Oh, God said to Abraham, ”Kill me a son”
Abe says, “Man, you must be puttin' me on”
God say, ”No.” Abe say, “What?”
God say, ”You can do what you want Abe, but
The next time you see me comin' you better run”
Well Abe says, “Where do you want this killin' done
God says, “Out on Highway 61” – Bob Dylan
Kill me a son?! Why would G-d ask Abraham to perpetrate such a barbaric act?! And against his own beloved son – the son he prayed for, the only son that he and Sarah were miraculously blessed with, the son that would become his heir, and fulfill all G-d’s promises to Abraham.
And Abraham silently acquiesces. Not that Abraham didn’t know how to protest when he wanted to. Just several verses earlier in this week’s Torah portion we read about Abraham’s eloquent stand in defense of corrupt Sodom. When Abraham hears that G-d wants to destroy the wicked Sodomites, he loudly challenges G-d. “Will you actually wipe out the innocent together with the guilty?” “Shall the whole world’s Judge G-d not act justly?” In elaborate detail we read about Abraham’s protest on behalf of Sodom. 50, 45, 40,30, 20 – Abraham can’t find even 10 righteous people in whose merit G-d would not destroy the city. Despite all Abraham’s fruitless efforts, the Torah documents his attempt, even about a city that was unquestionably guilty of perverse corruption, and finally destroyed for that reason.
By contrast, when Abraham is told to sacrifice his innocent, beloved son Isaac, here suddenly Abraham is silent. No protest, no argument, not even a hint of a question!…
Clearly Abraham knew something that we do not. What was he aware of that allowed him to so peacefully comply with G-d’s command?
Firstly, he knew that precisely because Isaac was innocent G-d’s command to sacrifice Isaac was no punishment (as it was in the case of Sodom).
Secondly, we must remember that at this point Abraham’s faith and connection to G-d had reached an unprecedented state. Abraham is now 137 years old. He began his search for G-d at age 3. After all his experiences, finally at age 75 G-d calls to him “Lech Lecho” – Leave your homeland and go to the land “that I will show you.” When Abraham is 100 Isaac is born. Now at age 137, after nine grueling trials, Abraham has proved his absolute connection to G-d. “Nisayon” is the Hebrew word for “trial” (or ‘test’). As in “G-d tested (‘nisoh’) Abraham” in this week’s portion. “Nisayon” also means to raise, to lift.
Abraham had now elevated to an extraordinary state of being, where G-d was no longer just a higher entity, outside and beyond our existence, a G-d that one submits and surrenders to, but for Abraham at this point G-d is REALITY. G-d is the essence of all existence. Abraham was no longer just having Divine ‘experiences,’ his being was permeated with the Divine. He had become a ‘merkovoh’ (chariot) to G-d, where his entire being (every fiber) is a vehicle, a channel for the Divine.
So, when Abraham hears that REALITY – the essence of it all – requires (and therefore instructs) that his beloved son Isaac be brought as an offering, he has no doubt that this is necessary and just.
This is not merely Abraham’s acquiescence and compliance out of blind faith, it is the strength of a man who had become utterly one with a Higher Will. And it is not the ‘sacrifice’ of Isaac, it is the ‘offering’ of Isaac, and Akeidat Yitzchak, the binding of Isaac. Indeed, “V’haalayhu shom l’oleh,” words that imply elevation: “Elevate him as an ascending offering.”
But why would Reality (G-d) require the offering of a human life, of a beloved child?
One explanation: Reality did not require the offering of the child, but the offering of Abraham’s natural love for the child. As the story concludes, that once G-d sees that Abraham is ready to comply, he is told to not touch his son. The ‘test’ challenged Abraham’s biological connection to his son. That is why G-d emphasizes to ‘take the son you love’ to the Moriah area (the Temple Mount), and “there you should elevate him.” Why ‘rub it in’ by stating that Isaac is the son you love? Because the primary challenge here is not to offer Isaac, but to offer Abraham’s love for Isaac.
What is wrong with Abraham’s natural love for his son that he needs to offer it to G-d?
Why does a father love his child? Clearly, it is a biological love. It is natural to love your own child. One can even argue, that the love is because the child is an extension of you. Nothing wrong with that per se, except that such love can be limiting and under certain circumstances even damaging.
