Shiur #15: The History of the Resting of the Shekhina - (Part VI) - Mount Moriya and the Akeida (Part I)

  • Rav Yitzchak Levy

 

            In the previous lecture, I examined the way that Avraham served God after entering the land by building altars and calling upon the name of the Lord. In this lecture, I wish to consider the seventh revelation of the Shekhina to Avraham at the Akeida, and I will touch upon several issues that connect this event to Mount Moriya and the significance of this connection for future generations.

 

            The two parts of this lecture already appeared in my series of lectures given in 5765 (lectures 9-10), except for the first section of the present lecture, which is new. The first part deals with the story of the Akeida as an allusion to the future Mikdash that will be built on Mount Moriya, and compares it to two other accounts in which the site of the Mikdash is revealed. The second part will deal with other aspects of the issue.

 

            For convenience's sake, I shall open by bringing the story of the Akeida (Bereishit 22:1-19) in full: 

 

(1) And it came to pass after these things, that God did test Avraham, and said unto him, "Avraham;" and he said, "Here am I." (2) And He said, "Take now your son, your only son, whom you love, even Yitzchak, and get you into the land of Moriya; and offer him there for a burnt-offering upon one of the mountains which I will tell you of." (3) And Avraham rose early in the morning, and saddled his ass, and took two of his young men with him, and Yitzchak his son; and he cleaved the wood for the burnt-offering, and rose up, and went unto the place of which God had told him. (4) On the third day, Avraham lifted up his eyes, and saw the place afar off. (5) And Avraham said unto his young men: "Abide you here with the ass, and I and the lad will go yonder; and we will worship, and come back to you." (6) And Avraham took the wood of the burnt-offering, and laid it upon Yitzchak his son; and he took in his hand the fire and the knife; and they went both of them together. (7) And Yitzchak spoke unto Avraham his father, and said, "My father." And he said, "Here am I, my son." And he said, "Behold the fire and the wood; but where is the lamb for a burnt-offering?" (8) And Avraham said, "God will provide Himself the lamb for a burnt-offering, my son." So they went both of them together. (9) And they came to the place which God had told him of; and Avraham built the altar there, and laid the wood in order, and bound Yitzchak his son, and laid him on the altar, upon the wood. (10) And Avraham stretched forth his hand, and took the knife to slay his son. (11) And the angel of the Lord called unto him out of heaven, and said, "Avraham, Avraham." And he said, "Here am I." (12) And he said, "Lay not your hand upon the lad, neither do you any thing unto him; for now I know that you are a God-fearing man, seeing you have not withheld you son, your only son, from Me." (13) And Avraham lifted up his eyes, and looked, and behold behind him 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 the stead of his son. (14) And Avraham called the name of that place Adonai-yir'eh; as it is said to this day, "In the mount where the Lord is seen." (15) And the angel of the Lord called unto Avraham a second time out of heaven, (16) and said, "By Myself have I sworn, says the Lord, because you have done this thing, and have not withheld your son, your only son, (17) that in blessing I will bless you, and in multiplying I will multiply your seed as the stars of the heaven, and as the sand which is upon the seashore; and your seed shall possess the gate of his enemies; (18) and in your seed shall all the nations of the earth be blessed; because you have hearkened to My voice." (19) So Avraham returned unto his young men, and they rose up and went together to Be'er-Sheva; and Avraham dwelt at Be'er-Sheva.

 

I.          THE UNIQUENESS OF THE AKEIDA AS A STEP UPWARDS IN AVRAHAM'S SERVICE OF GOD

 

We saw in the previous lecture that over the course of his travels in the land, Avraham built altars in various places on his own initiative, and called upon the name of God. Let us open, then, with several points that distinguish the Akeida from Avraham's earlier worship of God.

 

1)         THE FIRST TRIAL AND THE LAST TRIAL

 

Over the course of his life, Avraham underwent ten trials. There is, however, a particular similarity between the first trial and the last trial:

 

Now the Lord said unto Avram, "Get you out of your country, and from your kindred, and from your father's house, unto the land that I will show you." (Bereishit 12:1)

 

"Take now your son… even Yitzchak, and get you into the land of Moriya; and offer him there for a burnt-offering upon one of the mountains which I will tell you of."

