© 2016 by Rabbi Zvi Aviner
Torah Class THEFT-11/The Binding of Isaac
“And offer him to me”
1: Judaism, Christianity and Islam
You know the story. G-d (ELKM) orders Abraham to offer Him his beloved son, Isaac, on the Altar. Abraham (and Isaac) comply but at the last moment an Angel appears and tells Abraham “do not harm this boy, for now I know that you fear G-d (ELKM).” Abraham notices a ram caught in the bush and he offers it as a replacement for Isaac. They return home.
The story is regarded as pivotal by the three Monotheistic religions. The ram replaces the human sacrifice. Christianity perceives it also as a prelude to the crucifixion, where G-d finally did what He had asked from Abraham: offering his own ‘son.’
Islam, that came to the historical scene almost 4000 years later, on the 7th century AD, changed both the name of the boy and the site: it was Ishmael, rather than Isaac, and it happened in Saudi Arabia at Mecca, rather than at Mt. Moriah, Jerusalem.
According to Rabbi Jonathan Sacks, Christianity is defined by the story. As long as the Holt Temple stood in Jerusalem, animal offerings replaced the human offerings, but the animal offerings were essential ingredients of atonement. A sinner would come to the Temple. Confess his sin in the ears of the priest, offer his sin offering or guilt offering and his sin was atoned. All that came to an end by the Temple destruction by Rome at the year 70 AD.
With the absence of the Temple, and the stoppage of its services, how would sin be atoned?
So here came the two Monotheistic religions, Judaism and Christianity, and offered their solutions.
Christianity, says Rabbi Sacks, moved the sacrificial component of atonement to a cosmic level. G-d offered Hs own son to atone for all the sins of the entire Mankind. Henceforth a sinner needs to confess in the priest’s ears, and direct his repentance to Heavens through G-d’s son. Henceforth there would be no atonement without the intermediary, the ultimate sacrifice: G-d’s own Son.
Judaism, says Rabbi Sacks, responded completely differently to the crisis of the Temple’s destruction. Judaism says that the Temple and its offering had never been essential for atonement. Moses’ Tabernacle was only a concession to Israel after their Golden Calf. Initially, after the Exodus, G-d had intended to give Israel a spiritual Torah, void of any animal sacrifice. Seeing that Israel, no differently than other peoples, needed a tangible object to express their faith, G-d consented to Moses’ plea and told Israel to build for Him a Tabernacle (Maimonides.)
Hence, says Rabbi Sacks, Judaism has always preached that there is no real need for an intermediary between Man and G-d for atonement. A person can approach G-d directly by confessing, praying, and asking forgiveness; like we do on Yom Kippur. This is why the rabbis had no problem, after the Temple destruction, to instruct their peoples to continue praying without any intermediary, with no sacrifice.
Indeed, most if not all rabbis today would say that when the Third Temple is re-built, it would have in it no animal sacrifices.
Well, what then does Judaism say about the story of the binding of Isaac?
As usual, Judaism acts by raising tough questions and answering them.
Judaism is a faith that demands LEARNING, thinking, debating. The entire Talmud is based on that.
So what are the tough questions here?
Let me bring here some questions and answers that pertain to our study of the Seven Commandments.
The story arise the following questions:
(1) Why would G-d test anyone, especially Abraham?
(2) Doesn’t G-d know the results of the test in advance?
(3) Why does G-d tell Abraham to perform an act that is so clearly against the Torah: killing another person!
(4) Does G-d approve human sacrifices for his own sake?
(5) What is the difference between Abraham and a person offering his son to an idol?
(6) Why doesn’t Abraham contest the order? He had protested the overturning of Sodom! Why is he so quiet here?
(7) Why doesn’t Abraham protest to G-d saying that His new order contradicts His old promise to make Isaac a father of a great nation?
And so on.
3: Killing that was not covered in the Rainbow Covenant
Here are some good answers:
(1) Why the test? G-d ‘knew’ the outcome but His Knowledge is not ours (Maimonides.) Rabbi Akiva is known to have said: “Everything is foreseen, yet the option is given.”
