Bereshit Twenty-Two: The Akedah

This is one of the most iconic chapters in Tanakh. Jews read it every year on Rosh Hashana, and reference it as a mark of Abraham’s faith. It’s the akedah, the binding of Isaac. From some readings, it’s a testament to the ultimate faith, and from others, it’s the ultimate example of the problems of blindly following orders.

“God put Abraham to the test. He said to him, “Abraham,” and he answered, “Here I am.” And He said, “Take your son, your favored one, Isaac, whom you love, and go to the land of Moriah, and offer him there as a burnt offering on one of the heights that I will point out to you (Genesis 22:1-2).”

So many questions!

Why does God need to test Abraham? Hasn’t Abraham proven his loyalty many times over by this point? Why is the test a human sacrifice, something completely abhorrent? And above all, why doesn’t Abraham respond? Why does he follow along with no hesitation?

Instead of bargaining, like Abraham does on behalf of strangers in Sodom and Gomorrah, he wakes up early in the morning to go fulfill God’s commandment. He doesn’t respond to God verbally, but rather through action, and takes Isaac to the designated place. While he comes close to sacrificing Isaac, the angel of God cries out to him and stops him, saying, “Do not lay a hand on the boy, don’t do anything to him, for now I know that you are a God fearing man, because you have not withheld your son, your only son, from Me (Genesis 22:12).'” In this moment, why has the admonition changed from Isaac being the favored son to the only son? What has happened to Ishmael at this point?

My final question is: did Abraham actually pass the test? Was God expecting blind faith and following, or was He hoping for Abraham to stand up on behalf of his son? There’s a rabbinic thought that Abraham actually failed, because while prior to the Akedah, God speaks to Abraham directly, afterwards, for the rest of his life, God only speaks to Abraham through angels and intermediaries. Is this out of anger? Is it a punishment? Why was Abraham so eager to fight for the lives of strangers, but not that of his beloved son?

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