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The Silent Sacrifice – Parshat Vayera 5775

For a printable PDF version click here:Parshat Vayere 5775

In loving memory of my dear Grandmother Gerda Wiesenberg (Shprintza Bat Yaakov Halevi)

 on her sixth Yarzheit -16th Cheshvan.

A woman whose loved ones perished in the fires of the Shoah and who experienced sacrifice her whole life, but continued always to climb the mountain, see the good in everything that life offered and be in constant dialogue with Hashem.

The Akeida:  It needs rigorous, unadulterated, total analysis.  It must be fought with, grappled, challenged, expounded and explicated.

It requires total silence. Not a word said, not an opinion voiced, just pure submission and silence.  The only response: ‘הנני’ – I am here.

Sacrifice of self, pure total submission to God’s will, no questions, no answers, just the Divine call. Walking up the mountain, reaching higher, not looking backwards, suspension of all other ethical, moral or human considerations.  Just the Divine command.

How? Why? What kind of God would ask this? What of my autonomous human ethical will? I must resist, defy, respond, challenge.  I must scream, cry, shout – you promised to protect me, you promised we were the chosen ones.  Why then the crusades, the gas chambers, the wars, the suicide bombs ? Too many sacrificed in your name, too many killed.  I can’t, I won’t. We can’t, we won’t. Enough. Stop. The mountain is too high and steep. We have to stop climbing.

And yet we still climb higher and higher. We still listen to the call, the voice. Trembling, we take the knife and we wait for the Angel to stop us.  We wait for the sacrifice of our children to be replaced by the lamb.

And sometimes the Angel doesn’t come….. but yet…..we still climb up the mountain.

There is so much to say and yet so little that words can adequately express. Every attempt to understand ends up seeming shallow and superficial.   And so in the end we must resolve the narrative, not through easy and confident interpretations, but rather elusive and multifaceted responses. This week I depart from my usual style and bring the readers a range of responses to this impossible narrative in the hope that they may find at least one response that offers some meaning to this challenging Parsha.  The responses range from classic commentaries to modern.  Each one has a different angle, none are all encompassing, none will offer ‘the’ answer, because ‘the’ answer doesn’t exist in a complete and unified way; it is fragmentary, partial and fleeting.  If from each perspective we can reap some comfort, some understanding, some inner peace even if only for a moment or two until the storm erupts again, then we must try.[1]

Listening to the ‘command’:

I begin with a non Jewish source – the writing of the renowned nineteenth century Christian existentialist philosopher Soren Kierkegaard who regards Avraham’s willingness to suspend all the universal ethical categories of humanity as the fulfilment of man’s purpose. To have true ‘union’ with the One God, we must let go of our ethical convictions and listen only to the Divine call.  By doing so Avraham is the paradigmatical  ‘knight of faith’.[2]

Soren Kierkegaard: Fear and Trembling p42-44 Wilder Publication 2008

Avraham is therefore at no instant a tragic hero but something quite different, either a murderer or a believer….Hence it is that I can understand the tragic hero but cannot understand Abraham, though in a certain crazy sense I admire him more than all other men.

Abraham’s relationship to Isaac, ethically speaking is quite simply expressed by saying that a father should love his son more dearly than himself.  Yet within its own compass the ethical has various gradations . Let us see whether in this story there is to be found any higher expression for the ethical such as would ethically explain his conduct, ethically justify him in suspending the ethical obligation toward his son, without in this search going back to the teleology of the ethical…… It was not for the sake of saving a people, not to maintain the idea of the state, that Abraham did this, and not in order to reconcile angry deities……

With Abraham the situation was different.  By his act he overstepped the ethical entirely and possessed a higher telos (purpose) outside of it, in relation to which he suspended the former.  For I should very much like to know how one would bring Abraham’s act in relation to which he suspended the former. For I should very much like to know how one can bring Abraham’s act in relation with the universal and whether it is possible to discover any relation between what Abraham did and the universal….except the fact he transgressed it.  

