Explaining the Binding of Isaac

Where was Abraham's own moral sense when he agreed to murder Isaac?

Comments (27)

(27) David Honaker, March 9, 2011 3:25 PM

Avram v'Yitzach

Well explained Rabbi Becher. I would suspect, also, that this part of Abraham's life is not completely recorded in the Tannach as we now have it. For example, when he told the Egyptians that Sarai was his "sister" how do we not know that he was commanded of G-d to do this? (It saved his life, and that of his wife who, for all we know, may well have also been his sister as the Mosaic Law was not then in place.) I believe, once the full story is known with all of its details we can view this is a more complete light. I also believe the mitzva was given to both him and his wife Sarai and by their compliance the two letters "hey" of the great four letter name were given one to Avram and one to Sarai so that the world would know that the G-d of the world placed his name (and thus approval) on Abraham and Sarah and through them all of the nations (even "Gentiles" such as myself) of the world would be blessed. - David in Phoenix, Arizona, USA

(26) Anonymous, November 7, 2010 4:57 PM

Abraham needed a jolt back to reality

Abraham was human, and we do need to keep that in perspective. Abraham also was known to try to reason with God, when he disagreed, example over destroying Sodom. Here over sacrificing Isaac, Abraham does not say a word to reason this out with who is telling him to do this. I do not see Abraham as a hero because he was willing to sacrifice his son. I see where Abraham had been influence by the people around him and their pagan practices and was too willing to do this. When Abraham listened to the Angel, the messager of God, was when Abraham had stepped in the right direction. Came to his senses, and then was able to hear God speak to him the pagan's ways was not his ways.

(25) Joseph, August 16, 2010 3:31 PM

cessation - why?

Rabbi, these siurim of yours are great. Why don't you continue adding more? We are thirsty for your wisdom.

(24) Dvorah, February 7, 2009 12:27 PM

A Test or The hint of a Law

I many times wonder if the binding of Issac had anything to do with Avraham "faith" so to to speak. In a world where the sacrifice of the child, especially one of the leader was seen as a ultimate way to please a god, was God using this situation to see if Avraham saw pleasing God the same as what he saw when he was young in the land he came from...and after all he could return for Ishmael or wait for another Issac to come along. Was HaShem using this to show that He was not like the other gods, "stop and think Avraham...am I trying to get you to think with this request and arque it out with Me, than just getting up and going ahead with it...is there more to this than just doing without thinking, doing without communicating, doing without understanding." I think in the end of it all HaShem was saying, not human sacrifice Avraham, animal sacrifice, "since you are moving along and at the point of doing what pagans do, let me jump in here fast, not a human,,,,,,a animal,,,here's a goat". And Torah does go on to distinquish sacrifice into animal and produce...so we unlike the pre-world of Avraham today abhor the very thought of human sacrifice, one that clearly sets us apart from many religions of today..HaShem does not require human blood on any altar for any purpose.

(23) Mike, December 18, 2008 5:41 PM

Thank you

Thank you for your insight into this. This was one passage I struggled with and your perspective helped me.

(22) Alex Collins, December 17, 2008 11:14 AM

Thank you for this commentry on an incident that is difficult to explain other than from the standpoint of faith. Abraham trusted God through much of his life and now in his old age he has a son of through whom God's promises would be fulfilled. Could it be that Isaac had taken first place in the affections of Abraham rather than God? I believe the test of offering up Isaac that Abraham was called upon to undertake showed that his commitment was first and foremost to God who had miraculously given him Isaac. Also, given Abraham's experience of God is it not possible that Abraham believed that God was able to raise Isaac from the dead?

(21) Dvirah, December 14, 2008 1:37 PM

When G-d Speaks...

There is always a first time. So if G-d speaks to you, with all due respect to Mr. Russel, take a deep breath and count to 20 before deciding you're insane. And above all, LISTEN.

(20) Rabbi Isaiah Koenigsberg, December 10, 2008 6:37 AM

Rite on! As Harav Hershel Shachter told me some decades ago, the mitzvah of gratitude is the cornerstone of Judaism: Winess the First of the Ten Commandments. Judaism is first and foremost an expression *or* man''s gratitude to G-d rather than a study of the Secrets of nature *or* of the
Deity: G-d did not say "I am the Lord your G-d who created heaven and earth, "but rather He said "I am the Lord your G-d who took you out of the Land of Egypt." It was precisely gratitude that enabled the Jewish People to respond to G-d with the clarion call "Na''aseh v''nishma" -- we will do and we will understand. Otherwise, such a response would be the height of folly.

