Sculpture by Phillip Ratner By Yoram Getzler. Recently Avraham Burg, who is known as Avrum wrote an essay on the Binding of Issac. This biblical episode is also known as the Akidah. In the Quoran it is Ishmael, Issac’s elder brother who is bound, and offered in sacrifice.
This act is by the order of God that Abraham, His faithful servant, takes his son ascends Mt. Morea to the Foundation Stone (later the Temple Mount currently El Akasa) in order to fulfill the command “…take now thy son thine only son, whom thou lovest, even Isaac and get thee to the land of Moreah and offer him there for a burnt offering.,,”
This story, especially in its biblical/Jewish context is considered a great act, worthy of example and veneration. It serves as an example of unquestioning obedience to the God. For generations we have considered this story/myth as THE prototypical example of devotion to The One God. It is meant to inspire us to absolute devotion and obedience.
Let us note that in a previous chapter when God informs Abraham that He is intending to destroy Sodom & Gomorrah, Abraham, The Faithful Servant, challenges the divine being to be merciful, even for the sake of only ten good men (people). But here there is no challenge, no response only obedience. The very next day the story continues; Abraham begins to fulfill the command. We are told, he wakes early the very next morning and begins the process which will lead to the sacrifice of his son, his only son, the son he loves, Isaac.
Somehow I can not follow with admiration that story line. It seems to me that of all the acts that the God of Abraham would ask of him, that of sacrificing his son would be a profound betrayal of the basic lesson that same God is trying to teach Abraham and us. All around Abraham human beings were sacrificing their children, their captives, their loved ones, even total strangers to their Gods. It is quite likely that that was also the practice where Abraham originally came from. It was the expected “normal” thing to do to gain the favor of The God; for more rain, for a better harvest, for a male child for victory over an enemy etc. Child sacrifice; is there anything more pagan than that?
Something here is not making sense, no matter how hard “they” try and fit it into the great and praiseworthy behavior of The Fathers.
The Rabbis get so convoluted; it seems that even as we are to empathize with Abraham’s willingness to commit an ultimate act and be inspired by that to develop our own sense of obedience to the will of the God, they (some Rabbis) explain that Abraham understood that he would not be expected to really to carry it out to its conclusion. The major clue to that is Abraham’s statement to the servants who accompany them “Stay here by yourselves…while I and the lad will go yonder; we will prostate ourselves and we will return to you”. How does Abraham possibly know that we, ie the two of us (them), will return? Has he not undertaken this journey with the clear intent of fulfilling the command of God to sacrifice his son, his only son, the son he loves? He has already chopped the wood for the sacrifice,surely he was intent on fulfilling the decree of sacrificing his son and proving his loyalty as demanded by the deity?
So, amid all this disturbing, confusing and contrary narrative what is really going on? What is the true teaching?
Anyway the way I read and understand it is somewhat different:
The conversation about proving his loyalty and the depth of his belief is in fact all going on within Abraham’s head. In other words; its Abraham talking to Abraham, it is Abraham trying to convinces himself he truly believes the idea he has come to believe. That in fact there is only one “God”, one unique divine being to who he and all his family and all mankind owe obedience. How can he prove to himself that he really believes that? By devising a test, the ultimate test.
He rises “early in the morning” to fulfill the conditions he has set for himself. But at the last moment he realizes that one does is not required to complete every possible task. YES, he is willing and ready to commit the act, yes, I have a bulldozer that can level that mountain, but NO I do not in fact need to fulfill that potential if it is destructive.
I believe there is another element to this story/myth. Up until the moment that Abraham set his arm in place to draw the knife across Isaac’s throat there was a need or rational for human sacrifice within the human community. Humanity had not yet evolved to the place where it was no longer necessary. However from that moment on our spiritual evolution had reached that point. Abrahamic/Jewish history is about ending the sacrifice of human beings to a perceived divinity. True among many peoples this consciousness had not yet evolved. It would take many centuries for that process to fulfill itself. The substitute of course was animal sacrifice, at least until the destruction of the first temple. But being a stubborn people we insisted on continuing this useless practice even onto a second temple, until that too was destroyed making the final statement; blood need not be shed, neither human or animal to please the God.
Or maybe its simply about being cautious ans skeptical in actions based on our beliefs.
Yoram Getzler Yoram@israelseen.com