 

            In addition to the phrase, "Get you" (lekh lekha) which appears only in these two places, there are other striking similarities between the two texts. First, in both cases Avraham is commanded to go to some unnamed place that God will later show him –which demands of Avraham great faith and devotion. Second, in both cases Avraham is asked to give up on the world that was familiar to him until that point: in the first trial, to leave his birthplace, his father's house, his family and his culture, and to sever himself from his past; and in the second trial, to waive on the explicit promise, "for in Yitzchak shall your seed be called" (Bereishit 21:12), and on the entire moral and educational journey that he had embarked upon until that point – "the way of the Lord, to do justice and judgment." It is not by chance that these two trials comprise the framework for all of Avraham's trials, in a way that greatly sharpens the transition from all of Eretz Israel to the site of the Mikdash.[1]

 

            The similarity between the two trials brought Chazal to ask:

 

Rabbi Levi said: Twice it is written "Get you." We do not know which is dearer – the first or the second. From that which is written "into the land of Moriya," say that the second is dearer.

 

            That is to say, the test at the Akeida is greater than the test to go to Eretz Israel – apparently because at the test of the Akeida, God backtracked, as it were, on promises that He Himself had made.

 

2)         COMMAND AND CHOICE

 

Avraham built the earliest altars on his own initiative, and in the places where he had chosen to rest; here, Avraham is commanded to go to a particular place, "into the land of Moriya," and there offer Yitzchak as a burnt-offering.

 

3)         ALTAR AND SACRIFICE

 

As opposed to the altars that Avraham had built prior to the Akeida, regarding which – as we saw in the previous lecture – there is no mention of sacrifices, here Avraham builds an altar and offers a sacrifice upon it. Here, the altar and the sacrifice express the perfection of his relationship with God.

 

4)         SACRIFICE – IN PLACE OF MAN

 

            The ram that Avraham offered at the Akeida substituted for the sacrifice of a human being, the offering of Yitzchak on the altar, as initially was supposed to happen. This fits in well with the Ramban's fundamental position (in his commentary to Vayikra 1:9) about sacrifices in general, according to which a person who brings a sacrifice should actually offer himself on the altar, but God allows him to offer an animal as his substitute. Here is a section of what he says on the matter:

 

Inasmuch as human deeds are performed through thought, speech, and action, God commanded that when a person sins, he should bring an offering, lay his hands upon it corresponding to the action, confess with his mouth corresponding to speech, and burn the innards and the kidneys which are the organs of thought and desire, and the legs corresponding to man's arms and legs that perform all his work, and sprinkle the blood on the altar corresponding to his own blood, so that he might contemplate when he does all these things that he sinned against his God with his body and his soul, and that it would be appropriate that his blood be spilled and his body burned, were it not for the loving-kindness of the Creator who accepted a substitute from him. And this sacrifice atones, its blood in place of his blood, its life in place of his life, and its major organs in place of his major organs.

 

            In this sense, the Akeida is the first model, the model, for a burnt-offering, which is burnt in its entirety for God, and its entire essence is sacrificing an animal in place of man. As the midrashim say:

 

"And Avraham went and took the ram, and offered him up for a burnt-offering in the stead of his son." Rabbi Banai said: He said before Him: Master of the Universe, see the blood of this ram as if it were the blood of Yitzchak, my son, its organs as if they were the organs of Yitzchak, my son. As we have learned: This in place of that, this a switch of this, this a substitution of this – it is a temura.

Rabbi Pinchas said: He said before Him: Master of the Universe, see as if I had offered Yitzchak my son first, and afterwards I offered this ram in his place. This is what it says: "And Yotam his son ruled as king in his place" (II Melakhim 15:7). (Bereishit Rabba 56:9)

 

"This is the Torah of the burnt-offering" (Vayikra 6:2). What is ola? Rather that it goes up before the Holy One, blessed be He, and atones for Israel's sins. For when Avraham offered the burnt-offering of a ram, as it is stated: "And Avraham lifted up his eyes, and looked, and behold behind (achar) him a ram." What is achar? Rather, after (achar) the Holy One, blessed be He, saw that he came with all his heart and all his soul to offer his son Yitzchak as a burnt-offering, He sent him a ram. The Sages said: During the six days of creation, the ram was created to be offered as a burnt-offering in place of Yitzchak. This is what is written: "And behold behind him a ram… and he took the ram…" The Holy One, blessed be He, promised him there that when his children offer burnt-offerings, He will immediately accept them. (Tanchuma Tzav 13)

 

            The burnt-offering and the offering after the Akeida in particular express man's total devotion to God in both the practical and the spiritual-essential sense, as well as readiness to sacrifice.[2]

 

II.        THE AKEIDA – ALLUSION TO THE MIKDASH THAT WILL STAND THERE IN THE FUTURE

 

In many senses, the Akeida story is the first place in the Torah (to the exclusion of the allusions in the description of the Garden of Eden) where mention is made of the future essence of the Mikdash, in the sense of "the deeds of the fathers are an omen for the children."

