Mount Moriah and the Akeida (Part I)
Jerusalem in the Bible
Yeshivat Har Etzion
Mazal tov to the editor of this
series, Naftali Balanson, upon his upcoming marriage
this evening! to Rachel Koller may they be zocheh to build a bayit ne'eman beYisrael!
Shiur 09 - Mount Moriah and the Akeida (Part I)
By Rav Yitzchak Levi
this shiur we shall attempt to touch on some of the issues related to the
akeida's having taking place specifically on
For purposes of convenience, let us first review the story of the akeida (Bereishit 22:1-19) in full. (Citations thereafter will not include references to verses.)
(1) It was after these things that God tested Avraham and said to him, Avraham! and he said, Here I am.
said: Please take your son, your only one, whom you love Yitzhak and go
forth to the
(3) Avraham arose early in the morning and saddled his donkey and took his two attendants with him, and Yitzhak, his son, and he cut wood for the offering, and he arose and went to the place which God had told him.
(4) On the third day, Avraham lifted his eyes and saw the place from afar.
(5) Avraham told his attendants, You stay here, with the donkey, and I and the boy will go on, and we shall worship, and return to you.
(6) Avraham took the wood for the offering and he loaded it upon Yitzhak, his son, and he took in his hand the fire and the knife, and the two of them walked together.
(7) Yitzhak said to Avraham, his father, and he said: My father, and he said, Here I am, my son. And he said, Here is the fire and the wood, but where is the sheep for the burnt offering?
(8) Avraham said, God will see to the sheep for the offering, my son. And the two of them walked together.
(9) And they came to the place which God had told him, and Avraham build the altar there, and arranged the wood, and bound Yitzhak, his son, and placed him upon the altar over the wood.
(10) And Avraham put forth his hand and took up the knife, to slaughter his son.
(11) But an angel of God called to him from the heavens, and said: Avraham, Avraham! and he said, Here I am.
(12) And he said, Do not put forth your hand to the boy, nor do anything to him, for now I know that you fear God; you have not held back even your only son from Me.
(13) Avraham lifted his eyes and saw, and behold a ram was caught by his horns in a thicket. Avraham went and took the ram, and offered it as a burnt offering in place of his son.
(14) And Avraham called the name of that place God shall see, concerning which it is said this day, "on the mountain on which God shall be seen."
(15) And the angel of God called to Avraham a second time from the heavens.
(16) He said: I swear by My self, says God: since you have done this thing, and have not held back your only son,
(17) I shall surely bless you and shall surely increase your seed like the stars of the heavens and like the sand that is upon the seashore, and your descendants shall inherit the gates of their enemies.
(18) And all the nations of the world shall be blessed through your seed, because you listened to My voice.
(19) Avraham returned to his attendants, and they arose and went together to Beer Sheva, and Avraham dwelled in Beer Sheva.
The Akeida an allusion to the future
In many senses, the story of the akeida is the first instance in the Torah (aside from the subtle allusions in the description of the Garden of Eden) where mention is made of the future essence of the Temple, in the sense of ma'aseh avot siman la-banim" the deeds of the forefathers serve as an example to their descendants.
- First and foremost is the very command to offer a sacrifice at the place that will, in the future, serve as the sole site for sacrificial offerings.
- The Divine selection of the site: which I shall tell you. Clearly, Avrahams devotion would in no way be diminished if he were to offer Yitzhak as a sacrifice somewhere in the region of Beer Sheva; nevertheless, he is commanded to go to a very specific place, which GOD HAS CHOSEN.
is the first altar upon
display of fear, or awe, of God embodied in the act of the akeida is
fundamentally connected with
- The Divine revelation of an angel at this specific place points to its special and unique nature.
- The offering of the ram in place of Yitzhak is a model for sacrifices in general: sacrifice of an animal in place of the sinner himself.
- The Torahs formulation, concerning which it is said this day, on the mountain on which God shall be seen clearly alludes to the future pilgrimage to this place, as the Torah commands: Three times a year all your males shall be seen before the Lord your God, in the place which He will choose: on the festival of matzot, and on the festival of weeks, and on the festival of sukkot. And you shall not present yourselves before God empty-handed (Devarim 16:16; see also Shemot 23:17; 34:23).
halakhic principles regarding the
- Rambam (Hilkhot Beit Ha-bechira 2:1) identifies the site of the altar, which is mekhuvan be-yoter ("extremely specific), as the place of the altar upon which Yitzhak was bound.