In a similar vein expressing the imperative to ‘listen to the voice of God’ outside of all intuitive morality, we find the writing of contemporary Rabbinic personalities and scholars Rav Shlomo Aviner and Rabbi Yeshayahu Leibowitz:

Rabbi Shlomo Aviner: Tal Chermon, pp. 49-50

Avraham had to give up on everything that he felt and understood as a human being – as a most superior human being; he had to erase all his thoughts and ideas, all the feeling of goodness in him, in order to fulfil God’s command. This teaches us in a most drastic manner that we do not fulfil God’s commandments because it is good for us to do so, or because we understand them, or because we experience pleasantness in their performance, but rather because they are God’s commandments.

Yeshayahu Leibowitz: Accepting the Yoke of Heaven p25

In my previous talk I discussed what appears to us as two different degrees of emunah: that of believing in God as a result of a divine promise, ‘I will protect you’ and as opposed to this the conduct of Avraham at the akeida where he is granted the title ‘one who fears God’.  The first stand of Avraham in faith can be interpreted as his being conscious of God’s relation to him; the second expresses his being conscious of his relation to God, and the difference between the two that which was later defined in Jewish religious thought as the difference between shelo lishma – not for its own sake and lishma – for its own sake (from the mishanic period there is a differentiation made between studying Torah for its own sake – as an end in itself – and studying it ‘not for its own sake’ – as a means for some other purpose .  Expanding on this one must differentiate between worship of God as an end in itself, or worshipping Him as a means to for satisfying some human need or want).

The highest symbol of the Jewish faith is the stance of Avraham on Mount Moriah, where all human values were annulled and overrided by the fear and love of God. The Akeida is man’s absolute mastery over his own nature. ‘Abraham rose early in the morning and saddled his donkey.’ Abarbanel explains that saddled his ass means that he overcame his materiality, that is his physical nature – a pun on the phonetically similar hamor (donkey) and homer (matter). The matter or nature includes all the benevolent sentiments as well as man’s conscience; all the factors in man’s makeup which an atheistic humanism regards as ‘good’…from such a standpoint (daily performance of Mitzvot), the question of ’what does religion offer to me’ must be completely dismissed. The only proper question is ‘what am I obligated to offer for the sake of religion’.

The Shifting tide of our relationship with the Divine:

Could it be that the Akeida stands as a way of teaching Avraham, and through him the generations to come, the notion of continual paradigm shift?. Could the Akeida be educating us to leave our hearts and minds open to change, the fluidity and dynamicity of our existence and as a corollary our relationship to God?

In certain Chassidic writings this notion is addressed and spoken of at length.  Avraham must learn to readjust his relationship with God. No longer can he relate to Him through the path that is natural to him – chessed – loving-kindness, he must worship Him too, through fear and justice.  For many of the Chassidic commentators, Avraham was being taught to fuse his love for God with his fear of Him.[3]

Reb Yehudah Aryeh Leib Alter: Sefat Emet Parashat Vayera תשמ”ג[4]

In the ‘test’ of the Akeida it is written ‘and he saw the place (Gods presence) from afar’.  For God was testing him about the characteristic of Yirah, because Avraham’s basic nature was one of love and closeness.  Now he was made to be far in order to enable the characteristic of Yirah to come about.  Therefore this ‘test’ was not given to Yitzchak for his dominant attribute was that of Yirah.

Rav Avraham Mordechai Alter: Imrei Emet: Sefer Bereshit[5]

The test was that he should not leave the love of his son behind, rather he should sacrifice him with the love and this was an even greater test. As it says in the Midrash as he was picking up the knife his eyes were filled with tears, the tears of a merciful father, and even still the heart was happy to doing the will of his Creator.  It needed to be the two feelings together, tears and a happy heart.  The midrash tells us that Yitzchak calls his father ‘avi’ ‘avi’ twice why?  In order that Avraham should be filled with mercy, not in order to prevent Avraham from sacrificing him, but rather so that with the mercy Avraham would perform the command of the Holy One Blessed be He.  In the depths of Din there must also be Rachmaim.

