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Jewish Texts

Understanding the Sacrifice of Isaac II

Question: What is the importance of the akeidat Yitzchak (binding of Isaac) in Judaic thought?

Answer: Let us put this event in the context of Abraham’s life. Abraham was called “Ish Ivri” (“man of the side”) because he went against the idolatrous ways of the world and followed G-d. He epitomized the trait of kindness and spent much of his life dedicated to bringing in guests and teaching them the ways of G-d. Abraham and Sarah were unable to have children, yet they were promised by an angel of G-d that Sarah would miraculously conceive and bear Isaac, who would subsequently inherit Abraham’s mission as the person to teach the world about serving G-d.

Suddenly, Abraham is commanded to sacrifice his son! This went against everything that Abraham had worked for and believed. Child sacrifice was a practice that was popular with the pagan / idolatrous people of those times. Isaac was supposed to continue Abraham’s mission. G-d Himself had promised that Isaac would inherit the land of Israel and lead after Abraham. Abraham’s nature was to love every living creature… to sacrifice his son would be unthinkable!

Indeed, what was the nature of G-d’s request to sacrifice Abraham’s dear son, Isaac? I believe that the answer hinges upon an understanding of the process by which Abraham came to the realization of the existence of G-d. 

We are taught that Abraham, at a young age, realized the impotence of the idols worshipped by his family. He looked out at the world and saw beauty, purpose, and planning. He saw a world of kindness and bounty bestowed by G-d. Everything fit and had a place.

However, we understand that as much as we know about G-d and appreciate what we can discern in His ways, it is nothing compared to the true “nature” of His existence. His thoughts and actions are, ultimately, far beyond human understanding. I believe that this was the ultimate test given to Abraham. In a sense, G-d was saying to Abraham—”Very well, you follow and serve me based upon your own comprehension, but if I ask of you something that goes beyond your understanding, can you accept that My word is truth, regardless of what you think and feel?” Up to that point, Abraham was a follower of G-d. In summoning up the humility to pass this test, Abraham became a loyal and true servant of the King.

As the children of Abraham, we follow his example, observing the commandments of G-d, knowing that they are true and good, irrespective of our own understanding or lack thereof.

I hope you found this answer helpful.

Sincerely,

R’ Daniel Fleksher

[Editor – See another perspective on “Understanding the Sacrifice of Isaac.”]

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