Re: The Sacrifice of Isaac

Russell Hendel (rhendel@mcs.drexel.edu)
Fri, 3 Jan 1997 14:58:43 -0500

In a recent issue of Torah Forum the suggestion was made that NA(Hebrew
word for 'please') used in the Akieda mitigated the "command" nature of
G-ds request. In effect G-d said, "If you please (=want to) take your son..".

In a chumash class I conduct we recently reviewed all (8) cases in Chumash
where G-d said NA. The word NA is usually translated as PLEASE (e.g. Nu
12,6 --Sifray) while some rishonim (early authorities) believe it means
NOW. Be that as it may we discovered that in 6 of the 8 cases the word NA
does not actually mean please but rather denotes (a tone of) reassurance.

For example: Abraham was childless and so G-d reassures him he will have
children like the stars(Gen15:5); Yaakov was depressed about being swindled
continuously by Laban & so G-d reassures him he will acquire
wealth(Gen31:12); Moses did not think the Jews would believe G-d had sent
him and so G-d reassures him with a sign(Ex 4:6).

Sometimes the reassurance precedes the source of doubt: for example, G-d
had already promised to give Abrahams descendants great wealth so that when
they were about to be thrown out of Egypt (where they suffered terribly)
G-d reassures them that they will get this wealth (Ex 11:2). In a similar
vein, G-d had already promised that Isaac will be Abrahams successor and so
when G-d "orders" him to sacrifice him he does so in a reassuring tone
because of his promise. It seems clear to me however that the request of
the Akaydah was a command!
Russell Jay Hendel, Ph.d,ASA; rhendel @ mcs drexel edu