Reb Yitzchak Meir Rottenberg: Chidushei Harim[6]

At the moment when God commands Avraham to do what he did Yitzchak became to him the closest he had ever been, and the mercy Avraham had for Yitzchak was the greatest it had ever been, with no limit.  It is WITH this great love and mercy Avraham was commanded to go and sacrifice his son – this was the true test.

A modern response: Jerome Gellman: Abraham Abraham: Kierkegaard and the Hasidim on the Binding of Isaac p109-116

In a fascinating book that examines the relationship between Soren Kierkegaard’s work on the Akeida and that of the certain Chassidic Masters, Jerome Gellman presents a novel existential reading of the narrative that rests on the theory that each Jew, in the guise of Avraham must be open to the constant changing tides of reality.  He writes at the end of the book as follows:[7]

Abraham at the akeidah is infinitely resigned to the loss of Isaac and is infinitely primed to live with Isaac.  What does that mean?  It means that the akeidah is a metaphor for the readiness for any eventuality, including the eventuality that you might come to see your most cherished convictions stand in need of a replacement.  It is to see that one day you, yourself might want to change your convictions, and be prepared to change them without seeing yourself as extinguished.  To be so ready is to listen at every moment and not be closed to the word….. 

Building on Kierkegaard and the Rebbe of Izbica, I propose that the deepest contemporary meaning of the Akeidah revolves around the question of whether one is able to conceive of oneself as having been mistaken, of having misunderstood, or of having failed to comprehend all aspects of the context in which we love and act.

So understood, the issue surrounding the contrast between Abraham at Sodom and at the akeidah is not over which paradigm is to dominate.  On this approach, neither episode is paradigmatic….

The purpose of the akeidah, then, is to break paradigmatic thinking.  The greatness of Abraham at the akedah cannot be understood, then. apart from Abraham having prayed at Sodom.  At the akedah, Abraham does not learn a new paradigm.  He learns to transcend paradigmatic thinking altogether.

This does not mean that Abraham can never proceed in accordance with a present conviction.  There is a great difference between a person with an unshakable certainty, wholly in accordance with his present understanding and a person who, while accepting of his present view, attentively listens for what God might say now….In a deep existential sense, this is what it means to be ever ready to hear the voice of God…..  

Pragmatically speaking, to be open in principle to alternative moral futures is what it means to be ready to hear the voice of God…to be able to change one’s moral stance or judgment if that is what it should come to, is to heed the voice of God.

We should remember that at the Akeida Abraham commits no deed. He does not Slaughter Isaac. Were we to learn from this episode total submission to God in fact, this story would be ill suited to the lesson. For that – Isaac would have had to have been sacrificed. On the contemporary metaphorical reading I am advancing, the existential meaning of Abraham’s submission to God lies in his letting go of his favorite past understandings. Abraham receives a command and then has the command changed. He has a sacrifice, and then suddenly has no sacrifice, then just as suddenly has a sacrifice again in the form of the ram that he releases from the thicket in which it was entangled…..

What fashions our person of faith is an openness to the possibility of a future different from the past affecting her or his most cherished plans and convictions. A person without faith is committed to clinging desperately to his or her values, beliefs and traditions come what may. Not constant change but constant openness to the future is what a person of faith lives by.

Extracts from an article featured in the Jerusalem Post magazine on Miriam Peretz (the mother who lost two of her sons in the IDF)

Eliraz in a letter to his father (before his untimely death in battle):

‘You sacrificed your oldest son and you signed for your second.  I have tested you in a way that even Abraham was not tested, You did it with pride you gave me the courage to continue.  You should know that even during all the wars, I knew that I would not die.  Even when the bullets screeched and I was wounded I did not lose hope.  The opposite I sang the song of life’.

Miriam Peretz on her relationship with God:

It is always like a dance of emotions.  I also dance with God.  I am close to Him and I feel He is hugging me and then there is a distance were His touch is not so comfortable.  So I am in deep dialogue with God.  I am trying to understand what this is all about.  I know there are no answers, but I feel close enough to know that I can talk with Him, question Him and yell at Him.  I feel that He has given me answers in the small comforts.  I see the answers in that I have grandchildren.  I had four sons in the IDF and each time they returned from the battle I felt like He answered me, not in the regular way, but He answered. 

