The Essence of a Test

“G-d did prove [test] Abraham, and said unto him: ‘Abraham’; and he said: ‘Here am I’ [Hineni]. And he said, ‘Take now thy son, thine only son, whom thou lovest, even Isaac, and get thee [lech lecha] 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 22:1-2, JPS 1917 Tanach

As for Abraham’s response, when he was called by H’Shem, “Hineni,” commentary reads, “Such is the answer of the pious: it is an expression of meekness and readiness (Midrash Tanchuma, Vayera 22; sefaria.org). With one word, Abraham demonstrated his commitment to G-d as his servant; so, that in a state of preparedness to obey whatever commanded of him, when told to bring his son, Isaac up as an offering, he did not flinch.

The question may be asked, that if G-d is omniscient (all-knowing), why did he need to test Abraham’s faithfulness towards Him? Nachmanides’ comment, seems to answer this question, that Abraham showed he was willing to “bring forth the matter from the potential into actuality so that he may be rewarded for a good deed, not for a good thought alone” (Nachmanides on Genesis 22:1, sefaria.org).

This is the nature of our lives, that G-d would test the quality of our every breath, were it possible, to see if we are willing to serve Him with our all – that is every ounce and fiber of our being. Yet, the tests that are designed for us, the challenges that are tailor made for each individual, are done so in order to create an opportunity for our strengths to be expressed in actuality, thereby demonstrating the veracity of our positive character traits. Additionally, “G-d trieth the righteous” (Psalms 11:5), in order to increase a sense of righteousness within an individual, so that moral rectitude will permeate his being (Bereishis Rabbah 34).

Fair is Fair

“G-d heard the cry of the boy, and an angel of G-d called to Hagar from heaven and said to her, ‘What troubles you, Hagar? Fear not, for G-d has heard the cry of the boy from where he is.”

– Genesis 21:17, JPS 1985 Tanach

The midrash comments on the phrase, “from where he is,” by paraphrasing it as such: “in that condition in which he now is” (Genesis Rabbah 53:14, sefaria.org). As further explained, “He shall be judged according to his present deeds, and not according to those actions which he may do in the future” (Ramban; sefaria.org). Nachmanides further notes that the plain meaning is that G-d would provide water for the boy, in the very place that he was without further ado. And, so G-d opened the eyes of Hagar, whereafter “she saw a well of water. She went and filled the skin with water, and let the boy drink” (Genesis 21:19).

Thus, if a generalization can be made, two inferences may be drawn out, one each from these two different interpretations. In the plain sense of the verse, G-d will meet us where we are at, when we call out to Him. In our very present needs, we seek relief from G-d when all else seems to fail. Our nisyanos (challenges) in life are sometimes of this kind. And, H’Shem willing, our help will appear in a manner that may even be unexpected, inasmuch that we had not considered such and such prior to our eyes being opened to the potential source of benefit for our relief.

In the more theological sense of the verse, we are seen by G-d for who we are at the time of need, regardless of who we will become in the future. For, “the L-RD is good to all; and His tender mercies are over all His works” (Psalm 149:9, JPS 1917 Tanach). Consider how Lot was blessed through the merit of Abraham, despite Lot’s immoral behavior that expressed itself, later, after he was spared from the fire and brimstone that fell upon Sodom and Gomorrah. It is important to note, that our condition in the future will be judged: if the righteous fall into a life of sin, “none of his righteous deeds shall be remembered.” And, if the wicked turn away from a sinful lifestyle, “none of his sins that he committed shall be remembered against him” (Ezekiel 33:12-16, JPS).

Vayeira – 2

“And He said, “Take your son, your favored one, Isaac, whom you love, and go to the land of Moriah, and offer him there as a burnt offering on one of the heights that I will point out to you.”

– Genesis 22:2, JPS 1985 Tanach

The epitome of the Akeidah, the Binding of Isaac was the resolve necessary on the part of Abraham, to follow through with G-d’s commandment to bring his son, Isaac as an offering to the mountain shown to him. This was the tenth and final test of his faithfulness towards G-d, as proved by his obedience to carry out His will. Previously, Abraham trusted in G-d, to follow His directives, despite all of the prevailing challenges, ramifications, and risks involved. Now, he acceded to the command to give up Isaac, his only son, who was destined to carry on the legacy, mission, and message of the One True G-d. Yet, Abraham trusted in H’Shem; perhaps, knowing that He would be able to resurrect Isaac, as implied by the Zohar, whereof the beracha, “Blessed is He who quickens the dead,” is attributed to Abraham, right before he was about to offer up Isaac.

