Re: The Sacrifice of Isaac

Glenn Stengel (
Thu, 2 Jan 1997 02:14:04 -0500

In TF 3:2, Bill Bickell responded to Moshe Genuth:
>... 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 & must be shot. You're handed a loaded gun. There's a BIG
difference between a willingness (in training) to say "bang" & a
willingness (in reality) to perform the execution.

In Bill Bickell's 12/25/95 response to Robert Klein, he said:
> 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 & regardless of his own sense of right & wrong.
>If it's the former, then this is just a test of Abraham's belief in G-d's
>omnipotence, & Isaac was never in any danger;
>& the original question I posed was based on a fallacy: i.e.
>G-d did NOT order Abraham to commit a deed which I as a father would find
>intolerable, & of course Mr. Genuth's analogy is valid: we're playing with
>an unloaded gun.
>If the latter is the case, & G-d is testing obedience rather than faith,
>then we're talking about something completely different. <

I'd like to point out that this test was much more than just commanding
Isaac to do something difficult, horrible, & sad & seeing where Avraham's
loyalties lay. And of course, it's critical to realize that orders from
Hashem cannot be compared to orders from even the most trustworthy human.

For most of Avraham's life Hashem was preparing him through various
faith-building experiences & tests to father & prepare the way for the
Jewish Nation, whose task would be to cling to having an uncompromised
committed relationship to Hashem & Truth through His Torah. To this end,
Hashem gave him his son Isaac in a miraculous way & He promised him the
land of Israel & that from him would develop a nation as numerous as the
grains of sand etc.

Thus Avraham was being commanded to destroy the means to all that Hashem
had given him as a purpose & promised him for the future. He was being
commanded to do something that on the surface contradicted not a value, but
EVERYTHING he believed in & understood Hashem to have taught him. So
Avraham was forced to choose between 2 ways of looking at things:
1. Avraham's experiences with Hashem were based on truth & Hashem's ways
are those that lead to ultimate good. Thus, even though he had no way to
see how this could possibly be the way, Avraham had to trust Hashem to keep
His promises & to do only what's best for serving His purpose, namely
bringing the world to a full understanding of truth through Avraham's
descendants - through Isaac (Avraham's ONLY SON - note that in referring to
Isaac in this way, Hashem was actually indicating that, although physically
Avraham had 2 sons, both of whom he loved, the only son that counted was
the one who was committed to participating in this process), OR
2. ALL that Avraham had been through up till now was a terrible joke or a
misinterpreted dream from which he was about to be rudely awakened.

Avraham passed the test by showing that he recognized Hashem as the epitome
of truth & that when he had to choose between doing what made sense to HIS
thinking or doing what HASHEM commanded, even when that SEEMED to be
AGAINST all understandable sense, he trusted that Hashem would never do
anything to hurt His plan or to break His promise. He accepted that we
cannot understand Hashem's ways & even when things look all wrong to us,
when it's Hashem we're dealing with (vs. another person), He knows best &
has our best interests at heart, so there really is no choice. Was this a
LEAP of faith? Well, his faith had been developing over a range of
experiences that taught him that trusting Hashem worked. He already had
some serious practice with these sorts of leaps. This was just the
ultimate leap to the ultimate level of trust.

When wondering how Avraham viewed this experience (test? other?), consider
that he never had a discussion about it with Hashem or with anyone else.
(Hey, Hashem, You sure? This doesn't jive with everything You've told me up
till now! Sure sounds like a system crash to me! I can't believe You really
want me to do this. Perhaps You should get back with me after You check all
the wiring. I'll wait for confirmation.) (or to Isaac: I've been given some
rather strange & difficult instructions by Hashem, please don't ask any
questions & just do whatever I say; whatever doesn't make sense to you
doesn't make sense to me either; but if you don't like it & don't want to
go along, I'll understand & I'll just tell Hashem - Sorry, I did my best,
it's not my fault if Isaac didn't cooperate.) Avraham didn't need to know
exactly what the outcome would be or how it would come about; he just knew
(as did Isaac) that whatever Hashem commanded had to be necessary & right,
& that somehow it wasn't going to prevent Hashem from keeping His promises.
So his test was essentially to get beyond his own nature, which must have
screamed internally against all this.

This, by the way, is the test that King Saul failed, for which he lost the
kingship & ultimately his life, & through which he set the scene for future
troubles for the Jewish People (who needed those troubles precisely to
remind them of these difficult truths, which they keep trying to avoid
living by - stubborn folk that we are).

from Chana Leah Dukes-Stengel