Re: The Sacrifice of Isaac

Bill Bickel (bbickel@cris.com)
Wed, 25 Dec 1996 14:58:19 -0500

In TF 3:2, I quoted Moshe Genuth:

> >>I think that tests are not without value if one knows one is being tested.
> >>As a simple example you might take basic training in the Army (at least
> >>it's this way in Israel) - you know that everything that's happening is a
> >>"simulation", that is, you're mind is being played with.
>
> And I responded:
>
> >Very different thing: In Army training, you're learning to perform
> >actions, not being tested on how you'd honestly react in a given
> >situation.
> >The correct military analogy would be this:
> >You're told that the soldier standing next to you is a traitor and must
> >be shot. You're handed a loaded gun. There's a BIG difference between a
> >willingness (in training) to say "bang" and a willingness (in reality)
> >to perform the execution.

Robert Klein in response to my statement wrote:

> Mr. Genuth's analogy was right on. Mr. Bickel has erred in two major
> features of his alternative. One, Hashem did not tell Abraham that Isaac
> was a traitor or sinner or anything negative. Two, and most importantly,
> in the context of "the tested knowing he's being tested", Mr. Bickel's
> commanding officer needs to tell you that this is just a test of your faith
> in the commanding officer, and that while the gun is indeed loaded, you can
> rest assured that somehow the very innocent soldier standing next to you
> will escape unscathed despite your best efforts. With these two emendations
> Mr. Bickel's analogy can reflect the psychological reality of the akeidah,
> if we are working on the assumption at all that Abraham knew for sure he was
> being tested.

That assumption, though, can't be glossed over so easily, because the
assumption changes the whole concept:

EITHER Abraham knew Isaac was never in any real danger, because he was
absolutely confident that G-d would let no harm to come to him...

OR Abraham was willing to sacrifice Isaac on G-d's say-so regardless of
his own feelings and regardless of his own sense of right and wrong.

This group seems divided as to which question is the appropriate one.

If it's the former, then this is all just a test of Abraham's belief in
G-d's omnipotence, and Isaac was never in any danger. And the original
question I posed, more than 2 months ago, was based on a fallacy: G-d
did NOT order Abraham to commit a deed which I as a father would find
intolerable. And, of course, Mr. Genuth's analogy is valid: we're playing
with an unloaded gun.

If the latter is the case, and G-d is testing obedience rather than
faith, then we're talking about something completely different, and
something no simulation can reproduce.

(I'm reminded of the opening scene of the film Wargames, in which the
Soviets have launched nuclear missiles at the US, and two soldiers each
need to do something or other to return fire. The first soldier does so,
but the second refuses. In this case, the first officer's order are to
take any action, including shooting the second officer, to see that the
counterattack is launched.
Now, THIS was a simulation, but the difference was that the soldiers
didn't know it. They were being tested to see whether they'd carry out
their orders, up to and including escalating a nuclear war or killing
one another. And the first soldier, of course, didn't KNOW he was
carrying an unloaded gun)

Bill Bickel