 

·                      First and foremost, we have here a command to offer a burnt-offering in the place that will serve in the future as the exclusive place for offering sacrifices.

 

·                      The Divine selection of the site is noted at the Akeida– "which I will tell you of." Of course, Avraham's devotion to God would not have been diminished in any way had he been commanded to offer Yitzchak as a sacrifice in Be'er-Sheva, but nevertheless he is commanded to go to a particular place chosen by God.

 

·                      This is the first altar on Mount Moriya that is explicitly mentioned in the Torah. Chazal, and in their wake the Rambam (Hilkhot Bet Ha-Bechira 2:2), inform us that this is the place where sacrifices had already been brought by Adam, Kayin and Hevel, and Noach – a tradition that emphasizes the fact that we are dealing with a place that had been chosen for the offering of sacrifices.[3]

 

·                      The appearance of the issue of fear at the Akeida – "for now I know that you are a God-fearing man" – is connected in an essential manner to Mount Moriya and the mitzva of fearing the Mikdash.

 

·                      The angel's revelation at Mount Moriya alludes to its unique essence and character.

 

·                      The offering of a ram in place of Yitzchak serves as a model for the sacrifices in general – offering animals in place of the sinner himself (as explained above).

 

·                      The Torah's wording, "as it is said to this day, 'In the mount where the Lord is seen,'" clearly alludes to the pilgrimages that would be made to this place in the future, as it is written: "Three times a year shall all your males appear before the Lord your God in the place which He shall choose: in the feast of unleavened bread, and in the feast of weeks, and in the feast of booths. And they shall not appear before the Lord empty" (Devarim 16:16; see also Shemot 23:17; 34:23).[4]

 

Many halakhic principles are connected to the Akeida, including the following:[5]

 

·                      The Rambam (Hilkhot Bet Ha-Bechira 2:1) identifies the altar in the Temple as being situated on the site of the altar of the akeida.

 

·                      The Mikdash and the prayer conducted there are directed toward the west, where the Holy of Holies is found. According to the Rambam (Moreh Nevukhim III, 45), this was already established by Avraham, when he consecrated Mount Moriya at the time of the Akeida.[6]

 

·                      In the Mikdash, the lamb offered as the daily offering was bound "hand and foot as was bound Yitzchak the son of Avraham" (Tamid 31b).

 

·                      The wood that is fit for offering and the way it is arranged on the altar are also derived from the Akeida. On the verse, "and he cleaved the wood for the burnt-offering," the Midrash Ha-Gadol writes: "wood that is fit for a burnt-offering." It compares the arrangement of the wood at the Akeida (v. 9) to the arrangement of the wood on the altar: "It is written here: 'And he laid [it upon Yitzchak his son],' and it is written below: 'And lay the wood in order upon the fire ' (Vayikra 1:7)."

 

To summarize, the Akeida constitutes a foundation for the Mikdash, both in its spiritual aspects and in its practical halakhic aspects.

 

III.       THE CORRESPONDENCE BETWEEN THE AKEIDA AND THE REVELATION IN THE THRESHING FLOOR OF ARAVNA THE YEVUSI

 

There is a clear and comprehensive correspondence between the Akeida and the story of the census and the revelation that came in its wake in the threshing floor of Aravna (Ornan) the Yevusi, described in II Shmuel 24 and in I Divrei Ha-yamim 21. I wish to examine the parallels and the contrasts, and I will try to understand their significance. The account of the census reads as follows (cited here from I Divrei Ha-yamim 21-22:1):

 

(1) And Satan stood up against Israel and moved David to number Israel. (2) And David said to Yoav and to the princes of the people, "Go, number Israel from Be'er-Sheva even to Dan; and bring me word, that I may know the sum of them." (3) And Yoav said, "The Lord make His people a hundred times so many more as they are; but, my lord the king, are they not all my lord's servants? Why does my lord require this thing? Why will he be a cause of guilt unto Israel?" (4) Nevertheless, the king's word prevailed against Yoav. Wherefore Yoav departed and went throughout all Israel, and came to Jerusalem. (5) And Yoav gave up the sum of the numbering of the people unto David. And all they of Israel were a thousand and a hundred thousand men that drew sword; and Yehuda was four hundred three-score and ten thousand men that drew sword. (6) But Levi and Binyamin he did not number among them; for the king's word was abominable to Yoav. (7) And God was displeased with this thing; therefore He smote Israel. (8) And David said unto God, "I have sinned greatly, in that I have done this thing; but now, put away, I beseech You, the iniquity of You servant; for I have done very foolishly."

