This week, Vayera, we continue to follow Avraham and Sarah as they welcome Yitzhak (“he will laugh”) into their family – their long awaited son. So much happens in this reading, but near the end we read of probably the most inexplicable command in Torah – God tells Abraham to sacrifice his son on Mount Moriah (in now-Jerusalem). How could this be that the same God who gave delight and hope to Sarah and Avraham, would now demand that their precious son become an offering, draped over an altar of branches.
An anthropological reading might see this as a transition; ending days of human sacrifice. A psychological reading might interpret this story as a harbinger of the inner wrestling that Yaakov will engage in, entailing both an all-night struggle and a new name – Israel. Perhaps this is a test of wills, of obedience. But most of us are shocked by this command – shocking even, we are taught, to the angels.
The Akedah, or the “Binding” of Isaac, is a trope that permeates art and literature as we struggle through the generations to come to grips with the inherent harshness of this story. But let’s fill in some blanks: maybe God was also wrestling with this human. Maybe God needed to figure out how to Bind God’s Self to the people who would become Israel. Nachmanides looks at the Akedah and asks a question. How to reconcile the free will of humanity with God’s own capacity of foreknowledge. God knew what Abraham would do – but did Abraham? Sforno takes this question and brings it onto the real world. He says that Abraham did not only have a potential love for God – but he needed to make it a real, actual love. He needed to act. It is in the actual world we see Creation manifest itself, and similarly we too need to make our own potential actual.
Modern day Israelis visits the Akedah with a particular poignancy: What father sees his son dress for war, volunteering for combat and not think of Abraham? One father writing about his boy heading into the Six Days war wrote, “What did he (Avraham) think about? He had a whole night to think…It’s a question that touches on the very meaning of human existence. The Bible says nothing about it… For us, that night lasted six days. (p. 202, The Seventh Day: Soldiers Talk about the Six-Day War, Siah Lohamim, 1967.
The Akedah, is inexplicable. This demanding implacable God hovers in the thickets of our consciousness, perhaps disguised as a scapegoat.
Love to all,