Please pray for a refua sheleima for
Michael Yaacov ben Chava Dvora
Towards the end of Parashat Vayera, we read the famous story of akeidat Yitzchak, God’s command to Avraham to slaughter his beloved son, a command which God rescinded only once Avraham bound Yitzchak on an altar and lifted the knife to slaughter him. An angel appeared to Avraham and promised that God would grant great reward to his descendants “on account of the fact that you did this, that you did not withhold your son, your only son” (22:16).
The Midrash (Bereishit Rabba 56:11) raises the question of why these rewards were promised strictly on account of akeidat Yitzchak. As tradition teaches, Avraham withstood ten different tests to his faith, and, according to the Midrash, akeidat Yitzchak marked the final of these ten trials. (Rabbenu Yona, in his commentary to Pirkei Avot 5:3, famously advances a different view, claiming that Avraham’s tenth trial was the need to purchase Me’arat Ha-makhpeila, which happened after akeidat Yitzchak.) Why, then, was Avraham deemed worthy of these rewards only now, after passing the tenth and final test? Did he not deserve these great blessings – or at least most of them – for passing the first nine tests?
The Midrash answers that this final test was “equal to all” the others, and “if he had not accepted it upon himself, he would have lost everything.” Indeed, if Avraham had not withstood the unfathomable test of akeidat Yitzchak, he would have forfeited all the reward he had accrued for surmounting the first nine trials. The Midrash does not, however, explain why this was the case.
It appears that the Midrash seeks to teach that successfully struggling to pass one challenge – or even many challenges – does not absolve us of the need to then struggle to pass others that come our way. Avraham, the founder of God’s special nation, was given ten different tests which he needed to overcome to teach that religious life entails a wide array of different challenges, and not just one or two, and all are equally vital. Achieving in one area of Torah obligation does not exempt us from the others, because they are all indispensable components of a complete, integrated life of religious devotion. The Midrash’s comment thus likely speaks not of the unique test of akeidat Yitzchak, but rather of its being the final test, the test which demonstrated Avraham’s preparedness to overcome the full range of obstacles and challenges that can confront a person at the different stages and stations in life. We are thus reminded of our responsibility to work and exert effort to succeed in all the various different aspects of Torah life, and never excuse ourselves from one area on the basis of our success in another.