(9) And the Lord spoke unto Gad, David's seer, saying: (10)"Go and speak unto David, saying, Thus says the Lord: 'I offer you three things; choose you one of them, that I may do it unto you.'" (11) So Gad came to David, and said unto him, "Thus says the Lord, Take which you will: (12) either three years of famine; or three months to be swept away before your foes, while the sword of your enemies overtakes you; or else three days the sword of the Lord, even pestilence in the land, and the angel of the Lord destroying throughout all the borders of Israel. Now therefore consider what answer I shall return to Him that sent me."

(13) And David said unto Gad, "I am in a great strait; let me fall now into the hand of the Lord, for very great are His mercies; and let me not fall into the hand of man." (14) So the Lord sent a pestilence upon Israel; and there fell of Israel seventy thousand men. (15) And God sent an angel unto Jerusalem to destroy it; and as he was about to destroy, the Lord saw, and He repented Him of the evil, and said to the destroying angel, "It is enough; now stay your hand." And the angel of the Lord was standing by the threshing-floor of Ornan the Yevusi.

(16) And David lifted up his eyes, and saw the angel of the Lord standing between the earth and the heaven, having a drawn sword in his hand stretched out over Jerusalem. Then David and the elders, clothed in sackcloth, fell upon their faces. (17) And David said unto God, "Is it not I that commanded the people to be numbered? Even I it is that have sinned and done very wickedly; but these sheep, what have they done? Let Your hand, I pray You, O Lord my God, be against me, and against my father's house; but not against Your people, that they should be plagued."

(18) Then the angel of the Lord commanded Gad to say to David, that David should go up, and rear an altar unto the Lord in the threshing-floor of Ornan the Yevusi. (19) And David went up at the saying of Gad, which he spoke in the name of the Lord. (20) And Ornan turned back, and saw the angel; and his four sons that were with him hid themselves. Now Ornan was threshing wheat. (21) And as David came to Ornan, Ornan looked and saw David, and went out of the threshing-floor, and bowed down to David with his face to the ground. (22) Then David said to Ornan, "Give me the place of this threshing-floor, that I may build thereon an altar unto the Lord; for the full price shall you give it me; that the plague may be stayed from the people." (23) And Ornan said unto David, "Take it to you, and let my lord the king do that which is good in his eyes; lo, I give you the oxen for burnt-offerings, and the threshing-instruments for wood, and the wheat for the meal-offering; I give it all." (24) And King David said to Ornan, "Nay, but I will verily buy it for the full price; for I will not take that which is yours for the Lord, nor offer a burnt-offering without cost." (25) So David gave to Ornan for the place six hundred shekels of gold by weight. (26) And David built there an altar unto the Lord, and offered burnt-offerings and peace-offerings, and called upon the Lord; and He answered him from heaven by fire upon the altar of burnt-offering.

(27) And the Lord commanded the angel; and he put up his sword back into the sheath thereof. (28) At that time, when David saw that the Lord had answered him in the threshing-floor of Ornan the Yevusi, then he sacrificed there. (29) For the tabernacle of the Lord, which Moshe made in the wilderness, and the altar of burnt-offering, were at that time in the high place at Giv'on. (30) But David could not go before it to inquire of God; for he was terrified because of the sword of the angel of the Lord.

(1) Then David said, "This is the house of the Lord God, and this is the altar of burnt-offering for Israel."

 

1)         THE PARALLELS

 

·                      In both the story of the akeida and the threshing floor of Aravna, the selection of the place to serve as the site of revelation and the resting of the Shekhina is Mount Moriya.

 

·                      An altar was built at that place.

 

·                      It is God who chooses the place and shows it to man: Regarding Avraham – "upon one of the mountains which I will tell you of… and he saw the place afar off;" regarding David – the prophet Gad instructs David to build the altar in the threshing floor of Aravna the Yevusi.

