered, "I love both my sons." Finally, G-d said, "Yitzchak." Once this was clear to Avraham without a shadow of a doubt, he declined further comment, and set out quickly to perform G-d's word. Avraham was willing to discuss the issue of justice with G-d, when it came to the punishment He planned for Sodom, but, of course, G-d opened the discussion, inviting Avraham's input. There is no such invitation in the case of the akeida, nor does Avraham question G-d's words. Avraham cleaved to G-d. G-d spoke, Avraham did. There was no space between them, not for doubt, and not for hesitation. It was this same selfless love that G-d wanted to exist between Avraham and Yitzchak, effectively binding them together just as closely as Avraham was bound to G-d. The unfolding of the narrative makes it clear that this is what was achieved. Yitzchak called, "'My father.' And he, (Avraham), said: 'Here am I, my son.' And he said: 'Behold the fire and the wood; but where is the lamb for a burnt-offering?' And Avraham said: 'G-d will provide Himself the lamb for a burnt-offering, my son.' So they went both of them together." (ibid 22:7-8) Our sages point out that the words, "my son," in Avraham's response were seemingly extraneous. It is clear who he is addressing. But when read with a different inflection we can hear the true message: "'G-d will provide Himself the lamb for a burnt-offering - my son,'" meaning you, you, my son, you are the offering! But it is what follows that G-d was after: "So they went both of them together." It was now clear both to Avraham and to Yitzchak, the true nature of their mission. And in spite of the awesome nature of their test, they pursued it together, with one heart, and a shared desire to perform the word of G-d. The binding of Yitzchak was, in fact, the binding of Yitzchak and Avraham together, one to the other, singular in purpose and united in their love for G-d.
It is this very bond which has remained inseverable throughout the generations, uniting all those who seek the G-d of Israel with our forefather Avraham. And to think it all happened on Moriah, that very spot where the prophet Isaiah says all nations will act as one in their worship of G-d: "Even them will I bring to My holy mountain, and make them joyful in My house of prayer; their burnt-offerings and their sacrifices shall be acceptable upon Mine altar; for My house shall be called a house of prayer for all peoples." (Isaiah 56:7)
Join Rabbi Chaim Richman and Yitzchak Reuven this week on Temple Talk, as they discuss the Torah readings of Vayera and Chayei Sara, the Holy Temple, and more.
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