Project Genesis

Understanding the Sacrifice of Isaac

Question: Can you direct me to any texts debating whether Abraham failed G-d’s test when he was willing to proceed with the sacrifice of Isaac?

Answer: You will not find any real source material stating that Abraham failed the test because he was willing to sacrifice his son because it was not a mistake for him to go through with it. This is a very hard thing for us, emotional beings, to understand or internalize.

The Zohar, our mystical writings, tell us that it would have been impossible for Abraham to force Isaac to go to the alter. In other words, Isaac willfully went, knowing what his fate was. How does the Zohar know this? Well, Abraham was 137 and Isaac was 37. Can you imagine a 137 man trying to force a strong 37 year old to do anything? The Zohar teaches us that these were not normal people. Abraham was a man of spiritual steal; a Superman, if you wish. He transmitted his knowledge to his son, Isaac, and Isaac, too, had this ability and perspective. Therefore, it was not the wrong decision to bring his son for sacrifice. This was the final, and most difficult, test of ten that Abraham had to go through in his life.

To make the case stronger, Isaac asked to be tied up. Why would he do this? He did it because he was afraid that in the last second he might get scared and back out. He did not want the sacrifice to be tainted like that, so he asked his father to tie him up tightly.

Understand this: G-d never wanted Abraham to kill his son. He wanted Abraham to have enough trust in G-d that he would be willing to give up the most valuable thing in his life for the greater good of humanity. As Humans, we think that we know what is best for humanity. How arrogant… If there is a G-d, who is beyond time and space, then only He, the Creator of the World, can know what is best. Sometimes what is best for the world conflicts with our sense of right and wrong. That is why we are not G-d. I hope that this helps. Feel free to write back if you have any follow up questions.

Be Well,
Rabbi Litt

2 Follow-ups »

  1. I understand that passage as G’d telling us that he does not wish human sacrifices, unlike other “G’ds” during Abraham’s time. Is this understanding incorrect?

    Hi! I think you are certainly right – G-d does not want human sacrifice. Take a look at Deuteronomy 12(29-31), where the Torah tells us not to try to imitate the way the nations worshiped their gods. “They do all kinds of detestable things that Hashem hates.” To convince us, it gives the most extreme example it can find: “They even burn their sons and daughters in the fire as sacrifices to their gods.” Unbelievable.

    On the other hand, as the article pointed out, the Akeidah also teaches us about the human side of serving G-d. G-d does not want human sacrifice. But we, we are willing to do anything for G-d. Whatever he would ask us, we would give him.

    Best wishes,
    Michoel Reach

    Comment by ATR — November 14, 2006 @ 6:35 pm

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