After These Events
This week's parsha records several dramatic events: the birth of Isaac; Abraham's unsuccessful plea to save the evil population of Sodom; the destruction of Sodom and Lot's rescue; and finally the Akaida (binding) of Isaac. The meaning of Abraham's binding and intended sacrifice of his beloved son, Isaac, has been interpreted in various ways.
We will compare Rashi's interpretation with that of his grandson, Rashbam.
"And it was after these events that God tested Abraham and He said to him, 'Abraham,' and he said, 'Here I am.' "
After these events (words) - RASHI: There are those of our Rabbis who say the meaning is: After the words of the Satan who accused (Abraham) and said, "Of the banquet which Abraham made he did not sacrifice even one bull or ram (in thanksgiving to God)." Then (God) said to him "Did he not do all this only for his son, and if I would say to him 'Slaughter your son for Me,' he would not refuse!" Other (Rabbis) say, "After the words of Ishmael, who boasted to Isaac, that he (Ishmael) allowed himself to be circumcised at the age of 13 and did not protest. Isaac said to him 'With one part of your body (the circumcision) are you boasting to me! If God would ask me to sacrifice myself (completely) I would not refuse.' "
WHAT IS RASHI SAYING?
Rashi is clearly relating to the Torah's words "After these devarim." The Hebrew word "devarim" can mean either "events" or "words." The fact that the Torah begins this section of the Akaida with the word "After" implies that there is some kind of connection with previous verses. Which verses? This uncertainty lead to the two opinions of the Rabbis that Rashi cites. The first opinion refers back to verse 21:8 where Abraham's feast for Isaac's being weaned at two years old is described. The second opinion refers further back to verse 21:4 where Isaac's circumcision at eight days is mentioned. That Ishmael was circumcised at age 13 is mentioned even earlier, in verse 17:25.
The Torah's use of the word "nisa" is usually taken to mean "tested"; that is, God was testing Abraham to see if his faith was steadfast and his obedience would stand up to this difficult test.
Also, after Abraham showed his willingness to do anything for his God, the Torah testifies to this. Verse 22:12 says:
"...for now I know that you are God-fearing, for you have not withheld your only son from Me."
All the commentaries follow this line.
Why does the All Knowing God need to test Abraham to know the extent of his faith in God? He certainly knows each man's heart, so why the need for a test?
Ramban explains that in this case the test served the purpose of allowing Abraham to actualize his inner potential. Although God knew that Abraham had the faith to perform the difficult act of sacrificing his dearly beloved son, even so, once a person acts on his inner belief, he has given that belief more validity.
RASHBAM'S ORIGINAL VIEW
Rashbam (Rashi's grandson) offers an original, startling, view of this "test." He says:
"...After Abraham made a treaty with Avimelech, between him, their sons, their grandsons and their great grandsons, then God was angry with him because the land of the Philistines was part of the Land of Israel and the Holy One commanded 'You shall not let live any soul'; therefore, God 'provoked'" Abraham, and caused him pain."
(Rashbam then cites examples in Tanach where the word "nisa" means "provoked" and not "tested".)
Rashbam continues: "This is to say that he (Abraham) was proud of the son that God had given him and made a covenant for this son and Avimelech's son. Now (says God) bring him as an offering on the altar and we will see what becomes of your covenant."
The Rashbam continues by quoting a Midrash, that Hashem made an oath: "since you offered seven sheep (in the covenant ceremony) the Philistines will kill seven of your Righteous and destroy seven of your temples: Ohel Moed, Gilgal, Nov, Shilo, Givon, and the two Temples."
This is really a startling interpretation (and of timely relevance!). Can you find textual validity for Rashbam's interpretation over Rashi's?
WHAT'S BOTHERING THE RASHBAM?
An Answer: Both Rashi and Rashbam are connecting the chapter of the Akaida with a previous event. The two interpretations that Rashi offers are both based on drash not p'shat. The Torah does not record Ishmael's conversation with Isaac nor the conversation between the Satan and Hashem.
Rashbam's interpretation, on the other hand, is very close to p'shat, because the Akaida does come after the covenant which was explicitly made between Abraham's son and Avimelech's son. And we also know that Israel was commanded not to make a treaty with the inhabitants of the Land and instead to destroy them. Abraham had gone against this command. The terrifying provocation of God to kill his son was his punishment!
I find the lesson from this interpretation both startling and eye-opening! Living in Jerusalem at this point in time of our vicissitude-filled history, I am wondering if the Torah (according to Rashbam) is not speaking to us. Are such thoughts "merely" political or are they p'shat?!