(2) G-d did the ‘test’ for Abraham sake, our sake. The Hebrew word for ‘tested,’ neesa, can also be read as from ness, a banner. Hence G-d wished to lift Abraham and make him a ‘banner’ for all peoples.
(3) G-d tested Abraham to make him stronger. This fits Abraham’s faith. If G-d is the ARTIST who created the world, then we are the ‘vessel’ that he has made. But G-d did not make Adam a perfect vessel. Adam has to improve himself and become Very Good. G-d therefore passes Abraham through tests by which he would become a harder and stronger vessel. This is important, for only a strong and opaque vessel can absorb G-d’s Light and Blessings. A transparent and a weak vessel would either let the Light pass through with no affect, or simply break down. Here Abraham passes his tenth and last trial by which he would become a very strong vessel.
(4) How does ELKM order Abraham something against the Torah: to kill, for His Glory?
For that, let’s go over ELKM’s Laws of Bloodshed given in Noah’s Rainbow Covenant, after the Flood. As you recall, the two Attributes, YHVH and ELKM appeared to Noah and each specified its own perspectives on the Laws of Murder. YHVH spoke about “the evilness of the human heart” in his youth, while ELKM stepped in and gave Noah the entire range of BLOODSHED Laws, in ascending, logical way, going from the ‘light’ cases to the harsh ones. t
Thus ELKM said to Noah:
(1) no eating blood or a limb taken from a living animal
(2) no suicide
(3) No killing by indirect methods, like placing a victim before vicious animals, or by starving etc
(4) No killing indirectly by human mercenaries
(5) No killing in mercy
(6) No abortion
(7) no direct killing (Genesis 9: 4-6)
The fifth prohibition says that killing in mercy is forbidden. One would think that KILLING FOR YHVH NAME in Mercy is applauded, yet the Torah regards it as a sheer murder.
But what about killing a person for the Glory of ELKM? Not as a punishment or for breaking a law, but for the mere honor of ELKM?
Like taking a life of another human for the sake of ELKM’s Glory?
This option is NOT covered by the Rainbow Covenant. Yes, the Covenant speaks about killing for YHVH, that is forbidden, but it does leave the killing for ELKM opened.
It is as if ELKM had left this option open, for tasting Abraham. !
Indeed, Satan senses this open door and charge Abraham in ELKM’s ears: ”Would Abraham comply if you tell him to offer his son for you?” And ELKM accepts the charge. It had not been covered so far by the Rainbow Covenant.
Now we can read the story in more details:
and ELKM tested Abraham…”
“After these events” or “words.” Both interpretations of the verse are true:
“After these words” – whose words? The Midrash says: Satan’s words. Now don’t panic, since the Hebrew Bible’s Satan is not to be confused with the European one, the Devil. “Satan” in Hebrew is our adversary Angel that charges the truth about us in the Heavenly Court.
So what did Satan say about Abraham?
According to tradition, Satan charged:
(1) ELKM! You have given Abraham so much wealth, status and even sons. Has he ever offered anything back to you as thanks?
(2) Abraham has been an avid follower of YHVH. He has just established a Cedar Tree (Genesis 21: 33. In Hebrew it stands as an acronym for Food, water and hospitality) for taking care of the needed. He has just called in the Name of YHVH! Has he forgotten you? Has he erred like Enosh, who started IDOLATRY by beaching Oneness? (Indeed, Isaiah calls Abraham in YHVH’s Name: “Abraham my LOVER.”
(3) fter “these words” or Abraham’s words. Satan charged: Has not Abraham just declared that he is your slave and that you are his master, AaDoNaI? Has he not declared a total submission to your will? Test him then by his own words! Would he be proved sincere?
(4) Satan also charged: Has not Abraham bragged about Mercy. Would he overcome his mercy for your sake?
And so on.
5: Every trial is bases on previous winning
A lesson: Abraham is tested by his own faith, by the ideas that he himself had introduced. In fact we all climb on the ladder of righteousness through our life, by withstanding successive trials. We go throughout our life form one trail to the next. As we proceed, we become increasingly stronger vessels, capable of receiving G-d’s Blessings.