To my mind, the Akedah was not a means of enabling G-d to ascertain the depth of Avraham''s belief and trust in Him. That clearly was unnecessary. The Akedah was a means to enable Avraham and Yitzhak to truly appreciate the depth of their own commitment to G-d: Avraham, who personifies loving
kindness, was requested to to sacrifice his own beloved son, and Yitzhak, who persononifies gevurah (strength --- the strength to conquer one''s own natural inclinations) was requested to conquer man''s greatest natural inclination --- self-preservation.

Moreover, the Akedah teaches us, who live in the Twenty-first Century, a
most profound lesson. As Nachmanides points out, it was G-d Himself who requested the sacrifice of Isaac, but it was lesser entity who undid G-d''s original order and saved Isaac. This teaches us humans that when it comes to hurting *or* injuring other human beings, we must be "dead sure", 100 per cent sure, that this what G-d requires of us, but when it comes to saving others, we need not such 100 per cent confidence.

(19) Dr. Robert Haas, December 8, 2008 12:06 AM

Promise of the survival of Abraham's children.

I seem to recall that Abraham was told by Hasem that his children would multiply. If Abraham killed his son, this could not happen. Therefore, Abraham knew that he couldn't kill his only god given son and Hasem would intervene in some manner. It was really a lesson for Itzhak.

(18) Susan P, December 7, 2008 11:31 PM

Still have a problem

The one thing this explanation does not address is that, if Abraham had demonstrated faith in G-d for all his life, why was such a test needed after Abraham had spent his lifetime trusting G-d?

(17) neska, December 7, 2008 5:37 PM

trust

and isn't it possible that avraham also trusted that Hashem would not let him go thru with this "murder". it was against everything that Hashem stood for. Avraham's trust was in that he knew his Hashem.

(16) sharona, December 7, 2008 4:26 PM

Exactly, Avraham spent a lot of time with G-d - And later, G-d was testing Avraham's trust. Avraham showed that trust and then was given a ram to take instead. It's a great lesson for life, whether it is trusting a loved one that you know you can count on, or trusting G-d in different situations

(15) a b, December 7, 2008 1:32 PM

great stuff!

this speech was absolutely amazing! clear and concise!

(14) Alberto, December 7, 2008 1:14 PM

Great explanation of Reason and Faith

BS"D Yeah, Rabbi! I did great. That's a very good explanation I ever heard about the binding of Itzhak. Thank you very much

(13) Richard Glass, December 7, 2008 12:49 PM

Thanks

Thanks for you wisdom on Abraham, I have never heard it put like this before.

(12) Yale Zuckerman, December 7, 2008 12:04 PM

Sarah's Reaction

Thank you Rabbi. I have heard that Sarah was so upset with what Abraham did or almost did that she never was with him again. Yale Zuckerman Northridge, CA Is there any truth to that?

(11) Anonymous, December 7, 2008 11:17 AM

Really good audio. A topic that many have questions about and the audio explains a lot and makes you think more clearly.

(10) Irv, December 7, 2008 11:02 AM

Abraham's tenth test was a test of morality

Abraham's accomplishment was to refuse to follow an instruction (sacrifuce of Isaac) because its was morally wrong.Whether it came from God or a superior if it is deemed morally wrong, it need not be followed.

(9) Mordechai, December 7, 2008 10:48 AM

Thank You, Rabbi Becher,

for giving this insight on the Akeida. This used to be the most troubling passage in the Torah for me. But since you eloquently put the passage into context, I can clearly look at the passage as one that emulates the Jewish notion of reasonable faith.

(8) Anonymous, December 7, 2008 10:48 AM

Right on.

As a Christian, I totally agree with your "semonette" on Abraham's faith. He had experienced G-d, he knew G-d intimately and he trusted G-d. Thank you for the good word. Grace and peace. I pray for the peace of Jerusalem.

(7) Itamar, December 7, 2008 9:44 AM

Abraham is a criminal

Even if Abraham received the "call of God" after the "tremendous experience" with Him, he shouldn't have tried to kill Isaak.

(6) ruth housman, December 7, 2008 9:33 AM

If I Had Seen God Make Miracles:reason & unreason

This is a fascinating commentary with profound depth. I am coming to this having just written about the hearing of voices, about what is psychotic and what is not, what it is to be a prophet, and what it is to be a false prophet, how it is that many in our society do claim to hear God as in the popular books Conversations with God and how many who hear *or* claim to hear God speaking wind up doing unconscionably terrible things in the "name of God", as do not only religions fighting wars in God''s name but also individuals who we claim are schizophrenic *or* bipolar. Ferreting the differences in all of this, is a difficult task. How do we judge the reality of another? Is it REAL *or* is it terribly delusional and worse, will it harm others? In today''s Boston Globe there is a tragic story of a twin who took her sister''s children to convey them somewhere, on trust, but who had been recently in McLean Hospital for bipolar disorder. She was stopped on the road and felt to be talking strangely with delusional, religiosity, but was allowed to continue. She wound up in a terrible car crash, killing herself and the two children. There are such awful tragedies with terrible repercussions that involve guilt and responsibility in life.

