April 9, 2024
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Akeidas Yitzchak: Challenges and Choices

Akeidas Yitzchak has always fascinated me.

On one hand, it’s an inconceivable test situation. On closer inspection, it is extremely multifaceted, challenging Avraham in many, many specific ways.

The first hint of this idea came in a class where comparison of a religious man and a moral man was raised. We may take for granted that those two paradigms consistently align. But what if someone is placed in a situation where the moral and the religious seem at odds? The moral man chooses morality (man’s determinants of right and wrong) and the religious man chooses religion (God’s determinant of right and wrong).

Until then, I had only thought of Akeidas Yitzchak as the struggle of whether to sacrifice a son, yet the above question introduced the idea that other struggles could also be at play with this nisayon, test.

Sarah Yocheved Rigler speaks about the idea of test/nisayon and choice box. How does one know when he or she is being faced with a nisayon? When we encounter something that is hard.

When is a situation a true test? When it fits into a choice box in which there is a 50-50 chance that a person could decide either way. If a situational choice is too easy (e.g., sharing a snack) or too hard (taanis dibur, not speaking), then it is not really a choice.

Akeidas Yitzchak does not seem to be a one-faceted choice box: There are many reasons why Avraham could have chosen not to proceed.

Here are some that have come up.

  1. Sacrificing a son he loves.
  2. His duty as a husband—how could he do this to his wife?
  3. Avraham advocated moral behavior; hence, killing a person might seem hypocritical and undermine his moral work.
  4. Avraham was a leader; other people may follow his example.
  5. Avraham advocated serving Hashem; child sacrifice was a practice of avodah zara, idol worship. Going through with Akeidas Yitzchak would undermine his message of preaching service to Hashem.
  6. Avraham considered serving avodah zara distasteful, and he consciously moved away from that world. Sacrificing Yitzchak would ask him to practice something abhorrent to him on a personal level.
  7. Avraham could rationalize that maybe the test was to not listen to Hashem in this situation. (Thank you, Abie, for this one!)
  8. Avraham could have rationalized that as a leader of a future nation through Yitzchak, sacrificing him could undermine that destiny.
  9. According to medrash, Terach handed over Avram to Nimrod because of Avram’s rejection of avodah zarah. Terach was “sacrificing” his son in the name of religion. It is possible that a young Avram may have said to himself that he would never sacrifice his own child in the name of religion. How hard to be faced with that very same situation in an ultimate test!

It would appear then that Hashem truly customizes nisyonos. The creation of a single situation that challenged Avraham on almost every level is only possible from Hashem.

It stands to reason that our nisyonos or encounters in life are similarly customized. We live in a specific time and environment, are surrounded by specific people, and faced with specific life events. None of it is accidental. All of it is orchestrated in this particular way in order to maximize our growth and shape who we become.

Rabbi Jeremy Kagan, in his sefer “The Choice to Be,” discusses how, in the physical world, closeness is determined by physical proximity, whereas in the spiritual world, it is determined by similarity. We try to be Godly by imitating the ways of Hashem.

Hashem is the ultimate creator. Rabbi Kagan explains that we emulate Hashem by creating ourselves through our choices. We literally shape our neshamos by the choices we make, thus determining who we want to be.

That is echoed in the language used after Akeidas Yitzchak, in which Avraham is recognized for his choice and will to serve Hashem.

What is interesting to consider is that the time we are in and the unbelievable challenges we are facing collectively are also tailor made. We are all meant to experience what we are currently going through. We are all meant to be introspective and to determine who we want to be, who we choose to be and, most importantly, how we choose to come together.

I am hopeful that you are as inspired as I have been with the tremendous achdus seen across Klal Yisroel and how so many have looked to their specific abilities to see how they can give to each other.


Grunny Zlotnick is a resident of Teaneck and active in a number of local organizations.

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