Torah Fax

Friday, October 29, 2004 - 14 MarCheshvan, 5765

Torah Reading: Vayera (Genesis  18:1 - 22:24)
Candle Lighting time: 5:37 PM
Shabbat ends: 6:36 PM

Jewish Trailblazing

Perhaps one of the most unsettling and controversial stories in the Bible is found at the end of our Parshah: the Akeidah. It is the baffling story of G‑d commanding Abraham to slaughter his son Isaac and offer him as a human sacrifice. Abraham shows absolute readiness to fulfill the command, and is only stopped in the eleventh hour from actually carrying out the murder of his own son. Of course, the Akeidah was merely a test, and G‑d never had in mind that Abraham should bring his son as a human sacrifice to begin with. Indeed, one of the strongest sources for Judaism's rejection of human sacrifice is based on our story of the Akeidah. The story of the Akeidah is viewed as a remarkable reflection of Abraham's (and Isaac's) dedication to G‑d, and is read every day as part of the daily prayers and is the Torah reading on Rosh HaShannah.

Many of the classic commentators wonder: why do we view the fact that Abraham almost sacrificed someone else's life for the sake of G‑d, when so many countless Jews throughout the ages have actually given their own lives for G‑d's sake - without having been directly commanded to do so by Him?! Why does it seem that Abraham is given more credit for his dedication than many of his descendants who seemed to have passed much harsher tests?

A number of answers have been offered by the commentaries.

One answer is based on the fact that Abraham spent his whole life teaching others about morality, the rejection of idolatry - including idolatrous rites like human sacrifice - and the evil of murder. According to some, Abraham was called a "Hebrew," or an "Ivri," because he stood on one side, from the word "Ever," of the moral spectrum and the entire world disagreed with him. They rejected his ideas on monotheism, family life and justice. His entire life was spent winning people over to his way of thinking. For him to do the Akeidah meant he had to go contrary to everything he stood for and all of his life's teachings. A martyr generally dies for his cause - in this case, killing his son would have put an end to all of his teachings. Everyone that had learned from him would see the hypocrisy in his act and reject all that Abraham had taught them. For Abraham to have the dedication to go through with G‑d's command showed true devotion on a most unique scale.

Another answer, discussed in Tanya, zeroes in on the underlying emotions that Abraham showed during the Akeidah. The Torah tells us he did this act with joy and zeal. He even woke up extra early in the morning to travel to the Akeidah (which took place in Jerusalem). Many people in our history have made the ultimate choice to die for the sanctification of G‑d's name, but Abraham did it with the level of joy and devotion that a person would regularly show in attending a wedding or similarly joyous Mitzvah.

Another answer relates to Abraham's spiritual makeup. Kaballah teaches that Abraham embodied the emotional trait of Chesed, kindness. Everything he did was based on Chesed. A few examples of this include the fact that Abraham prayed for the people of S'dom not to be destroyed, he opened his tent to wayfarers and he waged a war against the mightiest kings of his time merely to redeem his nephew Lot, who was far from being the most G‑d fearing of people. For Abraham to offer his son as a sacrifice, he had to go against every fiber of his being; he had to go break his very nature, Such a show of dedication, commentaries note, is truly praiseworthy.

Yet another answer relates to the idea of "spiritual trailblazing." True, others in our history have died for the sake of G‑d, but that option became more "accessible" to them because Abraham showed them the way. He initiated the process of self-sacrifice and, after his breakthrough, enabled others to follow in his path.

Similarly, our forbearers have paved the way for us to bring about the final redemption. Clearly we cannot compare our spiritual accomplishments to our ancestors, but it is through their efforts that we are now, finally, able to complete the task of bringing Moshiach.    
Moshiach Matters

The Midrash (Yalkut Shimoni) tells us that in the future, G‑d will reveal the secrets of the Torah through Moshiach. The Rambam, in his commentary on the Mishnah (Sanhedrin) says the same
thing: “Wondrous (Torah teachings) will be revealed through him (Moshiach).”
(Likkutei Sichos, vol. 22, pg. 76, notes 10,11)

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