Now I am angry and asking hard questions.  Why did you chose me? Why my children? Try to explain to me what we have that you want so much.

The Legacy of a ‘near’ Sacrifice:

Though Avraham does not actually ‘sacrifice’ Yitzchak, the story offers no happy ending. Yitzchak literally remains at the top of the mountain – suspended in the ‘near’ sacrifice moment.  When we meet him again, he is different, silent, blinded, tortured by the traumatic memories of his father’s knife. Though the story ends well, there is no winner. And yet apparently this is what God willed, what Avraham had to do and what Yitzchak had to endure.

Here I offer a few modern commentaries that express this haunting tale, from the perspective of our modern history.  Particularly poignant for me is Elie Wiesel’s commentary that brings chills to me each time I read it anew for it is such a revolutionary reading that only a true survivor, someone who has started death in the eye and sat tied to the altar, a real living Yitzchak, can be audacious enough to offer.

 Elie Wiesel: Messengers of God p73

There is no understanding of the three characters.  Why would God, the merciful Father, demand that Abraham become inhuman, and why would Abraham accept? And Isaac, why did he submit so meekly? Not having received a direct order to let himself be sacrificed why did he consent? I could not understand.  If God needs human suffering to be God, how can man foresee an end to that suffering? And if faith in God must result in self-denial, how can faith claim to elevate and improve man?….

I have never really been able to accept the idea that inhumanity could be one more way for man to move close to God.  Kierkegaard’s too convenient theory of occasional ‘ethical suspension’ never appealed to me…….Thus I place my trust in man’s strength.  God does not like man to come to Him through resignation.  Man must strive to reach God through knowledge and love.  God loves man to be clear-sighted and outspoken, not blindly obsequious……A double edged test.  God subjected Abraham to it, yet at the same time Abraham forced it on God.  As though Abraham has said ‘I defy You Lord.  I shall submit to Your will but let us see whether You shall go to the end, whether you shall remain passive and reason silent when the life of my son who is also your son is at stake!’   And God changed His mind and relented.  Abraham won.  That was why God sent an angel to revoke the order and congratulate him; He Himself was too embarrassed.

We now begin to understand why Abraham’s name has become synonymous with hesed. For indeed he was charitable, not so much with Isaac as with God.  He could have accused and proved Him wrong; he didn’t.  By saying yes-almost to the end- he established his faith in God and His mercy, thus bringing Him closer to His creation.  He won and – so says that Midrash- God loves to be defeated by His children……

But the story doesn’t end there.  Isaac survived; he had no choice.  He had to make something of his memories, his experience, in order to force us to hope.  For our survival is linked to his.  Satan could kill Sarah, he could even hurt Abraham, but Isaac was beyond his reach.  Isaac too represents defiance.  Abraham defied God, Isaac defied death….

Let us return to the question we asked at the beginning: Why was the most tragic of our ancestors names Isaac, a name which evokes and signifies laughter?  Here is why.  As the first survivor, he had to teach us, the future survivors of Jewish history, that it is possible to suffer and despair an entire lifetime and still not give up the art of laughter.  Isaac, of course, never freed himself from the traumatising scenes that violated his youth; the holocaust had marked him and continued to haunt him forever.  Yet he remained capable of laughter.  And in spite of everything, he did laugh.

Shai Zarchi: [8]

Blindness is a blurred sense of seeing. In contemporary times, ‘blindness’ describes those things a person doesn’t see because they are difficult for him to bring to the surface of his consciousness. In an allegorical sense one could say that blindness is a state of mind accessible to everyone – some type of blurring of senses that serves as a defence mechanism or a way of resolving difficult emotional situations.

Yitzchak’s blindness always seemed to be a metaphorical blindness of spirit, one which the onset of old age turns into physical blindness. This is because in a certain way, Yitzchak feels Yaakov’s deception and his blindness is more than anything an expression of the recognizable phenomenon of a father torn between his two children and unable to choose between them.

