There is no doubt the story of the Akeidah, the binding of Isaac, is one of the most dramatic in the entire Torah.
The Akeidah is the cruellest test that can be devised. God asks Abraham to take his most precious possession, his only son, the son God Himself had promised him, the one he and Sarah waited for nearly 100 years to hug.
It’s no wonder this passage presents us with a big problem and not only with Abraham, whom we know is kind and hospitable. How can the good, just and merciful God devise such a cruel test?
What is a rational and Progressive interpretation for today?
In biblical times, and in other cultures of the area, we hear about human sacrifices – especially leaders sacrificing their nearest and dearest, in the hope they could save a kingdom from destruction. Yet the Torah and the Prophets attack this ritual.
The test of Abraham was designed to tell him and us that the ram, found in the thicket, was the substitute for Isaac. Animal sacrifice was considered a higher form of worship, and the old and cruel customs should cease.
Animal sacrifice continued from Abraham’s days and for more than 1,500 years until the destruction of the second Temple. Our prayer today is superior to Temple sacrifice – it can be performed everywhere, can be individual or communal and you can pray aloud or in your heart.
Abraham passed the test, but was willing to go all the way and sacrifice the one thing that was most precious to him. In doing so, he failed the test of understanding the nuances of God’s instructions.
With the words of our mouths and meditations of our hearts we can have personal communication with the Almighty, everywhere and at any time.
- Rabbi Yuval Keren serves Southgate Progressive Synagogue