True, a father’s love to his son is unconditional and absolute. A (healthy) father would readily give his life for his child. Yet, even so, his love is ultimately subjective. Because it is a love that comes naturally (with no effort and choice), it is also bound by the natural and the biological. In other words, the love will be on the father’s terms and a love based on his understanding and his limits and parameters. As great as the love may be, it is only as great as the father himself is. If for instance the father subjectively and mistakenly feels that something is good for his child, when in truth it is not, he can harm his child in the name of love.
This is true even for a healthy parent. How much more so an unhealthy one, who can project onto his child his own insecurities and fears, and even ‘use’ his child as a scapegoat (G-d forbid).
Reality is telling Abraham: do not just love your child with human love; love him with Divine love. A love that is absolutely unconditional – not just in its commitment – but in its objectivity. A love that is not just on human terms and defined by biological circumstances, but one that is beyond the natural. As great as a father’s love is to his child, it still lasts only as long as the father is alive and the child remembers its father. A love that is infused with the Divine lasts forever.
G-d tells Abraham: I want you to offer your biological love and replace it with Divine love. When you are ready to do that, then you can return to your son and infuse your love with the eternal love of the Divine. Yes, you do not have to actually sacrifice your natural love for your child, but you have to be ready to sacrifice it; and then, we know that your love for your child will be at its purest, unconditional, always for the good of the child, and a love that is eternal.
Imagine the new dimension of love that Abraham had for Isaac after he was told not touch him. Imagine how he must have clutched him – how they must have hugged and embraced after the Akeidah. And imagine the love Isaac must have felt the rest of his life – and what he passed on to generations to come -- knowing that his father’s love for him was not just a natural one, but a Divine one.
Had the Akediah not happened we would have yet another story of a father and son. We would not know the limits of this relationship. Neither would we know if this love could endure all. The Akeidah experience – which we recite each day in our prayers – leaves us with a legacy of love from father to son, that is not just another among many families, or another among all the species on Earth, of all animals who naturally love their offspring; We now have the birth of eternity – that the love between father and son, the legacy passed on from generation to generation is immortal. A love and connection that can never be broken again and can and will endure anything and everything.
No surprise then that the Akeidah took place on Mount Moriah. The Akediah experience infused the ground with sanctity, preparing it for the day when the Holy Temple would be erected in its place.
Think of the scene of Abraham and his son walking down Mt. Moriah after their experience together. That silent walk forged forever a bond and unity that shaped history and makes us who we are today.
I just participated in a Bar-mitzvah of Isaac, a son of Abraham. His Bar-mitzvah was in the week of Parshat Lech Lecho. As Isaac was reading the parsha in shul (mind you, he read every word of it impeccably), I was thinking about the power – the power of a 13 year old boy on the West Coast recreating the story of Abraham and his journey 3740 years ago!
3740 year ago! Let me repeat that to myself: Three thousand seven hundred and forty years ago…
What are the odds of something being remembered one year later?! And here we’re talking not just about memory, but millions of people on Earth who trace their direct lineage to Abraham and Issac, and moreover, live their lives by the standards that Abraham and Isaac established and passed on!
And here we are, sitting in a makeshift synagogue in California, listening to Abraham’s journey, while Abraham’s other child is disturbing our populations all over the world. And struggling over the Temple Mount upon which Abraham bound Isaac.
Now a week later, we read and recreate the next leg of the journey. Abraham has a son, and his son needs to grow through his own experiences. His son may even perceive that his father wants to kill him. But if he sees it through, and allows the story to unfold, he sees that Isaac is born out of him, and carries the legacy – into eternity.
And then all the pains, all the scars, all the prices paid all pale in comparison and melt away in the light of the future.
Perhaps because Abraham was ready to kill his son, his son never could die. He was able to transcend his natural love -- ready to sacrifice HIS biological love to his son -- and transform it to a Divine love.
We are all asked to 'kill' our natural state and reach beyond; when we are ready to do that, we do not actually have to kill anything. On the contrary, we then can reach immortality. Because remember, when you are dedicated to yourself and your own family because they are part of you, as great as the dedication is, it will always be defined by your own vision of greatness. However when your love is infused with dedication to that which is beyond you, to the eternal – then you and your family too become eternal.
Let us learn from Abraham and Isaac. Let us be bold and defy the call for conformity – let us create a revolution.