He chose Esav and gives Yaacov, and ultimately also blesses Esav, and his blurred vision is an embellishment for the dimming of the soul, one that allows him to swap the accepted ‘Either / Or’ in the status of inheritance with the ‘Gam VeGam,’ both this one and that one, an approach that is a practical and emotional solution of many fathers.

In this context, it’s important to remember that Yitzchak reaches this disturbing status after the weight of his experience at the Akeidah – the great ‘blind experience’ of his father Avraham. Yitzchak already paid the full price of having a father who decided to take the ‘either / or’ approach, who cruelly preferred the love of God over the life of his beloved son.

In fact, the greatest blindness was that of Avraham. His blindness was so great, that even though the story completely hides it, it slowly shoots out towards us from within the pages. Avraham’s blindness is characteristic of the great innovators whose own story is always intertwined with some kind of big demanding personal sacrifice.

My grandparents were pioneers and were part of a huge revolution. They left their home, parents, family and country – forever; pushed away all their sub conscious yearnings and tears and completely gave themselves over to the Zionist project. Their blindness was recognizable in many ways (and today seems to be something necessary and desirable that should be greatly admired).

They closed their eyes to the needs of their children, their parents, the world of their childhood, their language, their cultural roots and their private needs. And this closing of eyes was essential in that it allowed them to concentrate all their strength on the great project – building the homeland.

Avraham is the model of all great innovators, who, in order to establish the great monotheistic project, closed his eyes to all his past, and almost to all his future. As a great innovator he was forced to turn all his attention to one place – to ‘the one’.

Yitzchak, in contrast, reminds me of my generation, the 3rd generation of pioneers. A generation constantly attentive and sensitive to the array of voices, one not prepared or qualified to build one thing greater than the foundation. A human, paternal, sensitive decision whose blindness is a tool that serves that basic resolve of ‘gam, vegam, vegam vegam’

I love and cherish Avraham and Yitzchak and their different blindnesses and legacies.

I belong to the generation of Yitzchak, and it’s thus possible to deduce what can be expected from my generation and in particular what cannot be expected. Will there ever be a generation that succeeds in merging the two, one that will be both revolutionary innovators yet also attentive to the array of voices.

I think such a combination is still very very necessary.

In the run up to Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur I wrote a piece that explored a parallel between two readings of these days – The Akeida and Sefer Yonah.[9]  I had some fascinating responses and comments, but one in particular left me mulling for a few days.  Here is what Danielle Mehler writes:

“Cannot each one of us relate to Avraham’s accent up the mountain?  Especially those of us that brought our own children on Aliyah at God’s command with the full knowledge we will be sending our precious children into battle, where their very lives will be at stake.  I cannot think of a more affirmative action than this, where we, like Avraham do not allow ourselves “to sink into the depths of despair.”  We too have learned to accept this pain to answer a higher call.  Though it would be easy in this seemingly upside down world to hide like Yona.  Is it not in some way unethical to put our precious children on the front lines?  For this reason I think we can no longer view Avraham’s actions as inconceivable.  Haven’t we all called out “hinnei” by our own Aliyah?”

It is true that we all sacrifice our children in one way or another, but does that make us evil? Bad parents? What is the difference between martyrdom and sacrifice?

Leon R. Kass:The beginning of Wisdom p348-350

Father Abraham, I submit is the model father, both of his family and of his people – yes even in his willingness to sacrifice his son – because he reveres God, the source of life and blessing and the teacher of righteousness, more than he loves his own. He is a model not because all fathers should literally seek to imitate him; almost none of us could, and fortunately thanks to him, none of us has to.  He is a model, rather, because he sets an admirable example for proper paternal rule, in which the love of one’s own children is put in the service of the right, the good, and the holy.

