We know a few things about the personalities of Avraham, Sara, Hagar and Yishamel, as well as Avraham’s relationship with Hashem long before the akeda story. We know Yitzhak was a late baby, to say the least; that there was rivalry between Sara and Hagar that didn’t end nicely because she was extremely protective of Yitzhak.
We also know other things, according to pshat and meforshim, as well as midrashim, things that every Jewish child is taught. We know Avraham argued with Hashem to prevent the destruction of others for sinning, and Hashem listened to him. We know that Avraham accepted monotheism as the opposite of idolatry, which is how the Rambam defines the essence of Judaism – the anti-idolatry religion. Judaism is the religion where people do not sacrifice their children for their gods, where they do the opposite of the avodah zoraniks – it’s why we have the separation between milchig and fleishig – because we do not seethe a goat in its mother’s milk, which are the instructions for placating some idol in the Code of Hammurabi. We do the opposite.
So what happened here? We know Avraham was being tested, and some see his ready acceptance to sacrifice Yitzhak as passing a test of complete and blind obedience to Hashem, a sign of complete faith that by following everything he was told to do, Avraham set the standard for obedience for everyone.
But wait a minute. Hold on. What if what really happened is that, based on what went on before, Avraham actually failed the test? What if he was supposed to do what he had done in the past: Namely question Hashem and ask why he was being asked to do what Hashem had specifically ordered him NOT to do…namely sacrifice his son for God…and mind you, an adult child, and was doing so without discussion or permission. He just said, OK and rushed him up at sunrise to Har Hamoriah, and we know the rest of the story…
Or do we? The parsha right after this one says that Sara dies. How does she die? I am not really sure if it was Rashi, but one of the meforshim or midrashim made the point that the Satan whispered something in her ear, or something like that.
Well, let’s consider this scenario. Sara comes out of the Ohel, wondering where her husband and her son – the apple of her eye, the child she gave so much for – have disappeared to, so she asks her tent neighbors if they’d seen Avraham and Yitzhak, and the neighbor says, “Sure, Avraham went to give Yitzhak as a korbon to Hashem.”
And the aging, anxious Sara simply drops dead of a heart attack. That’s Avraham’s first punishment. He comes down from the mountain to find his wife dead. And the medrash says that the miracle of the candles and the bread disappeared. The miracle disappeared because Sara died? Could there be a possibility that the miracle disappeared because Sara was not there to make the tallow for the candles or grind the wheat for the bread? Could that possibly be a reason for the disappearance of those things?
Then there’s the other piece of it: What about Yitzhak? Two things: the ever-loyal Eliezer had proposed his daughter as a shidduch for Yitzhak at just about that time and Avraham dismissed him with the equivalent of “What? My son? Your daughter? You must be joking,” and we learn that Yitzhak never spoke to his father ever again.
And then, to top it off, after the akeda, Hashem never spoke directly to Avraham again. Hmmm. How interesting.
My ancestor, who died in 1776, was the Holy Jew, Der Yid Hakodesh, rebbe of Reb Simcha Bumin and the Kotzker Rebbe. He said, “A rebbe who demands blind obedience is committing avodah zorah. Those who follow their rebbe blindly are also guilty of avodah zorah.”
Maybe Avraham failed the test. Maybe he was supposed to do the ethical and just thing, and say, “No. Because You taught me that what You are asking me to do is wrong.”
Think about it.
By Jeanette Friedman