Lessons of the Akeida

  • Harav Yehuda Amital

Sicha for Shabbat from the Roshei Yeshiva
Yeshivat Har Etzion


PARASHAT VAYERA

 

SICHA OF HARAV YEHUDA AMITAL SHLIT"A

Lessons of the Akeida

Adapted by Dov Karoll

...And Avraham stretched out his hand, and took the knife to slay his son. And an angel of God called to him from heaven, and said, "Avraham, Avraham," and he said, "Here I am." And He said, "Lay not your hand upon the lad, nor do anything to him; for now I know that you fear God, seeing that you have not withheld your son, your only son, from Me." And Avraham lifted up his eyes and looked, and, behold, behind him was a ram caught in the thicket by his horns; and Avraham went and took the ram, and offered him up for a burnt offering in place of his son... (Bereishit 22:10-13)

The Torah's description of the akeida, the binding of Yitzchak, emphasizes Avraham's obedience and acceptance, both of God's original command as well as its subsequent cancellation. Chazal (Midrash Tanchuma, Vayera 23) speak of Avraham challenging the angel who comes to cancel the command, and then asking why God needed to test him, for He knows what is in Avraham's heart. At that moment God opened the heavens and took an oath:

By Myself I have sworn that because you have done this thing, and have not withheld your son, your only son; I will exceedingly bless you, and I will exceedingly multiply your descendants like the stars of the heaven, and the sand on the seashore. And your descendants shall possess the gates of their enemies, and through them shall all the nations of the earth be blessed, because you have obeyed My voice. (Bereishit 22:16-18)

According to the midrash, Avraham responded, "You took an oath, so will I: I swear that I will not leave this altar until I say everything I need to." God told him to speak.

Avraham asked, "Did You not say to me, 'Look to the heavens and count their number… so shall be your descendants?'" (Bereishit 15:5). God responded in the affirmative.

Avraham asked further, "From whom am I to have these countless descendants?" God responded, "From Yitzchak."

Avraham answered, "Just as I wanted to respond [with the argument cited above] when You told me 'Bring [Yitzchak] to Me as an offering' (22:2), yet I conquered my inclination and did not do so, so too when Yitzchak's children sin and come upon hard times, You shall remember the akeida of Yitzchak, and You will consider it as if his ash were gathered on the altar, and You will forgive them and redeem them from their difficulty."

God responded: "You have said yours, and I will say Mine. Yitzchak's descendants will sin before Me, and I will judge them on Rosh Ha-shana. But if you want to find a zekhut (merit) for them so that I will remember akeidat Yitzchak, they should blow from this shofar before Me."

Inquired Avraham, "What shofar?" God answered: "Turn around." Immediately, "Avraham raised up his eyes and saw a ram caught by its horns in the thicket, and he took the ram, and offered it in place of his son" (verse 13).

The midrash here portrays Avraham as arguing with God, just as he did earlier in his pleading with God on behalf of Sedom. However, it is important to note that in this case, he argues only after the fact; at the time of the divine demand, he obeyed unquestioningly. The verses themselves do not highlight the midrashic theme of Avraham's arguing with God, but rather his unquestioning obedience.

Avraham named the place of the akeida "Hashem yireh." Onkelos translates this as, "This will be the place of worship," and he understands the continuation of the verse to mean, "and it will be said that Avraham worshipped God on this mountain." Why is the selection of the Temple connected with this event? The Rambam in his Moreh Nevukhim, based on this translation of Onkelos, speaks of the fact that the site of the Mikdash (Temple) was known to many, including Moshe Rabbeinu, going back to the akeida. Why is the Mikdash selected to be specifically on the site of the akeida?

When God tells Avraham not to offer Yitzchak - "Lay not your hand upon the lad" - He is making it clear to Avraham and to the world that He is not interested in human sacrifice. He is interested in man serving Him through living in this world and not through self-destruction. The verse in Parashat Re'eh (Devarim 12:31) refers to sacrifice of children as "an abomination, hated by God." Rav Yosef Albo, in his Sefer ha-ikaraim (3:14 s.v. aval) explains that one should not think that the problem with idolatry is only whom they are worshipping, but also how they worship. Based on the verse cited above, he explains that the method of idolatrous worship is despised by God; the verse comes to point the direction of our Divine service away from human sacrifice, for that is abominable to Him. Rav Albo ends that passage by citing a midrash that the offering of Yitzchak never crossed God's mind, so to speak.

After the akeida, this message of serving God through living in accordance with His will, rather than killing oneself for it, became part of Avraham's mission to the world. The Rambam (Hilkhot Avodat Kokhavim 2:3) speaks of Avraham spreading the notion of the worship of God among the peoples of the area. Clearly, the negation of human sacrifice was an integral part of his message. We must remember not only the beginning of the story of the akeida, which displayed Avraham's obedience to God, but also its end, where God showed that He rejects the notion of human sacrifice.

Most unfortunately, the notion of human sacrifice, and particularly self-sacrifice, has become very popular in recent times. We have been victims of countless suicide bombers here in Israel, and America suffered from this phenomenon on September 11. The nations who fight against us are not only interested in territory - that cannot explain their zeal. They are fighting a war of ideology, a war against our God and His Torah.

The Rambam offers several reasons why the Torah does not disclose the future site of the Mikdash, even though its location was known to Moshe and others. One of his answers is very pertinent to our situation today. If the other nations had known where the Mikdash was supposed to be built, they would have done whatever they could to assure that we would not be able to get it. We are acutely aware of this problem today. The Arab world does not care about the Arabs who live here. They have oppressed them and provided them with only the worst conditions. They are not interested in supporting the Arabs who live here, but rather in attacking us, and the values that we represent.

Among other things that we need to pray for this Rosh Ha-shana is the following. All signs seem to indicate that there will be a major war in the area involving America and Iraq. We need to pray that, assuming this takes place, the State of Israel will incur a minimum of damage and suffering. We need to pray that the Jewish people will not suffer from this apparently impending chain of events.

May God inscribe us and all Israel for a ketiva va-chatima tova.

(Originally delivered on the second day of Rosh Ha-shana 5763 [2002].)


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