Truth be told, all of us fathers, devote (that is ‘sacrifice’) our sons to some ‘god’ or another – to Mammon or Molech. To honour or money, pleasure or power, or worse, to no god at all.  True, we do so less visibly and less concentratedly, but we do so willy-nilly, through the things we teach and respect in our own homes; we intend that the entire life of the sons be spent in service to our own ideals or idols, and in this sense we do indeed ‘spend’ or try to ‘spend’ the life of our children.  But a true father will devote his son to – and will self consciously and knowingly initiate him into-only the righteous and godly ways………

Finally the true founder knows and accepts the face that his innocent sons will suffer for the sake of the righteous community, and that their ‘sacrifice’ is no proof that they are not properly loved as sons.  On the contrary, the true founder, like the true father, shows his love for his followers when he teaches them, often by example, that one’s life is not worth living if there is nothing worth dying and sacrificing for.[10]

The Dialectical Dilemma: Between the Divine call and human call: ‘Hinneni’ – ‘Hineni Beni’.

I must admit that I have always seen the Akeida in very dialectical terms.  It reminds me very much of Professor Irving Greenberg’s response to the Holocaust, that we cannot possibly think of redemption when looking at the gas chambers, but equally we cannot think of the burning bodies whilst immersing ourselves in the redemption of the state. We must live in the tension that exists between these two extremes.

Our worship of God exists in a similar pattern.  There are times which require total submission, unswerving unquestioning absolute commitment to the call of duty, and then there are times that we must question, struggle, challenge.  We cannot have the Avraham of the Akeida without his prologue – the Avraham of Sodom.  Apparent Divine injustice should shake us, make us ask the difficult questions but in the dialectical religious experience we must also be prepared to heed to the voice of the Divine in pure commitment.  Human autonomy in its extreme leads to absolute humanism, which itself both historically and ethically has disastrous consequences.  But equally absolute submission to the Divine will negate the dignity and intellectual capacity for the self, which too leads to a zombie like existence that possesses no authenticity.

And so the response for me personally is dialectical.  Rav Benny Lau in an amazing book called עקדת יצחק [11]לזרעו explicates this tension beautifully. In his writing he absolutely rejects the Kierkegaardian notion of total submission that muffles the ethical dimension, and instead contends that we must learn to live with the, often contradicting, voices of both. He writes:[12]

Rav Benjamin Lau: Akeidat Yitzchak lezaro p106

And here I get to the story of the Akeida.  I would like to offer a small chiddush, a problem for which at present I have no solution, but perhaps through this chiddush we will find one…..

God turns to Avraham and says to him ‘take your son, your only son, the son you love, Yitzchak’.  In contrast at the end of the episode when God sends an angel of God that calls to Avraham he says ‘ For now I know that you are God fearing, that you did not withhold your son, your only son from me’.  It is not written here ‘the one you love’, as is done so previously!  Something in the nature of the soul of a man screams here to heaven, when a father raises a knife to his son, he harms the very foundation of love.  He is for certain ‘God fearing’, but he cannot be loving with a knife.  It is an oxymoron.          

The alarming question is what exactly does God want from us?  God tests Avraham, elevates him, but at the end of the day he does not want Avraham to sacrifice Yitzchak. Because it is God Himself that says ‘Do not send your hand on this youth and do not harm him’ – because also this lad is mine and I do not want you to offer him up as a sacrifice.

As is known on Rosh Hashanah we do not blow a knife, we blow from the ram’s horn, that came in exchange on sacrificing the son.  God is a God that desires life.  Three times through the story of the Akeida the leading word appears ‘Hinneni – I am here’.  It is not a geographical term.  It does not describe a place, he conveys rather a condition of one’s soul.  The meaning of ‘Hinneni’ is the meaning of condition of my soul, we are speaking of man who stands before his sender and says to his sender ‘Hinneni’.  I in my wholeness stand with you(………)In the middle of climbing the mountain Yitzchak turns to his father and asks ‘My father’ and then comes the second time and Avraham says ‘I am here my son – Hinneni Beni’.  Avraham is torn between הנני  andהנניבני . There are two loves here, the love of a father for his son and the love of man for his creator – הנני and הנני בני .  Which voice to heed? To the Divine voice that calls ‘Take your son, your only son who you love’. Or to the voice that calls ‘Father, father’? Avraham continues along the way and then he takes the knife, but still does nothing.  But before he manages to act he hears the voice of the Angel saying to him ‘Avraham, Avraham’ – twice! Which Avraham are you? The one that is הנני  to God or the הנני to your son? And here Avraham has to decide, and his answer:’ הנני‘ that is to the Angel of God and not to my son(……..)

