A Test for Abraham?
By: Rabbi Barak Bar-Chaim
“And it came to pass after these things, that God tested Abraham, and He said to him, ‘Abraham’, and he said, ‘Here I am.’ And He said, ‘Please take your son, your only one, whom you love, yea, Isaac, and go away to the land of Moriah and bring him up there for a burnt offering on one of the mountains, of which I will tell you.’” (Genesis 22, 1-2)
The Torah describes how God tested Abraham by commanding him to offer up his beloved son Isaac. The narrative then describes how Isaac went with his father, lay down on the alter, and was willing to allow his father to take his life in the service of God. Isaac was thirty-seven years old at the time and was quite capable of refusing his father’s wishes. The Beit Halevi, therefore, wonders why the Torah emphasizes this episode as a test for Abraham. Surely, it was an even greater test for Isaac?
The Beit Halevi explains that, while Isaac was indeed tested, the test for Abraham was far greater. The Beit Halevi further explains that it is easier to give up your life sanctifying God’s name than it is to live your life sanctifying God’s name. Abraham would be performing a mammoth act, an act he would have to live with every single day for the rest of his life. The Beit Halevi explains that there are many people that would allow their lives to be taken rather than submitting to idolatry. However, these very same people would not be willing to make the sacrifices necessary to sanctify God’s name by earning a living in an honest and ethical fashion. It is more difficult to sanctify God’s name knowing you will have to live with the consequences in this world than to die in the sanctification of God’s name!
God’s command to Abraham, to bring his child as an offering to God, was a one-time event (see Rashi who says this was never commanded, but only Abraham’s interpretation). In general, human sacrifice is completely abhorrent in the Torah’s view. Rabbi Eliyahu Dessler explains that the sacrifices that are most dear to God are the free-willed sacrifices we make as living human beings. Terminating human life, whether our own lives or the lives of others, is murder and robs us of the greatest service of God, the service of free-willed human beings who live with the consequences of their actions. Let us strengthen our resolve to use our free will to sanctify God’s name and, in so doing, merit life in this world and the next world.