- The types of wood suitable for use in sacrifices, and the manner of arranging them, are likewise derived from the akeida. Commenting on the words, he chopped wood for the offering, the Midrash ha-Gadol writes, wood suitable for an offering, and the arranging of the wood for the akeida (verse 9) is equated with the arranging of the wood upon the altar in the Temple: Here it is written, 'He arranged ,' and there it is written, 'They shall arrange the wood over the fire' (Vayikra 1:7).
may therefore summarize and say that the akeida served as the foundation for the
b. Parallel between the akeida and the revelation at the threshing floor of Ornan the Jebusite
There is a clear and all-encompassing parallel between the akeida and the story of the census and revelation that follows at the threshing floor of Aravna (Ornan) the Jebusite, described in Shemuel II 24 and in Devrei ha-Yamim I 21. Let us examine the parallels and differences, and try to understand their significance. First of all, let us review the episode of the census (quoting here from Divrei ha-Yamim I 21-22:1):
David said to Yoav and to the officers of the people, Go and number
said: May God add to His nation a hundred times more; are they not, my lord the
king, all my lords servants? Why does my lord ask this; why should he be a
cause of guilt to
the kings word prevailed over Yoav, so Yoav departed and went about throughout
Yoav conveyed the number of the census of the people to David, and all of
(6) And Levi and Binyamin were not counted among them, for the kings word was abhorrent to Yoav.
this thing was bad in the eyes of God, and He smote
(8) Then David said to God: I have sinned greatly in doing this thing; now, please remove the sin of Your servant, for I have behaved most foolishly.
(9) And God spoke to Gad, Davids seer, saying:
(10) Go and speak to David, saying: So says God I offer you three things; choose one of them, that I may do it to you.
(11) So Gad came to David and said to him, So says God choose for yourself:
(12) Either three years of famine, or three months to be driven by your enemies while the sword of your enemy overtakes you, or three days of Gods sword a plague in the land, with an angel of God wreaking destruction throughout the borders of Israel. Now, consider what I should answer the One Who sent me.
(13) David said to Gad: I am in great distress; let me fall into Gods hand, for His mercy is very great; let me not fall into the hand of man.
God sent a plague upon
God sent an angel to
(16) David lifted his eyes and saw the angel of God standing between earth and heaven, with his sword drawn in his hand, stretched out over Jerusalem, and David fell and the elders, covered in sackcloth upon their faces.
(17) David said to God: Was it not I who commanded that the people be numbered; it is I who has sinned and done this evil; but these sheep what have they done? Lord my God, let Your hand be upon me and my fathers house, but not upon the people as a plague.
(18) Then the angel of God told Gad to say to David to arise and establish an altar to God at the threshing floor of Ornan the Jebusite.
(19) So David went up at Gads word, which he spoke in the name of God.
(20) Ornan went back and saw the angel, and his four sons with him hid themselves, and Ornan was threshing wheat.
(21) Then David came to Ornan, and Ornan looked and saw David, and he came out of the threshing floor and prostrated himself to the ground before David.
(22) And David said to Ornan: Please give me the place of this threshing floor, that I may build upon it an altar to God. You shall give it to me for full price, that the plague may cease from the people.
(23) Then Ornan said to David: Take it for yourself and may my lord the king do what is good in his eyes; behold, I give you oxen to offer up and the threshing implements for wood, and the wheat as a meal offering I give it all.
(24) But King David said to Ornan, No let me purchase it for full price, for I shall not take that which is yours for God, and offer sacrifices without payment.
(25) So David gave Ornan six hundred shekels of gold by weight for the place.
(26) And David built there an altar to God, and he offered burnt offerings and peace offerings, and he called upon the Lord, and He answered him with fire from heaven upon the altar with the offering.
(27) And God spoke to the angel, and he restored his sword to its sheath.
(28) At that time, when David saw that God answered him in the threshing floor of Ornan the Jebusite, he sacrificed there.
(29) But the Mishkan of God which Moshe had made in the desert, and the altar for the burnt offerings were, at that time, in the high place at Givon.
(30) And David could not go before it to ask of God, for he was terrified of the sword of the angel of God.
David said, This is the house of the Lord God, and this is altar of burnt
of a place that will be a site for revelation and for the dwelling of the Divine
- Construction of an altar on the site
- It is God Who chooses the place and reveals it to man: in the case of Avraham, On one of the mountains which I shall tell you and he saw the place from afar; in the case of David it is the prophet Gad who instructs him to erect the altar on the threshing floor of Aravna.
