climbing uphill mountain

A person with faith and an attachment to God will always get through any difficult challenge. 

By Rabbi Ari Enkin, Rabbinic Director, United with Israel

This week’s Torah portion is “Vayeira” and in it we read about the famous “Akeida” – the near-sacrifice of Isaac.

The Akeida was the tenth of Abraham’s tests. According to Maimonides, the ten tests were: having to leave home and move to the Land of Israel, the famine in the Land, the seizure of his wife Sara by Pharaoh, the war with the kings, having to marry Hagar in order to bear children, the command to circumcise himself, a second seizure of Sara by the king of Gerar, having to send away Hagar, problems with his son Ishmael, and the highlight of this week’s Torah portion: the Akeida.

Why did God test Abraham? And why does God test us? What is the purpose of these “tests?”

It is explained that a Divine test is a situation we are put in that is intended to make us realize that we can exceed our own limits and expectations. A person with faith and an attachment to God will always get through such tests.

Furthermore, it is noted that the word for “test”, “nisayon,” is closely related to the word “miracle,” “nes.” Miracles occur when God acts outside of the ordinarily expected manner. Divine tests are when WE act outside of the ordinarily expected manner. Miracles show us God’s unlimited powers. Tests demonstrate our own unlimited powers. So, too, the world changes after experiencing a miracle. We change after we experience – and overcome – a test.

It goes without saying that the Akeida, God’s command to sacrifice Isaac on an altar, was the test of all tests. A test most of us probably wouldn’t pass. The whole thing didn’t make sense. God promises that Abraham will have a son who will be the Patriarch of the Jewish people and will inherit the land of Israel. And then He tells him to kill him?

Let’s unravel the scene. It took Abraham three days to arrive at the designated place: The Temple Mount in Jerusalem. He didn’t change his mind once during this time. He kept focused. He kept on walking.

Although the reason for the trip was hidden from Isaac, he eventually realized what was up, and he, too, continued the journey focused and determined. It was the will of God.

The altar is constructed. The wood is put in place. Isaac is bound with ropes to the place of slaughter. Focused. Plugging away. It was the will of God. Abraham grabbed the knife with a solid grip and raised it. And at the last second, God said, “Let Isaac go!” Abraham passed the test.

Can you imagine being asked to sacrifice your son? Can you imagine what Abraham must have been going through for those three days? The emotions. The stress. The pressure.

Our sages teach us that with this dramatic, essentially inhuman test, Abraham put in our DNA the ability to get through anything life throws our way. We can beat our own expectations when push comes to shove. We, too, have the strength of Abraham and Isaac. That was what the Akeida imparted ito us for eternity.

(By the way, there is a school of thought in Judaism that Abraham actually did slaughter Isaac but he was resurrected a few days later – a topic beyond the scope of this article.)

This week’s reading is a reminder that we have to get through life’s challenges in faith. If Abraham can get through this one, then we can get through anything life throws our way.

For more insights by Rabbi Enkin on this week’s Torah portion, click on the links below.