Akeidat Yitzchak (the Binding of Yitzchak, Bereishit, Ch. 22),
one of the most powerful and formative events in the Torah, is central to Rosh
Hashanah. Avraham must be prepared to demonstrate unswerving obedience to
Hashem’s will, and is presented with the supreme test of offering his son as a
sacrifice to Hashem.
1) To demonstrate how far one’s love and reverence for Hashem must extend, as indicated by the supreme tenth test of Avraham: He is commanded to sacrifice the most precious thing in his life, his long-awaited and beloved son Yitzchak, who was to be the founder of the nation of Hashem:
He cast away all that he hoped for, and hastened to slaughter [Yitzchak] after a journey of several days, since had he thought to do this immediately when the command came to him, this would have been an act of rashness and disorientation, without precise composure. However, since he did this several days after the command was said to him, behold it was an action out of contemplation and correct thinking and discernment of the truth of His commandment, may He be exalted.
2) To demonstrate the truth of the prophet’s vision:
All that the prophet sees in the prophetic vision is true and correct for the prophet; he has no doubt in any aspect of it whatsoever.
On the basis of his clear vision he is ready to perform even so
extreme an act.
Rashi (based on Sanhedrin 89b) sees here a dialogue between
Hashem and Avraham that reflects the ambiguity of even the simplest of words:
He said to him: “your only one” [either, unique to his mother, or unique to his father] He said to Him: “This one is the only one to his mother and this one is the only one to his mother.”
“whom you love” [may refer to parental love, which extends to all children, or to preference] He said to Him: “I love both of them.”
He said to him: “Yitzchak.”
Until this last statement, Hashem could have been speaking with
equal exactness about Yishmael or Yitzchak!
Ibn Janach (R. Yonah ibn Janach, 11th Century) says:
The Divine speech used a double entendre, one meaning as understood by the masses “offer him as a sacrifice” and one as understood by the few “bring him to the top of one of the mountains instead of bringing a sacrifice, and that will be considered equivalent to an offering.” Avraham understood V’HA’ALEHU as the multitude does.
The great irony here is that Avraham sets off resolutely to act
on the basis of inaccurate information!
Rashi points to the lack of certainty in this directive:
one of the mountains the Holy One, Blessed be He, dumbfounds
the righteous and afterwards reveals to them; and all this in order to increase
(5) And Avraham said to his lads, “Stay here by yourselves with the donkey, and I and the lad will go over there, and we will prostrate ourselves and we will return (V’NASHUVA) to you.”
Rashi says that Avraham does not realize the prophetic truth in
(12) And He said, “Do not send forth your hand against the lad, and do not do anything (M’UMA) to him, for now I know that you are one who fears G-d, and you did not withhold your son, your only one, from Me.”
Rashi hears a dialogue between Avraham and the angel that is a search for clarity:
“Do not send forth your hand against the lad” to slaughter.
He said to Him, “If so, did I come here for nothing? I will give him a wound and extract some blood from him.”
“and do not do anything (M’UMA) to him” Do not even give him a
This echoes Avraham’s earlier statement to Yitzchak:
“G-d will choose for Himself the lamb, for a burnt-offering my
(18) “And all the nations of the earth shall be blessed through your seed, since you listened to My voice.”
These words (significantly, the last words spoken by Hashem to Avraham in the Torah), highlight Avraham’s legacy to us: absolute obedience to Hashem’s Words, even when those words are as yet not fully understood by man.