Avraham returned to his young men. They rose up and went together to
Be’ersheva. (Bereishis 22:19)
The story has been told many times before, in many places and in many
cultures. The hero embarks on a journey. Along the way, he grows, responds
to challenges. He does wondrous things.
Those wondrous things will depend on the culture and its values. In one,
they may be acts of courage and fortitude. He may slay many dragons, rescue
the oppressed, champion the downtrodden. In other societies, the hero will
walk with the common man, inspiring them with wisdom or ministering to the
At some point, the hero will meet his greatest test. He will prevail. In the
process, he transcends ordinary existence. He may climb to Olympus, or
ascend to heaven. He may die – a tragedy tempered by the realization of
everyone else that his mundane routine in a pedestrian world is no longer
appropriate to him.
This is not the way the Akeidah ends for Avraham and Yitzchok. The
dénouement of the story is often overlooked, but it is quite unexpected.
Three times in the narrative, the Torah uses “yachdav” to describe father
and son walking together. (The word does not mean the same thing as the
related “yachad.” That word speaks of a more casual association; “yachdav”
is more intense – it signifies a stronger, more essential, togetherness.)
The first two are well know for their poignancy. They walk hand in hand,
full of love and trust, ready to serve Hashem with an offering. An innocent
question by Yitzchok. A loving but terse response by Avraham, that points to
the unexpected role Yitzchok is going to play at the top of the mountain.
They do not break stride. The realization of what is to come does not touch
the bond, the togetherness.
When it is all over, they both return, and set out for Be’ersheva. Here,
too, they travel “yachdav,” only this time with the two young attendants
they had previously left waiting at the foot of the mountain. Everyone had
realized that those men should not and could not be part of the Divine
service at the top. They could not relate to the kind of faith and love that
Avraham and Yitzchok had for HKBH.
The story line, as told in other cultures, would call for Avraham and
Yitzchok to be transfigured. Touched by their encounter with the Divine,
having passed the supreme test and achieved full control of their inner
selves, they would have adequate reason to shun the world of the ordinary
and the ordinary folk. Any pride they would feel would be well deserved. No
one would hold it against them.
That is not the way of G-d. After their greatest triumph, Avraham and
Yitzchok return to the ordinary people they had previously left behind. They
walk with them, not superciliously, but in genuine togetherness. Every human
being is worthy of respect, without regard to station or rank. Lofty
spiritual accomplishment, in the view of the Torah, presents no barrier to
associating with those who do not share that accomplishment. It does not
produce spiritual masters perched atop mountains – real ones, or virtual
ones of their own making.
To the contrary, the greater the person, the less superior – and hence less
aloof – he feels. Reaching for the sky and achieving celestial elevation
does not have to be a recipe for haughtiness or for separation. It is
remarkable that Avraham and Yitzchok were able to walk up the mountain. The
Torah here shows us that it was also to their credit that they were able to
walk down as well.