 

·                      The original sacrifice is not brought owing to the intervention of an angel: Regarding Avraham, an angel of God calls out: "Lay not your hand upon the lad;" regarding David, God says to the destroying angel: "It is enough; now stay your hand."

 

·                      In both accounts there are two manners of Divine governance – one using the name Elokim and another using the Tetragrammaton. The command at the Akeida is given in the name of Elokim, but Avraham is prevented from slaughtering Yitzchak by "an angel of the Lord;" at the census, the destroying angel is sent in the name of Elokim, but he is stopped in the name of the Lord (and he himself is called "an angel of the Lord").

 

·                      Seeing, "re'iya" (both in the physical sense and in the sense of selecting a place), and fear, "yir'a," play important roles in both accounts, and especially the following parallel:

 

Avraham lifted up his eyes, and saw… "for now I know that you are a God-fearing man."

 

And David lifted up his eyes, and saw… for he was terrified because of the sword of the angel of the Lord.

 

·                      In both stories, the Divine revelation and the revelation of the place come in the wake of readiness to give up life: Avraham is prepared to slaughter his son and offer him as a burnt-offering; David is ready to give up his life and the lives of his father's house.

 

·                      Avraham's seed and the seed of David and his father's house are saved through the offering of a substitute on the altar: in the case of Avraham – the ram; in the case of David – the burnt-offerings and peace-offerings.

 

·                      In both stories, the matter of seed plays a very important role: with respect to Avraham, a blessing upon his seed and upon all the nations of the land in the wake of his action; with respect to David, Yoav tries to prevent the census for fear that the people will suffer injury, as indeed occurs as a punishment for David's action.

 

·                      A blessing is received at the end: Avraham is blessed: "In blessing I will bless thee… and in your seed shall all the nations of the earth be blessed"; and David is blessed by Aravna: "The Lord your God accept you" (II Shmuel 24:23).

 

·                      Supplies for the sacrifice are taken along: in the case of Avraham - taking wood, a fire and a knife; in the case of David - the oxen for burnt-offerings, the threshing-instruments for wood, and the wheat for the meal-offering.

 

·                      Avraham holds a knife, and the angel holds a sword.

 

·                      In both situations, there is a "test:" God tests Avraham, and David is moved to count Israel.

 

There are also many linguistic parallels between the two stories:

 

                      ·          Terms denoting seeing (see above).

 

                      ·          "And Avraham stretched forth his hand" – "And the angel stretched out his hand" (ibid. v. 16).

 

                      ·          "On the third day" – "three days."

 

                      ·          "And Avraham rose early in the morning" - "And David was up in the morning" (ibid. v. 11).

 

                      ·          Mention of Be'er-Sheva in Avraham's return and in Yoav's census.

 

                      ·          Avraham mentions prostration in his words to the lads; Aravna bows down before David.

 

                      ·          The wood for the burnt-offering.

 

                      ·          "And behold behind him a ram… and he offered him up for a burnt-offering in the stead of his son" – "Even I it is that have sinned and done very wickedly; but these sheep, what have they done?"

 

2)         THE REVERSE PARALLELS AND THE DIFFERENCES

 

The Account of the Akeida

The Account of the Census

Test

Instigation

No sin[7]

The sin of the census

Avraham is ready to sacrifice his son

In the wake of the plague which killed 70,000 people, David asks: "Let Your hand, I pray You, O Lord my God, be against me, and against my father's house; but not against Your people, that they should be plagued"

The angel prevents injury to Yitzchak

The angel strikes, and God says to him, "Stay your hand."

A blessed of increased seed

Harm to seed

The place is revealed following Avraham's standing the test and his readiness to give up his son

The place is revealed following the plague and David's readiness to give up his own life

Three day walk to Mount Moriya

Three days of punishment after the census

Avraham sees the place from afar

David sees the place after the punishment as he is standing next to the threshing floor

Avraham did not go out and look for the place; he was commanded to go there and he saw it

David sought the place and offered his life for it, but the place was revealed to him only in the wake of the plague

 

3)         SIGNIFICANCE OF THE PARALLELS

 

The significance of the parallels lies first and foremost in the principle of "the deeds of the fathers are an omen for the children." Avraham revealed the place and the place was chosen by God in the wake of Avraham's readiness to sacrifice Yitzchak. Through his actions, Avraham showed his descendants the way, both through his total devotion and through his revelation of the place. David's actions parallel those of Avraham both in their contents (the devotion, building an altar and offering sacrifices, Divine revelation) and in the fact that in their wake the place and its selection became manifest.

