Taking steps, walking

Abraham passed the greatest test in the Torah by refusing to follow the crowd and heeding God’s word instead.

By: Rabbi Ari Enkin, rabbinic director, United with Israel

This week’s Torah portion is “Vayeira” (Genesis 18:1–22:24) and in it we read the famous and moving story of the “Akeida” – the near sacrifice of Isaac at the hands of his father Abraham.

God gave Abraham ten tests in order to test his loyalty, and the tenth and final test was the Akeida. God told Abraham to take his son Isaac up on to Mt. Moriah and slaughter him there on an altar.

Abraham’s response? He hurriedly packed his donkey and got going!

After Abraham arrived at Mt. Moriah, set up the altar, and tied Isaac down, and as the knife was about to slice Isaac’s neck, an angel called out to him and told him that the whole thing was just a test. He was told not to slaughter his son. A ram was slaughtered instead and father and son returned home and lived happily ever after.

We are told that each of Abraham’s ten tests was harder than the one before it. Test number five (having to marry Hagar because he could not have children with his wife Sara) was more challenging for Abraham to fulfil than test number 2 (having to move to Egypt), and so on.

As such, the tenth test of the Akeida would have been the most difficult and heart-wrenching test that Abraham was made to go through. Indeed, who among us can kill our children under any circumstances?

There is one problem with this theory, however, and that is, Abraham’s very first test seems to have been even harder than the tenth. What was the first test? When Abraham was a young boy, the evil king Nimrod sentenced him to death for rejecting the local pagan religion and preaching God and monotheism, instead. Nimrod warned Abraham that if he didn’t accept paganism then he would be thrown into a fiery furnace. And so it was. But miraculously, Abraham came out of the furnace unscathed.

It seems that this first test would have been harder than the tenth test. As difficult as it must have been for Abraham to take his son to be sacrificed, he didn’t make the test up on his own! God personally came and told him to do it. At the first test, however, when he was faced with execution, nobody told Abraham that he had to give up his life. In fact, God had not even revealed Himself to Abraham at that time. Nevertheless, Abraham made the choice to give up his life voluntarily. It would seem much harder to make the decision to kill yourself on your own, than to do so, or almost the same thing, (to kill your son) when God tells you to do it!

So what’s going on here? Was the tenth test really harder than the first?

It is explained that, yes, the tenth test was harder. Why?

Because it defied logic. Until the Akeida, Abraham was able to preach God and monotheism in a way that made sense to people. People were able to relate to Abraham’s beliefs, lifestyle, and Jewish home (complete with his gefilte fish and chopped liver).

It was attractive and made sense to people. Abraham was winning followers by the thousands. But to sacrifice his son? That defied logic. That would make people feel uncomfortable about Abraham and his religion. That would cause people to run from a God that would demand such thing. Abraham was under tremendous pressure.

This is why the tenth test is harder. To act against your own natural instincts is one thing, but to go against the instincts of the entire world – that takes guts.

Abraham passed the test. Although we will never have anything like test one or ten to deal with, let us never forget that God is always watching us, and encouraging us, and helping us, to pass our own personal tests, as well.

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