The tension point between Abraham and Isaac occurs when Isaac asks his father, Behold the fire and the wood; but where is the lamb for a burnt-offering [olah]?” Abraham responds, “‘G-d will provide Himself the lamb for a burnt-offering, my son.’” Then, the narrative conveys the resolution to Isaac’s concern: “So they went both of them together” (Genesis 22:7-8, JPS 1917 Tanach). The challenge of Isaac was to be in one accord with G-d’s will. As the sages explain, “it was at this moment that Isaac realized that he was to be the offering; even so, he was one within the intentions of his father. They went together to the mizbeach (altar), prepared on Mount Moriah. Rashi comments, “with equal intentions to fulfil the will of the Creator” (sefaria.org). Therefore, let not Isaac’s commitment be diminished, for he willingly went with his father Abraham, up the mountain. “He carried the wood on his back, like a man bearing his cross” (Genesis Rabbah 56).

Vayeira – 1

“And the L-RD appeared unto him by the terebinths of Mamre, as he sat in the tent door in the heat of the day; and he lifted up his eyes and looked, and, lo, three men stood over against him; and when he saw them, he rant to meet them from the tent door, and bowed down to the earth, and said: ‘My lord, if now I have found favour in thy sight, pass not away, I pray thee, from thy servant.” – Genesis 18:1-2, JPS 1917 Tanach

The traditional rendering, according to most commentaries is puzzling. The verse reads, “My l-rd, if now I have found favour in thy sight, pass not away, I pray thee, from thy servant” (Genesis 18:3). Most commentators view this request to be addressed to the L-RD from Abraham, asking for His presence to remain, while he attends to his three guests. Yet, a closer reading reveals a more nuanced view: Abraham “prostrated himself on the ground,” and then made his request to the three guests, who were in front of him.

Moreover, the word rendered above as lord, is the Hebrew word, “Ad’nai.” It is first used in the Tanach, when Abraham addresses the L’RD, in regard to his inheritance, inasmuch that he was to be the father of nations, yet, was childless. The word, can mean Master, and indicates Abraham’s acknowledgment of the L’RD as L’rd of his life. When he prostrates, as mentioned above, in front of the three men, who are really angels, he is addressing them at the same level he addresses the L-RD.

“And the L-rd appeared to him. How? Three men who were angels came to him.”

– Rashbam, sefaria.org

Vayeira: Commitment

“And He said, “Take your son, your favored one, Isaac, whom you love, and go to the land of Moriah, and offer him there as a burnt offering on one of the heights that I will point out to you.”

– Genesis 22:2, JPS 1985 Tanach

The epitome of the Akeidah, the Binding of Isaac was the resolve necessary on the part of Abraham, to follow through with G-d’s commandment to bring his son, Isaac as an offering to the mountain shown to him. This was the tenth and final test of his faithfulness towards G-d, as proved by his obedience to carry out His will. Previously, Abraham trusted in G-d, to follow His directives, despite all of the prevailing challenges, ramifications, and risks involved. Now, he acceded to the command to give up Isaac, his only son, who was destined to carry on the legacy, mission, and message of the One True G-d. Yet, Abraham trusted in H’Shem; perhaps, knowing that He would be able to resurrect Isaac, as implied by the Zohar, whereof the beracha, “Blessed is He who quickens the dead,” is attributed to Abraham, right before he was about to offer up Isaac.

The tension point between Abraham and Isaac occurs when Isaac asks his father, Behold the fire and the wood; but where is the lamb for a [olah] burnt-offering?” Abraham responds, “‘G-d will provide Himself the lamb for a burnt-offering, my son.'” Then, the narrative conveys the resolution to Isaac’s concern: “So they went both of them together” (Genesis 22:7-8, JPS 1917 Tanach). The challenge of Isaac was to be in one accord with G-d’s will. As the sages explain, “it was at this moment that Isaac realised that he was to be the offering; even so, he was one within the intentions of his father. They went together to the mizbeach (altar), prepared on Mount Moriah. Rashi comments, “with equal intentions to fulfil the will of the Creator” (sefaria.org). Therefore, let not Isaac’s commitment be diminished, for he willingly went with his father Abraham, up the mountain. “He carried the wood on his back, like a man bearing his cross” (Genesis Rabbah 56).