- The original sacrifice is prevented in the wake of an angels intervention: in the case of Avraham, an angel of God calls, Do not put forth your hand to the boy; in the case of David, God instructs the angel of destruction, Enough; now, withdraw your hand.
- In both cases we see expressions of both Divine manifestations the name Elokim as well as the name Havaya: the command concerning the akeida is given in the name of Elokim, while Avraham is prevented from actually slaughtering Yitzhak by an angel of Havaya; in the census the angel of destruction is sent in the name of Elokim but he is halted in the name of Havaya (and he himself is referred to as an angel of Havaya).
- The concepts of seeing (both physical, and in the sense of choosing the site) and awe occupy a significant place in both stories, especially in the parallel between the two verses, Avraham lifted his eyes and saw now I know that you fear God and David lifted his eyes and saw for he was terrified of the sword of the angel of God.
- In both stories the Divine revelation and the discovery of the place follow a display of devotion: Avraham is ready to sacrifice his sons life and offer him to God; David is ready to sacrifice his own life and the lives of his fathers entire household.
- The progeny of Avraham and the progeny and fathers house of David are saved through the replacement sacrifice upon the altar: Avraham offers the ram; David offers burnt offerings and thanksgiving offerings.
- In both stories the issue of progeny is of central importance: Avraham is promised a blessing to his descendants and to all the nations of the world as a result of his deed; in the case of David, Yoav tries to prevent the census out of fear that the nation will be harmed as indeed happens, as punishment for its execution.
- The blessing bestowed at the end of each episode: Avraham is told, I shall surely bless you and through your descendants all the nations of the earth shall be blessed; David receives a blessing from Aravna: May the Lord your God accept you (Shemuel II 24:23).
- Readying the equipment for the sacrifices: Avraham takes the wood for the offering, the fire and the knife; David takes the oxen for offering, the threshing implements for wood, and the wheat for a meal offering.
- Avraham holds the knife; the angel holds a sword.
test: God tests Avraham; David is provoked to conduct a census of
There are also several linguistic parallels between the two incidents:
- expressions of seeing (see above)
- Avraham put forth his hand; the angel put forth his hand
- on the third day; three days
- Avraham arose early in the morning; David arose in the morning
- Beer Sheva is mentioned both as the place to which Avraham returns, and in the census of Yoav
- Avraham mentions worshipping/prostration in his words to his attendants; Aravna prostrates himself before David
- The wood for the offering
- He saw and behold, a RAM and he offered it for a burnt offering in place of his son; it is I who have sinned and done evil; but these SHEEP what have they done?
2. Parallels, contrasts and differences
We may summarize as follows, with corresponding numbering:
Story of the akeida:
2. No sin
3. Avraham is ready to sacrifice the life of his son
4. The angel prevents harm to Yitzhak
5. Blessing of multiplicity of seed
6. The place is revealed by virtue of Avraham passing the test and of his devotion
Three days the duration of the journey to
8. Avraham sees the place from afar
9. Avraham does not originally seek the place; he is commanded to go there, and then he sees it
Story of the census:
2. Sin of the census
3. In the wake of the death of 70,000 by plague, David asks: Let Your hand be upon me and upon my fathers house, but not upon the nation in a plague
4. The angel inflicts; it is God who tells him, Withdraw your hand
5. Blow to the multiplicity of seed
6. The place is revealed in the wake of the plague and Davids devotion
7. Three days the punishment following the deed
8. David sees the place after the punishment, as he stands at the threshing floor
9. David seeks the place and exerts much effort in this area, but it is revealed to him only after the plague
3. Significance of the Parallels
The first significance arising from these parallels is the principle that the deeds of the forefathers are a sign for their descendants. Avraham discovered the place, and the place was chosen by God in the wake of Avrahams devotion. Through his actions he set an example for his descendants both in terms of his devotion to God and in his discovery of the place. Indeed, the actions of David parallel those of Avraham, both in substance (devotion to God, building the altar and sacrificing the ram, Divine revelation) and in the fact that in their wake the place and its unique status are revealed.
both incidents the result is the revelation of the place: the resting of the
Divine Presence there and, ultimately, the building of the
In the akeida, Avraham makes a huge spiritual ascent, seemingly relinquishing the Divine promise, his own moral path and spiritual world, out of supreme love and awe, and absolute humility. As a result, God swears to him and promises him a multiplicity of descendants and success, and by virtue of these a blessing for all the nations of the world.