 

The result in both stories is the revelation of the place: the resting of the Shekhina and, in the end, the building of the Mikdash. The fundamental differences between them relate to the way of reaching the place, the reasons, and the objectives.

 

At the Akeida, Avraham rises to a very elevated spiritual level, on the face of it waiving the promise that had been made to him, his moral path, and his spiritual world, and out of supreme fear and love of God and absolute humility. In the wake of the sacrifice, God makes him promises and blesses his seed, and through him He blesses all the nations of the world.

 

To David, with all his yearnings to find the place and all the afflictions that he suffers along the way (as is described in Tehillim 132), the place becomes revealed in the wake of the sin of the census (even though he was incited to sin), a sin rooted in the arrogance connected to control of a large, strong army. It was only in the aftermath of the terrible plague (70,000 casualties) that David reaches the point that he is totally prepared to give up his life, his own and that of his father's house (that is, the continuation of his kingship), and he then merits to reveal the place. In this story, as in other stories, David manifests himself as fully repentant. The readiness to give up his life, the fear, and the humility that in this case brings about the revelation of the place stem from repentance and acceptance of responsibility in the wake of the sin (as opposed to Avraham, who manifested all these qualities already at the outset).

 

In both stories, the place of the Mikdash and the resting of the Shekhina are revealed in the wake of fear, love, humility and the absolute readiness to give up life. The difference lies in the cause of the appearance of these qualities: were they there from the beginning, or did they only come in the wake of the plague? This might also be the situation for future generations: the revelation of the place requires readiness to give up life, and the place will be revealed through the help of God. This absolute devotion can be present from the outset, based on the understanding that closeness to God requires infinite devotion. But it can also, God forbid, appear only in the aftermath of a plague, which in the end will also necessitate such devotion.[8]

 

IV.       THE PARALLEL BETWEEN THE AKEIDA AT MOUNT MORIYA AND THE REVELATION TO YAAKOV AT BET-EL

 

The Torah alludes to a substantive connection between the story of the akeida and the revelation to Yaakov at Bet-El,[9] and the reason is clear. I In both stories the substance of the revelation is the Mikdash, only that for Yaakov it is the site of the Mikdash for the patriarchs, whereas for Avraham, the site is consecrated also for their descendants in later generations.[10] Let us first read through the biblical passage itself (Bereishit 28:10-22):

 

(10) And Yaakov went out from Be'er-Sheva, and went toward Charan. (11) And he lighted upon the place, and tarried there all night, because the sun was set; and he took one of the stones of the place, and put it under his head, and lay down in that place to sleep. (12) And he dreamed, and behold a ladder set up on the earth, and the top of it reached to heaven; and behold the angels of God ascending and descending on it. (13) And, behold, the Lord stood beside him, and said, "I am the Lord, the God of Avraham your father, and the God of Yitzchak. The land whereon you lie, to you will I give it, and to your seed. (14) And your seed shall be as the dust of the earth, and you shall spread abroad to the west, and to the east, and to the north, and to the south. And in you and in your seed shall all the families of the earth be blessed. (15) And, behold, I am with you, and will keep you wherever you go, and will bring you back into this land; for I will not leave you, until I have done that which I have spoken to you of." (16) And Yaakov awoke out of his sleep, and he said, "Surely the Lord is in this place; and I knew it not." (17) And he was afraid, and said, "How full of awe is this place! This is none other than the house of God, and this is the gate of heaven." (18) And Yaakov rose up early in the morning, and took the stone that he had put under his head, and set it up for a pillar, and poured oil upon the top of it. (19) And he called the name of that place Bet-El, but the name of the city was Luz at the first. (20) And Yaakov vowed a vow, saying, "If God will be with me, and will keep me in this way that I go, and will give me bread to eat, and raiment to put on, (21) so that I come back to my father's house in peace, then shall the Lord be my God, (22) and this stone, which I have set up for a pillar, shall be God's house; and of all that You shall give me I will surely give the tenth unto You."

 

1)         THE PARALLELS[11]

 

·                      The sanctity of the place becomes manifest in the wake of a direct Divine revelation and the appearance of angels.

 

·                      The revelation is in the name of both Elokim and the Tetragrammaton.

 

·                      There is a blessing of seed – and through them the blessing of all the nations of the world and all the families of the earth.

 

·                      In both stories, the principle of fear appears in the wake of the revelation and as part of it.