So I do resonate with this deep discussion but feel the answers certainly not easy to come by. You say in this very moving discussion, that Abraham KNEW God so he knew the origins of that voice and what he must do. And you indicated, that having seen God make miracles, gave credence to this voice. But I can also say, that we all see God make miracles constantly, so if I were to hear a voice, not being Abraham, what am I to make of that voice. Because you see, I do perceive divinity in all things.

I would say, the moral imperative for me would be to question any voice that called for the taking of a life. For unquestionable obedience, in the name of God *or*, otherwise. Certainly my children. There is nothing more precious than a child. One could say that this was a "test" of Abraham''s loyalty to God, as is the story of Job, so often repeated in the Clinics. I have seen Job in the Clinics, repeatedly, as a psychiatric social worker. Did Abraham KNOW he could trust God NOT to sacrifice his son, on some deeper level? What would be the Divine''s purpose in seeking such a sacrifice, from a beloved person such as Abraham?

The questions run deep and deeper and I could spend a long time writing to this very pertinent question. Certainly we call what happens to us all, in disaster such as Flood, such as Volanic, ACTS of GOD. What of our lives?
Is staying alive no accident? Is God the scene and unseen player in this drama of story, that forms these deep and moving intersects, that allows for tikkun olam?

Who is sane? Who is insane? Certainly by current psychiatric standards the prophets would be deemed, insane? Is there a difference? What is the difference? If all is God and all is part of God''s plan, why this conundrum? Why in psychosis to people so often believe they are Messianic and Christ-like? Can we draw inferences from all of this? Is God making us THINK, all of us, in depth. What is this story all about?

Since I do it with language and see deep bipolarity and paradox in language itself, I could point out that Isaac''s name means laughter, and that in the very word slaughter is, laughter. In cleave we have a double meaning, and cruel for crewel, aurally synonymous. A weave, A tapestry. Fight terror with compassion, as it does say on the screen next to this email. And thank you for provoking me further into deep, deep thought. in truth/ruth

(5) Carole C, December 7, 2008 8:51 AM

Abraham's Blind Commitment?

Of all the explanations I've heard about this incident....Yours is the best explained and said! BRAVO!

(4) Louis Halikman, MD, December 7, 2008 8:45 AM

"Trust is not the issue"

With all due respects, I disagree with the term "trust", when applied to the Akideh. Why use the term trust? Trust G-d to take away from him his son Isaac, who was his comfort in his old age? Trust G-d to provide another son for him? Why trust anyone who proposes something so outrageous as the sacrifice of own''s only son? Although the Torah does not specifically say so, it would appear that G-d is acting as a terrorist -- one son must die, and then you will agree to my demands! This is not a situation of trust, it is more like fear, although the Torah is also silent about that aspect also.

I find it hard to accept the fact that Abraham agreed WITHOUT QUESTION to the order to sacrifice his son. Also, Isaac could have just as easily overpowered his father, who was an old man and would have been no match for a teenage boy. But he didn''t. Did Isaac know something that perhaps Abraham didn''t? It was Isaac''s trust and Abraham''s fear that, to me, makes sense.

I have often said that this Torah passage is the philosophic dividing line between Judaism and Christianity. G-d forbids human sacrifice for any reason. In the crucifixion story, G-d allows human sacrifice supposedly for the betterment of mankind. This is absolutely contrary to a most central tenet of Judaism. If indeed Jesus had been the Messiah, as our Christian friends believe, then his life would have been spared by G-d''s intervention.

I enjoyed the discussion, but I find the use of trust disturbing. It begs the question -- why should Abraham trust G-d? Only out of fear, not because he thought he was being comanded to do the right thing. Isaac knew better.

(3) Anonymous, December 7, 2008 8:39 AM

I hate this story which is repeated each Rosh Hashana. Your explanation does not make sense to me.

(2) eugene Flam, December 7, 2008 8:24 AM

pedestrian fundamentalism

Try this on for size on thinking. The allegory, the way the bible teaches, begging interpretation,leads me to say "Now hear this." The angel holding his hand is the inner voice telling him this is not the path. In those days human sacrifice was the norm. Abraham in the spirit of G-d was the first to abolish human sacrifice. The bible exaggerates in words for that era but the message is eternal . Upgrade your reading of it. It is a godly step in the advance of civilization.

(1) bernie siegel, md, December 7, 2008 8:03 AM

it is about faith and having the right lord

abraham sought the greater good and follows his lord's desires because he has faith in his lord rather than bargain or argue as he did for sodom and gomoroh. he also says to his servants we will return and not isaac and i are going ahead and i will be back in a few minutes. he says we and knows the outcome will be favorable whatever the result.

 

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