Many times we are asked by Chutznikim who are not aware of the dynamic existence of living in Israel ‘Is it not dangerous’, or ‘how can you put your children in danger like that’.  And we respond that we are דביקים בחיים – attached to life.  We don’t sacrifice our children to death, or send them Chalila to blow themselves up…….therefore akedias Yitzchak is so shocking every year, but we are a nation of the ‘shofar’ and not a nation of the ‘knife’.  We are attached to life and hold on to life and if life is dangerous we try to make it easier.  We do not give up on life for life. Eretz Yisrael is our life, Am yisrael is our life and if they threaten our life we will protect it through life itself.  This is the essence of our existence-not a nation of martyrs but a nation that ‘עבדה ושמרה‘…..when we speak about protecting our nation we do through the voice of the Shofar, from the understanding that the Holy One is a father who seeks life and from an appreciation that a father is not cruel to his children.  From an understanding that a father does not wave a knife chalila, to slaughter his son.

With this we play a double game.  On the one hand we are the sons of Avraham, that need to learn the deep message of the akeida, that we have a life of הנני and at the same time we have a life of הנני בני .  We pray to The Holy One that he does not test us in this terrible conflict between הנני and הנני בני.

And so Avraham leaves the mountain, elevated yet defeated. Happy to have saved his son, yet in excruciating despair at the pain they have both endured and will continue to endure. The knife has been deposed of, the ram has been slaughtered, the Angel has returned to Heaven, Avraham makes the long journey home. Everything returns to its place. Except that Yitzchak remains at the top of the mountain….he never fully returns.

Shabbat Shalom

[1] I must note that the commentaries on this narrative are so many and so vast that I had a very difficult time picking just a few to offer the reader.  The final list is by no means comprehensive, it offers a partial and limited response (some may argue inadequate).  I have taken from sources that I felt are not always exposed and I hope the reader will gain some new insights from these texts.

[2] We must remember that Kierkegaard is a Christian and in Christian theology Yitzchak is actually sacrificed and resurrected – like Jesus. Thus Avraham’s action is a literally sacrifice and not an ‘almost’ sacrifice as in Jewish literature, hence the message of the story will naturally hold very different ideas for each religion.  However it is fascinating, as we shall see that there are those within the Jewish tradition that echo similar sentiments to Kierkegaard.

[3] All translations are my own and are not necessarily literal but translated in order to convey the flowing idea of the commentary.

[4] Grandson of Chidushei Harim (second Gerrer Rebbe)

[5] Third Gerrer Rebbe (nineteenth century)

[6] First Gerrer Rebbe (eighteenth to nineteenth century)

[7] I am indebted to Calev Ben-Dor for recommending this book.  I had practically written my blog before I read this and was astounded to find that so many ideas I had developed over the years, specifically the need to be open to a paradigm shift (Avraham at sodom and Avraham at the Akeida) were expressed, though of course more definitively and skilfully, in this book.

[8] I am again indebted to Calev Ben-Dor for bringing this piece to my attention.  It is one that deserves attention analysis and deep discussion. I believe that in the very recent war in Israel we experienced a renewed sense of ‘Avraham’ a deep feeling of the need to sacrifice both from the younger and older generations, but yet in peacetime and times of ‘quiet’ we are profoundly a generation of Yitzchak.  As Zarchi says ‘Gam Ve Gam’.

[10] Here I refer you to a wonderful article written 10 years ago by Daniel Gordis which was a point of reference to me personally whilst preparing to make Aliya in 2004.  Here he delineates why living in Israel is in fact the highest level of educating our children as opposed to putting them at risk.

[11] This book was written in memory of Yitzchak Hershberg and consist of essays on the Akeida from a range of fascinating Torah scholars and personalities such as Rav Aviner, Rav Drukman, Rav Yoel Ben Nun, Rav Meir Lau, Rav Yuval Sherlow, to name just a few.

[12] I have translated it from the hebrew so any mistakes/inconsistencies are mine  entirely and not the authors.

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