For David, despite all his intense longing and the suffering he endured to find the place destined to hold the Temple (as described in Tehillim 132), the place is revealed to him specifically in the wake of the sin of the census (even though it came about through provocation), which was rooted in pride at controlling a large and powerful army; only as a result of the terrible plague that strikes the nation, killing 70,000, does David reach the level of complete readiness for the devotion and self-nullification where he surrenders himself and his dynasty (the continuation of his kingship), and he finally merits to have the place revealed to him. In this story (as in some others), David is shown to be a complete penitent. The devotion, awe and humility that led to the revelation of the place in this instance arise from a great experience of teshuva and the acceptance of responsibility in the wake of the sin (unlike Avraham, who displayed all of these qualities from the beginning).
both instances, the place of the
between the akeida on
The Torah hints at the substantive connection between these two incidents , and the reason is clear: in both cases the subject of the revelation is actually the holy place; in Yaakovs case this meant specifically the place that was sanctified for the forefathers, while for Avraham it was the place of the Temple for future generations. Once again, let us first examine the text itself (Bereishit 28:10-22):
Yaakov departed from Beer Sheva and he went towards
(11) And he came upon a place and he stayed there the night, for the sun had set, and he took some of the stones of the place and placed them around his head, and he lay in that place.
(12) And he dreamed, and behold there was a ladder standing upon the ground, with its head reaching the heavens, and behold angels of God were ascending and descending upon it.
(13) And behold, God was standing above him, and He said: I am the Lord God of Avraham, your father, and the Lord of Yitzhak. The land upon which you lie to you I shall give it, and to your descendants.
(14) And your descendants shall be like the dust of the earth, and you shall spread out to the west and the east, and northward and southward, and all the families of the earth shall be blessed through you and through your descendants.
(15) And behold, I am with you and I shall guard you wherever you go, and I shall return you to this land, for I shall not forsake you until I have done all that I have spoken to you.
(16) And Yaakov awoke from his sleep and he said, Surely God is in this place, and I did not know it.
(17) And he feared and he said, How awesome is this place! This is none other than the house of God, and this is the gateway to heaven.
(18) So Yaakov arose early in the morning and he took the stone that he had placed around his head, and he placed it as a monument, and he poured oil over the top of it.
(19) And he called the name of that place Beit-El, but Luz was the original name of the city.
(20) And Yaakov made an oath, saying: If God will be with me and guard me on this road which I go, and give me bread to eat and clothing to wear,
(21) and I return in peace to my fathers house, and the Lord shall be my God,
(22) then this stone, which I have placed as a monument, will be a house of God, and all that You give me I shall tithe for You.
1. Parallels 
- The sanctity of the place is clarified in the wake of direct Divine revelation and the appearance of angels.
- The revelation is in the name of both Elokim and Havaya.
- The blessing of seed and through it, the blessing to all the nations of the world and families of the land.
- In both cases the concept of fear of God arises in the wake of the revelation and as part of it.
Emphasis on the word place, hinting at the special significance of
- The place is named in the wake of revelation: God shall be seen; Beit El.
- Awaking early in the morning.
2. I shall surely multiply your seed like the stars of the heavens and like the sand that is upon the seashore
3. An altar
4. A ram as a burnt offering
5. After the naming of the place comes the Torahs aside: concerning which it is said this day on the mountain in which God will be seen
6. The revelation of the place follows a huge and special test and a manifestation of supreme self-sacrifice
Revelation in Beit-El:
1. Beit El (which was originally called Luz)
2. Your seed shall be like the dust of the earth, and you shall spread out westward and eastward, northward and southward
3. A monument
4. Anointment with oil
5. Following the naming of the place, Yaakov vows: And this stone which I have placed as a monument shall be a house of God
6. The revelation of the place comes during Yaakovs journey to Charan
3. Significance of parallels and differences
The main significant parallel is the sanctity of both places and the special revelation that occurs in each. In both cases all the characteristics of the Mikdash arise (sanctity of the place and naming it, revelation, the concept of awe, worship in the wake of revelation).
principal difference concerns the identity of the place and its purpose:
Beit-El, the natural Mikdash of the forefathers, as opposed to
this context it is interesting to note the different formulation of the blessing
of seed: God promises Avraham descendants like the stars of the heavens and
like the sand that is upon the seashore, while Yaakov is told like the dust of
the earth. For Avraham at
In light of this we can understand why Avraham at Mount Moriah chooses to build an altar the principal path of service for Am Yisrael in the permanent Temple while Yaakov takes the stone and makes it into a monument a more natural form of worship, popular among the forefathers but forbidden for their descendants (Devarim 16:22). In this context, too, Yaakov symbolizes the natural, primal and temporary situation, while Avraham expresses the permanent and eternal situation.
difference also expresses the difference between Avraham and Yaakov themselves.
