The Akeidah and Me
1 And it came to pass after these things, that God did prove Abraham, and said unto him: 'Abraham'; and he said: 'Here am I.' 2 And He said: 'Take now thy son, thine only son, whom thou lovest, even Isaac, and get thee into the land of Moriah; and offer him there for a burnt-offering upon one of the mountains which I will tell thee of.' (Genesis 22)
The story of the Akeidah – Abraham’s task to sacrifice Isaac – occupies a central place in orthodox thought and emblemizes the power and supremacy of faith. This is Abraham’s final test of faith, it is this act of supreme belief and devotion which solidifies God’s pledge to Abraham and the Jewish People:
15 And the angel of the LORD called unto Abraham a second time out of heaven, 16 and said: 'By Myself have I sworn, saith the LORD, because thou hast done this thing, and hast not withheld thy son, thine only son, 17 that in blessing I will bless thee, and in multiplying I will multiply thy seed as the stars of the heaven, and as the sand which is upon the seashore; and thy seed shall possess the gate of his enemies; 18 and in thy seed shall all the nations of the earth be blessed; because thou hast hearkened to My voice.' (Ibid)
I had always found this story inspiring – and it all made perfect sense to me, both the story itself and all of the many midrashic explorations. Abraham, had not only longed for many years for a son who would succeed him, but had devoted his entire life to renouncing the local pagan worship, especially it’s most odious form – human sacrifice. His triumph is the struggle to overcome his native emotional instincts to fulfill God’s will.
As we say on Rosh Hashanah: "Master of the Universe! Just as Abraham our father suppressed his compassion for his only son to do Your will with a whole heart, so may Your compassion suppress Your wrath against us, and may Your mercy prevail over Your attributes of strict justice."
It is difficult, from the orthodox starting point, to gain some independent spiritual perspective on this. This is excerpted from something that I recently wrote:
“One of the facets of being religious (at least ‘frum’) is the idea that the moral code is completely proscribed by God. “The only free person is he who is immersed in Torah.” (Perek, 6:1). Our job is to free ourselves of the need to make independent moral choices. There is no stronger message than the Akadah. If God commands Avraham to sacrifice his son, his challenge is to suppress his innate sense of morality in favor of the divine decree. If you can do this, you are truly religious. You may be able to achieve happiness and serenity, and a sense of meaning and purpose in your life. The only problem, however, is that you’ve slain your son in the process.
To put it in less macabre terms (although, it wasn’t me who wrote Bereishis), you have given up your prerogative (and perhaps, ability) to develop your own sense of right and wrong. If the world is fortunate, the dogma to which you subscribe is magnanimous and humanistic. If less fortunate (as history has unfortunately demonstrated) it is prejudiced and brutal. Probably – if the Torah is any indication – it is a mixture of both
Whether or not there is a God, the one thing that I believe is that we are born with an innate sense of justice and morality. That sense is compromised throughout our lives by the dogma and socialization to which we are born. Our supreme moral challenge is to re-connect with that sense within us all - that inner voice which has been drowned out by dogma, by social stigma and by prejudice. What we arrive at may not be perfect, but it paves the way for those who will come to take the next steps. That is my definition of “Tikun Olam”, and that is what we sacrifice when we choose to remain believers.”