 

·                      Emphasis on the word "makom," which alludes to the special significance of Mount Moriya and Bet-El.

 

·                      Calling the place in the wake of the revelation: "Adonai-yir'eh," "Bet-El."

 

·                      Arising in the morning.

 

2)         THE DIFFERENCES

 

The story of the Akeida

The story of the revelation at Bet-El

Mount Moriya

Bet-El (the name of which was Luz at first)

"I will multiply your seed as the stars of the heaven, and as the sand which is upon the seashore"

"And your seed shall be as the dust of the earth, and you shall spread abroad to the west, and to the east, and to the north, and to the south."

An altar

A pillar

A ram for a burnt-offering

Pouring oil

After the place is named, the Torah comments, "As it is said to this day, In the mount where the Lord is seen"

After the place is named, Yaakov takes an oath: "And this stone, which I have set up for a pillar, shall be God's house"

The revelation of the place comes in the wake of a unique test and supreme devotion

The revelation of the place comes as Yaakov is on his way to Charan

 

3)         THE SIGNIFICANCE OF THE PARALLELS AND THE DIFFERENCES

 

The primary substantive parallel is the sanctity of the two places and the special revelation in each of them. All the characteristics of the Mikdash (the sanctity of the place, giving it a name, revelation, the principle of fear, service in the wake of revelation) appear in both stories.

 

The main difference is the identity of the place[12] and its end: Bet-El, the natural Mikdash of the patriarchs, as opposed to Jerusalem – the chosen Mikdash of their descendants.

 

In this context, there is an interesting difference in the formulation of the blessing of the seed: In the case of Avraham, "as the stars of the heaven, and as the sand which is upon the seashore," whereas in the case of Yaakov – "as the dust of the earth." In the case of Avraham, on Mount Moriya, which was destined to become the site of the resting of the Shekhina for the world, the metaphor for seed expresses the perfect connection between heaven and earth, from the stars to the sand. In the case of Yaakov, in the Mikdash of the patriarchs, the metaphor restricts itself to the dust of the earth, the natural and physical side of the Divine service that appears in connection with the patriarchs.

 

In light of this, it is understandable why Avraham builds an altar at Mount Moriya that will be the primary mode of Israel's service in the permanent Mikdash, whereas Yaakov takes the stone and sets it up as a pillar – a more natural form of worship, loved by the patriarchs, but forbidden to their descendants (Devarim 16:22). In this as well Yaakov gives expression to the primal and temporary natural reality, whereas Avraham expresses the fixed and eternal reality.[13]

 

In effect, expression is given here to a difference between Avraham and Yaakov themselves. The aspect of Bet-El will be manifest in the period of the patriarchs themselves, during which time there will be a sanctuary there, to which Yaakov will return (chap. 35). Later, it will reveal itself on the border between Binyamin and Efrayim, the children of Rachel – the preferred wife of Yaakov (who saw in Yosef his firstborn and heir, and gave him a double portion in Eretz Israel). The aspect that Avraham sees, in contrast, will be revealed in the most perfect manner in Jerusalem on Mount Moriya, in the place that connects Yehuda and Binyamin, Leah and Rachel.

 

SUMMARY

 

            We saw that the Akeida story constitutes the first mention in the Torah of the Mikdash, its place and its nature, and it alludes to two future revelations of a consecrated place: the revelation to Yaakov at Bet-El, which expresses the natural and temporary aspect of the Divine service of the patriarchs, and the revelation to David at Mount Moriya, which expresses the chosen aspect of the permanent service of their descendants.[14]

 

(Translated by David Strauss)

 


[1] This is a broad and comprehensive issue, connected to, among other things, the rings of sanctity in Eretz Israel in general (Kelim 1:6-9), the relationship between the monarchy and the Mikdash, the difference between the allowance of new grain in all of Eretz Israel through the omer offering and the allowance of new grain in the Mikdash through shetei ha-lechem, and other things. These are two different rings that complement each other. It goes without saying that I cannot expand upon this in the present framework.

[2] There is certainly an allusion here to the fixed reality of sacrifices in the future Mikdash that will stand on this site. We began with this issue because of the comparison to earlier altars, on which sacrifices were not brought.

[3] The Torah itself does not report that Adam offered a sacrifice; in the story of Kayin and Hevel there is no explicit reference to the place where they offered their sacrifices; and as for Noach, according to the plain sense of Scripture, he offered his sacrifices on the mountains of Ararat.