Is this idea strange? It is not, if we remember that the World was created by no one but ELKM, the Attribute of Judgment, to stand a trial. Yes there is another Universe void of any trial and tribulations: it is called the Eternal Sabbath, the Kingdom of YHVH who reigns there ALONE.
As long we live in ELKM World, as long Nature has not changed, we should KNOW that our path would be climbing from one trial to the next, harsher one.
6: Paying attention to the Speakers!
To comprehend the dimension of the story, we need to follow Rabbi Bahyee (13th century AD Spain) advice and PAY ATTENTION TO THE SPEAKER.
So let’s read the story along the rabbi’s advice. Let us also count the number that each Attribute’s names appear as well as the number that Abraham’s name appears in the story.
And it came to pass after these words and the (1)ELoKiM tested (1) Abraham
And he Said to him (2) Abraham! And he said here I am. And He said “Please take
your son your only son whom you love, Isaac, and go for yourself to the
Land Of Moriah and offer him up there as a burnt-offering on one
of the mountains of which I’ll tell you. And (3) Abraham rose
early in the morning and saddled his Donkey and took his own
young men with him and Isaac his son. Then he split wood
for the offering rose up and went toward The place
that (2) ELoKiM has shown him. On the Third day (4) Abraham
lifted his eyes and he saw the place from afar, and
then (5) Abraham said to his young men you stay here
with the donkey and I and the lad will go yonder
and we will bow down there and then return
to you. And (6) Abraham took the wood
for the Offering and placed it upon his
son Isaac, and took into his hands
the fire and he took the knife,
and so they went both, together.
And Isaac spoke to (7) Abraham
his father and said: “My father and he
said “Here I am, my son.” And he said
here is the fire, and the wood, but where
is the lamb for the offering?”
And (8) Abraham said, (3)ELoKIM will see for Himsefl
the lamb for the offering on.”
And so they went both together.
They came to the Place which the (4) ELoKiM
had spoken to him and then (9) Abraham
built an altar and arranged the wood
and bound Isaac his son on the altar upon the wood.
And  Abraham stretched
forth his hand and took the knife
to slaughter his son. And the Angel of (1) YHVH
called him from the Heavens saying, “Abraham!
 Abraham! And he said, “Here I am!” and He said, “Do not
stretch your hand towards the lad, nor do the slightest thing
to him. For now I know that you fear (5) ELoKiM and did not withhold
your son, your only son from me. And  Abraham lifted up his eyes and
ooked, and behold, there was a ram. And it was caught in the hedge by its horns.
And  Abraham went and took the ram and offered it up as a burnt offering in place
of his son. And  Abraham named this place (2) YHVH will see yireh which today say as
follows: in the Mountain (3) YHVH is seen.” And the Angel of (4) YHVH called to (7] Abraham
the second time out of the Heavens and said, by myself have I sworn says (5) YHVH because you
have done this thing and have not withheld from Me your son your only son that I’ll bless you without fail, and multiply your descendants as the stars of the Heavens and as the sand that is on the seashore your seed shall inherit the gate of your enemies, and the nations of the earth shall bless themselves through your seed as consequence of your having harkening to my Voice and  Abraham returned to his young men, they rose up and went together to Beer Sheva and  Abraham dwelled in Beer Shaeva”
7: Two symmetrical Wings
As you see, the story carries two symmetrical WINGS:
The first Wing (in red) carries ELKM Name 4 times
The second Wing (in blue) carries YHV H name 4 times
And Abraham’s name appears in each wing 9 times!
Hence we see here again, like in Noah revelation before the Flood, the Heavenly Court in action.
Each |Attributes expresses its wishes.
But whereas in Noah’s revelations the attributes are in a perfect agreement,
Here each one tells Abraham the opposite of the other:
ELKM tells Abraham to offer his son,
Whereas YHVH (same as the Angel of YHVH) tells Abraham not to harm the child.
Hence they directly negate each other.
The Attributes clash at the apex of the story: when Abraham lifts his hand, ready to offer his son.
At that very dramatic point, YHVH Wing intercepts, telling Abraham to hold off.
