The Sages of the Talmud say that there were 10 times that Abraham’s faith in G-d was tested, and he succeeded each time. The final test was to follow the command to slaughter his son Isaac, and offer him as a sacrifice. Although Isaac was the child for whom he and his wife Sarah had waited their whole lives, and the one who was to carry the torch of monotheism to the world, Abraham demonstrated his readiness to serve at all costs, and carried out the command.

After he proved his pure commitment, G-d told him, “Now I know you fear G-d.” This was the last of 10 tests. Weren’t the previous tests enough? He left his previous life behind, faced famine when he entered the Promised Land, had his wife abducted (twice!), fought in the war of the four kings versus five, as well as many other tests. Why were they not sufficient proof of his complete devotion and reverence to G-d? Why only “now?”

The answer is found in Abraham’s nature, which was to do kindness for others. Abraham remains the paragon of chessed, kindness. Last week we read how he was willing to risk his own life to save his nephew Lot from war. At the beginning of this week’s Torah portion, we read of the astounding dedication with which he welcomed and personally served guests, likely idol-worshippers, on a scorching hot day — while at the worst point in recovery from his circumcision, at age 99. Selfless acts of loving-kindness came easily for Abraham. This behavior was common for him, even predictable.

His ultimate challenge, then, was to defy his sympathetic nature, and force himself to engage in an act of cruelty in obedience to the Al-mighty. What could be more merciless, than to slaughter his own beloved son? Known for his loving-kindness, he would also destroy his reputation with this barbarous act. His willingness to serve G-d under those circumstances made it clear that Abraham’s service did not derive from his kind and generous nature, but from his authentic desire to serve his Creator at all costs. “Now” G-d knew that Abraham was a true servant. (Based on the Vilna Gaon zt”l)

Oftentimes our actions may appear to others as difficult or heroic, but knowing ourselves we can honestly say those activities weren’t really difficult at all. We know within ourselves that we thought our behavior was second nature, the type of thing we enjoy doing anyway. Yet, at other times, we’re called upon to do a task which is against our nature. It’s hard for us. If we then push ourselves and go against our nature to do the right thing, that is truly heroic. If we do this in service of the Al-mighty, He can say of us “Now I know that you fear G-d.”

8 Comments

  1. This message, as all messages of God are, perfectly timed and ripe for understanding. He gives me this fruit to taste, enjoy and receive perfect nourishment. Thanks be to Him for His clear sign. An answer to prayers, as always and foreever. Please know this message is absorbed and produces it’s meaning in my soul. May God Bless you as you have Blessed me.

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  2. G-d already knew that about Abraham, the tests were to show Abraham, and others including ourselves, the depths of his devotion and loyalty.

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    • Thanks for your comment Toni. I agree with you, as that is the classic understanding of G-d’s tests. They’re called “Nisayon” because the root of that word is “Neis”, a flag, as it helps a person be aware of the strength they have inside. That’s the beautiful commentary of the Ramban, if I recall correctly. Nonetheless, the verse here has G-d’s reaction to the passing of the test as “Now I know..” which needs to be understood. If G-d already knew Avraham would past the test, and he already knew what kind of servant he was, why does He say “Now I know..” He should said “Now YOU know…” It’s a good question, and one I’ll have to think about over Shabbos – Thanks!

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  3. Dear Rabbi, may I suggest that his faith was tested and he passed the test?
    “Hashem Himself will supply..” He knew he and Yitzchak would return.

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  4. I believe your concept of God is all wrong. I think you let religion get between you and God. God does not need my service, he does not need to test me he is not cruel nor insecure. Be it Abraham on Noah or lot, God would not do that. In the Old Testament and the New Testament and all the other so-called religious books be it Islam, Judaism or Christianity are inventions of man not God. Sorry Rabbi, God does not need sacrifice, all he needs as any father is that his children love each other and treat each other with respect. It is time to leave ancient fairytales behind. The killing of innocents, as in Sodom and Gomorrah, the destruction of Jericho and all the other killings and bloodletting’s are not necessary to prove your belief in a supreme being, it is time we grew up and became adults.

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    • Thanks for your comment Fred. From the tone of your response it doesn’t sound like you’re open to hear comment, and that’s unfortunate, but I will address your point.

      Here is your main point relevant to the post “God does not need my service, he does not need to test me he is not cruel nor insecure.” He is not cruel and insecure – that is absolutely true. He exhibits absolute Kindness and compassion, and He is OUR security. As the kind and compassionate G-d, He wants us to see for ourselves how strong we are, and what we’re capable of. Just as a teacher tests their students to challenge them to study and prove to them how well they can perform, G-d tests us. Every human being knows there are times of challenge, and everyone knows that the ultimate success is to rise to the challenges, and grow from them. The growth can be in the success, and even in the instructive failure. A cruel G-d would let us roam free and stagnate. A kind G-d shows us how great we can become.

      I hope you read this Fred. I appreciate your time.

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  5. What did Sarah say about it all ?

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    • We will learn about that in next week’s Torah Portion. Rashi comments that she died when she heard that Isaac was almost slaughtered. That’s a difficult ending to the story, but the Torah assures us she lived a full life.

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