The aspect of Beit-El will be revealed during the period of the forefathers
themselves, for a Mikdash will exist there and Yaakov will return to it (chapter
35); later on it will be revealed at the border of Binyamin and Efraim, the
children of Rachel the beloved wife of Yaakov (who regarded Yosef as his
firstborn and successor, and gave him a double portion in Eretz Yisrael). The
aspect that Avraham sees, on the other hand, will be revealed in its entirety in
We have seen that the akeida in fact represents the Torahs first mention of the Mikdash, its location and its nature, and that it hints through its substance at the two future revelations of a holy place:
- the revelation to Yaakov in Beit-El, expressing the natural and temporary state of Divine worship practiced by the forefathers, and
- the revelation to David on Mount Moriah, expressing the special, chosen and permanent aspect of Divine worship that is set down for their descendants .
 The Torah itself makes no mention of Adam offering
any sacrifice; in the story of Kayin and Hevel there is no attention to the
place where the sacrifices are offered, and as for Noach, the literal reading of
the text suggests that he offered his sacrifice on
 Seforno interprets the words, concerning which it is said this day, on the mountain on which God shall be seen as follows: The place where Israel declare, ON THE DAY OF THE WRITING OF THE TORAH, that God will be seen on the mountain, as the blessed God shall reveal it, as it is written: 'And the place which He shall choose' (Devarim 12;11); this was in the days of King David. The same place was referred to by Avraham as 'God will be seen.' According to this explanation, this day means the day of the writing of the Torah.
An interesting question in this context is to what
extent Avraham himself knew that this place would actually be the site of the
 This subject is elaborated upon by Rav Y. Ariel in the Machzor ha-Mikdash for Rosh Hashanah, pp. 52-53. Here we briefly summarize his comments.
 This is a broad and fascinating subject, worthy of a shiur of its own. We shall mention here only that a sugya in Bava Batra 25a proposes two reasons for this: a. in contrast to the pagans, who prostrate themselves eastward, towards the sun (according to this view, there is no special importance attached to the west; the point is to avoid praying eastward); b. the verse that teaches (Nechemia 9:6), The hosts of the heavens prostrate themselves to You in other words, when they rise in the east, the heavenly bodies face and bow towards God; thus, the Divine Presence rests in the west.
The Rambam (Moreh Nevukhim, ibid.) mentions this sugya, but he emphasizes the special quality of the west specifically, as THE OPPOSITE of idolatry: The reason for this, in my view, is that because the prevalent belief in the world at that time was sun-worship, that the sun was god, and undoubtedly all people faced east, therefore Avraham faced westward on Mount Moriah i.e., the [place of the] Sanctuary, such that his back was to the sun.
 Except according to Rashbam (Bereishit 22:1), who maintains that the akeida was a punishment to Avraham for having forged a covenant with Avimlekeh.
 In his book Oz Melekh, Rav Ariel devotes a chapter
(pp. 246-249) to this comparison. This understanding, of course, corresponds
with the view of the Ramban, according to which (based on Midrash Tehillim 17)
the plague resulted from the nations neglect in seeking the place of the
 Chazal (Pirkei de-Rabbi Eliezer, chapter 35 etc.)
identify (in various ways) Beit El in this story as
 Some of these issues have already been addressed in
the shiurim about the road to
 We shall illustrate the parallels and differences here on the basis of the first revelation at Beit-El. However, it is important to realize that there are also several parallels to the second revelation to Yaakov in Beit-El, when he returns from Charan (Bereishit 35:1-15): he is commanded to build an altar to God Who appeared to him when he fled from his brother Esav; God appears to him and bestows upon him the blessing of seed and land; Yaakov establishes a monument, anoints it and pours oil, and calls the place Beit-El.
 The difference between these places arises again in
their respective destinies: Beit-El lies on the border of Efraim and Binyamin,
where a golden calf is destined to be placed;
 An interesting question is whether this fundamental
difference is also expressed in the type of sacrifice a ram as a burnt
offering as opposed to anointing with oil, hinting at the libations in the
 This shiur represents a complement and expansion on
the shiurim about the road to
Translated by Kaeren Fish