Note that ELKM keeps His order! ELKM, as a rule, never recants!
To whom would Abraham listen?
Looking at the Wings, their design seems to cross over when they clash:
It looks like this:
ELHM ELHM ELHM ELHM YHVH ELHM YHVH YHVH YHVH YHVH
Thus ELHM appears 5 times, followed by YHVH 5 times. And the Wings overlap at their bottom:
Here you see the Wings crossing at the ‘bottom’ where YHVH’s Angele orders Abraham not to harm the son.
You can look at it as YHVH’s Wing penetrating ELKM Wing, as they cross in the middle.
Noah’s Heavenly Court
You can appreciate how unusual this revelation is by comparing it to Noah’s revelation before the Flood:
…………………….YHVH NOAH ELHM
Here the Wings do not interlock. Each Wing supports Noah from its side. The Attributes agree to bring on the Flood and save Noah and his family. They seem to carry Noah over the mighty waters below.
YHVH ELKM is One
In Abraham’s revelation, there is no such agreement. The Attributes negate each other, yet they are One!
Note that YHVH tells Abraham: “Now I know that you fear ELKM!”
The Bride likes Abraham BECAUSE He has shown that he fears Her Groom!
Hence YHVH and ELKM are One in Love.
Note also that YHVH says: “For you have not spared your son FROM ME!”
She should have said: “FROM HIM,” referring to ELKM.
Hence, says Rabenu Bachyee, YHVH and ELKM is ONE.
Abraham did not breach ONENSS. He did not repeat Enoshg errors! He did not follow MERCY thinking that the Laws of ELKM are abrogated!
To whom would Abraham listen, to YHVH or to ELKM?
Had Enosh stood there, facing the clash between YHVH and ELKM, Enosh would have opted for MERCY, taking Isaac home right away.
Had Tubal Cain stood here, he would have opted for ELKM, disregarding YHVH. He would have slaughtered Isaac, nevertheless.
But here stood Abraham, the father of our people. What he did facing the clash between the Attributes?
8: Judaism: The Ram Solution
Abraham lifted his eyes and saw a “ram caught in the bush.”
No one told him what to do next.
So he decided on his own to offer the ram instead of Isaac.
By this he would comply with both YHVH and ELKM.
And by this he ‘invented’ Judaism.
Yes, on one hand we see the Finger of ELKM (Deut 9: 10) that wrote to Moses: “An eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth!” This reflects the harsh, merciless Absolute Justice of ELKM.
But on the other hands, Moses heard YHVH’ whispering in his ears saying: That is impossible!
Therefore Moses, following Abraham, told Israel: punish the perpetrator by monetary compensation only!
Similarly: The Finger of ELKM would say Stone the adulterer!
But the Merciful YHVH says: No way!
And by this we follow Abraham and comply with both Attributes.
Therefore the Oral Torah says: punish the perpetrator, but not by stoning. In fact, stoning was extremely rare in Israel.
The impact of the story on the Holy Temple’s services
“And Abraham woke up in the morning”: The daily morning offering at the Temple were done with Isaac on everyone’s mind. The people who prayed at that time thought about Isaac. But we think about him as if we are there offering our lives for G-d. We don’t need an external sacrifice to get an atonement.
Once a year, on Yom Kippur, the High Priest of Israel used to enter the Holy of Holies Chamber and say the following:
“Like Abraham who overcame his Mercy to offer Isaac, let your Mercy override your Judgment”
9: Flow of history
The story is designed as follows:
ELHM ELHM ELHM ELHM YHVH ELHM YHVH YHVH YHVH YHVH
1. First ELHM speaks to Abraham
2. Then YHVH interlocks with ELHM
3. Then YHVH appears alone.
Not incidentally, this design of the story follows the Genesis where:
1. ELHM first created the Six Days ‘awesomely alone’
2. Then, at the end of the Sixth Day, YHVH entered ELHM’s world to create Adam along with ELHM (“Let Us Make an Adam in Our Form and Our Image”.) We still live under YHVH ELKM Kingship.
3. Then the Eternal Sabbath will come and YHVH will rule ‘alone’ while ELKM has ceased His work