It is as predictable as sunrise. At roughly this time of the year, someone claims the mantle of religious authority in order to announce that Avraham “failed” the test of the Akeidah, of sacrificing his son. Why? Because, the speaker insists, Avraham should have told G-d that murder is wrong, and refused to follow the Divine Command.
This neatly turns Judaism on its head.
The Torah teaches us that we are not at liberty to make our own judgments about what is morally justifiable or correct. Why? Because a person judging his or her own moral behavior is similar to the proverbial fox guarding the chicken coop. There is a famous adage about Aristotle deviating from his own philosophical principles, and defending his conduct by saying that “now I’m not Aristotle.” Whether or not the story is apocryphal, it is certainly logically consistent — temptation and personal bias can lead a person astray, even from his or her own teaching.
In Avraham’s time, child sacrifice was a common practice. He was the one who recognized the authority of a single G-d over Heaven and earth, rose to the level of prophecy, and, with his prophetic insight into G-d’s Will, taught humanity the principle that every life is sacred.
The supreme test of Avraham’s loyalty was to ask him, in one fell swoop, to do away with decades of teaching about proper moral behavior, a career encouraging belief in the one true G-d, the son who was following in his path, and the promise of generations of descendents. He was called upon to destroy everything he had worked for in his entire life, and what did he say? “Hineni,” I am here. He knew that what he thought about morals and virtue, and all his other biases and wants, must be set aside in favor of what G-d demands of him.
It is precisely that commitment to place G-d’s morality ahead of our own judgment that has enabled us to follow Jewish values under incredibly trying circumstances. Where did we get the strength necessary? We inherited it from our fathers!
yes, i agree with what is being said. Abraham assured a level of divinity here on earth and his vessel was strong and pure enough to service as such. Yet, when i chant this parasha in Persian tropes,(in LA during H.H) the melody :Abraham!Abraham sounded like first Stop what you do! then almost a cry…. ‘how could you possibly imagine that the Creator of all life, would want to take your child life? it teaches us to question and wake up. It teaches that blind faith is problematic – it does not bring blessing to the world or to our families. I think the parasha is teaching that many times common sense is the highest level of faith and consciousness. Abraham argued with God in relation to Sedom and Gemorah, here in this parasha somehow the intention is to teach us something else …
I think you misstate the issue. And draw an erroneous conclusion.
You write – “Torah teaches us that we are not at liberty to make our own judgments about what is morally justifiable or correct.” Perhaps – but we are obligated, always, to consider the morality of our actions. And the argument is not whether Abraham ought to have instructed G-d; but rather whether the certainty that he was following G-d’s instruction represents a form of hubris, or madness or worse — a failure to consider the morality of his actions.
. If Abraham could argue with G-d over the fate of Sodom, why could he not argue with G-d over the fate of his son? And unlike you and me, Abraham did not have a Torah to consult. Finally how is your claim of the “mantle of religious authority” more respectable than that of others?
Mark, you’ve brought up a number of important topics.
When we “consider the morality of our actions,” we are called to judge not by our own standards, but G-d’s. Rather than “our own judgments about what is morally justifiable or correct,” we attempt to express the Divine Will.
To question Abraham’s “certainty” implies denial that prophecy existed — an assumption made simply because prophecy no longer exists (and hasn’t for well over 2000 years). This is a false assumption; Abraham knew he was following G-d’s instruction because G-d told him so. And Abraham knew, through prophecy, all of the laws of the Torah. He knew the Torah much better than you or I.
Why could Abraham argue about the fate of Sodom, but not his son? That’s a great question, which I know because greater minds than ours have asked it. I don’t remember the original source, but in the case of Sodom there was no command to Abraham. Rather, G-d told him what He planned to do, and Abraham was free to discuss, ask, and plead. When given a command, however, Abraham’s priority was to follow it.
With regards to your final question, You have made a mistaken assumption. Religious authority lies with millennia of Jewish scholarship, and although our history is one of debate and discourse, not one traditional source questions the rectitude of Abraham’s actions. If you read the story itself, as described in the Torah, it ends with G-d stopping Abraham and praising him for having not withheld his son. It is obvious in context that Abraham passed the test, according to G-d Himself.
A creature arguing with its Creator just doesn’t make logical sense to me. Why would G-d entertain Abraham’s arguments based on his finite and limited wisdom of his perceived reality? G-d orchestrated this dialog as a witness to His angels and to future generations who would read this Torah portion and learn a new life lesson over moral justice. G-d did not require Abraham’s permission to execute any judgement, rather this was a test of Abraham’s compassion over humanity. Back to the sacrifice that never happened between Abraham and Isaac. Of course, G-d never has condoned human sacrifice. This was an ultimate test of Abraham’s courage and faithfulness after his past decision to short-circuit G-d’s promise through the birth of Ishmael. I have read that Abraham believed that G-d would raise up his son from the dead if the sacrifice was indeed mandated.
In conclusion, we as the Jew are the L-rd’s Watchman who guards and protects our people from the invasion of evil that rages just outside the gates of our human perception of political correctness and social welfare. Are souls are daily at war over the Truth and that Truth is the Torah that should be written upon the tomes of our hearts.