[4] Seforno explains the words, "as it is said to this day, 'In the mount where the Lord is seen,'" as follows: "The place about which Israel say on the day of the writing of the Torah 'in the mount where the Lord is seen' – when God, blessed be He, will reveal it, as it says, 'Then there shall be a place which the Lord your God shall choose' (Devarim 12:11), and this was in the days of David – that place Avraham called 'where the Lord is seen.'" According to this, "this day" refers to the day on which the Torah was written.

An interesting question in this context relates to the extent to which Avraham himself was aware of the fact that this place would serve as the site of the Mikdash. This question depends on how we understand the words "where the Lord is seen" and "this day." Midrash Ha-gadol (Bereishit 22:14, s.v. asher ye'amer) brings a view according to which Avraham indeed knew this: "The verse teaches that Avraham our father already knew that this is the house of worship for [future] generations. And so, too, you find that the plague in the days of David only stopped by virtue of the Temple, as it is written: 'The Lord saw, and He repented Him of the evil' (I Divrei Ha-yamim 21:15). What did He see? Rabbi Yochanan said: He saw the Temple, as it is stated: 'As it is said to this day, In the mount where the Lord is seen.'"

[5] Rav Y. Ariel expanded on this in Machzor Ha-Mikdash for Rosh ha-Shana, pp. 52-53. Here we bring the gist of the matter.

[6] This is a broad and interesting topic that is worthy of a separate lecture. I shall merely note that Bava Batra 25a brings two explanations: 1) As opposed to idolaters, who bow down toward the sun that rises in the east. According to this, there is nothing special about the west; what is important is not to pray to the east; 2) It is stated (Nechemia 9:6): "And the host of heaven prostrate themselves before You," that is to say, when the heavenly bodies rise, they bow down toward God, which implies that the Shekhina is in the west.

The Rambam (Moreh Nevukhim, ibid.) mentions this issue, but he places heavy emphasis on the west being the opposite of idol worship: "In my opinion, the reason for this is as follows: Inasmuch as at that time the opinion generally accepted in the world was to the effect that the sun should be worshipped and that it is the deity, there is no doubt that all men turned when praying toward the east. Therefore Abraham our father turned, when praying on Mount Moriya – I mean in the sanctuary – toward the west, so as to turn his back upon the sun."

[7] To the exclusion of the view of Rashbam (Bereishit 22:1) that Avraham was punished for having made a covenant with Avimelekh.

[8] In his book "Oz Melekh," Rav Ariel dedicated an entire chapter to this comparison (pp. 246-249). This understanding fit in well with the Ramban's understanding, according to which (and as we also find in Midrash Tehillim 17) the plague came because of Israel's negligence and failure to seek the site of the Mikdash. I shall expand on this in the lecture dealing with the census and its consequences.

[9] Chazal (Pirkei de-Rabbi Eliezer, chap. 35, and elsewhere) identify (in various ways) this Bet-El with Mount Moriya. We follow the plain sense of the text and locate the revelation to Yaakov in Luz/Bet-El in the northern part of the territory of Binyamin (identified with the place known today as Burg Beitin).

[10] We dealt with some of these parallels in the lectures on Jerusalem in 5765 (lectures 1-3). This correspondence is part of the broader correspondence between Bet-El and Jerusalem, which will be expanded upon in the lecture on the tribal territory of Binyamin.

[11] I will illustrate the parallels and differences according to the first revelation at Bet-El. It should be noted, however, that there are also many parallels in the second revelation to Yaakov at Bet-El, when he returned from Charan (Bereishit 38:1-15). He is commanded to build an altar to the God who had appeared to him when he ran away from his brother Esav; God appears to him and blesses him with a blessing of descendants and the land. Yaakov sets up a pillar, pours oil over it, and calls the place Bet-El.

[12] The difference between the places arises again in their future meanings: Bet-El will be situated on the border between Efrayim and Binyamin and a calf will be erected there; Jerusalem will be situated on the border between Binyamin and Yehuda, and there the Mikdash will be built.

[13] It is interesting to examine whether this fundamental difference also finds expression in the different kinds of sacrifices: a ram as a burnt-offering as opposed to the pouring of oil, which alludes to the libations of oil. This idea is supported by the laws of sacrifices for future generations, where the libations appear as accompaniments to the sacrificial order, which is the primary mode of service.

[14] This complements and expands upon the lecture mentioned above in note 10.