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Group Test (Vayera)

The following is a short thought on this week’s parshah, Vayera. For past articles on Vayera, please use the following links: Willful Blindness (2016); Perceiving Providence (2015); Shakespeare and Sodom (2014)

“And it came to pass after these things, that God tested Abraham… And He said, ‘Please take your son, your only one, whom you love, Isaac, and go away to the land of Moriah and bring him up there for a burnt offering on one of the mountains, of which I will tell you’” (Gen. 22:1-2).

Here are those familiar lines—those which bring us, at the end of our parshah, to the infamous “binding of Yitzchak:” the “akeidah.” Much has been written about the perplexing ordeal which these lines preface. In truth, however, our preface itself requires commentary. After all, the Torah introduces the akeidah to us as a “test” of Avraham’s faith. And yet it is Yitzchak who is to be “brought up as an offering.” What this means—though we often overlook it—is that the outcome of “Avraham’s” ordeal actually lies entirely beyond Avraham’s control. Avraham may well resolve to do Hashem’s bidding, only for Yitzchak to refuse to participate. And suppose that Yitzchak does refuse, and suppose that Avraham therefore falls short of fulfilling Hashem’s command—does Avraham then “fail” the test?

shutterstock_130209515The answer, it seems—as unintuitive as it may sound to us—is, actually: “yes.” For Avraham to pass this test, he must garner Yitzchak’s buy-in; perhaps, in fact, that is what the test is all about. Avraham, after all, had proven his loyalty to Hashem long before the akeidah; his devotion to Hashem was by this point established beyond doubt. Yet what remained to be determined was whether Avraham had managed to raise children whose commitment to Hashem equalled his. Hence the akeidah: a test not so much of whether Avraham would follow Hashem’s will, but, more critically, of whether the next generation would follow along with him. Whatever else the binding of Yitzchak may represent, theologically—and there is much to say about it, to be sure—its meaning is inextricably linked with the issue of chinnuch: of Jewish education and of Jewish continuity. Has Avraham successfully imparted his values unto posterity, to the extent that his son is willing to sacrifice for those values if called upon to do so? Does Yitzchak feel himself compelled by the convictions which his father found so compelling? That is the true metric of spiritual legacy—Avraham’s, no less than Yitzchak’s.

Like Avraham, all of us find ourselves “tested” in our efforts to serve Hashem. We strive to pray more fervently, to understand Torah more profoundly, to perform mitzvos more punctiliously, to act with greater kindness and sensitivity in our relationships with others. But achievement in avodat Hashem is not gauged merely in terms of the levels of piety, scholarship, or even character refinement which we personally develop. Our faith is not the faith of the lonely man or woman. It is a covenantal faith; a communal faith; a faith which we are responsible for preserving and also for transmitting. And so, in some sense, the ultimate measure of our spiritual success is not merely whether we have lived with faith, but whether the faith that we have lived with holds within it something powerful enough, something inspiring enough, something authentic enough, to leave a lasting impression upon those whose task it shall one day be to carry that faith forward in our stead.

Shabbat shalom!


3 Comments

  1. Anonymous says:

    You make an important and complicated point. It is generally assumed that Yitzchak was at the time of the Akeidah an early adolescent, a time in which children often assert an individual and different identity from that of their parents. Some form of rebellion is common. it is interesting to think about what Yitzhak might have observed about his father’s demeanor in the world and what kind of conversations they might have had (if this was part of their relationship ). Was Yitzhak’s willing response or acquiescence based on trust and faith or was it innocence? What your post has done is encouraged me to look more closely at Yitzhak.

  2. rschwarzyuedu says:

    Loved this thought. Shabbat Shalom, Ronnie

    ________________________________ Rabbi Ronald L. Schwarzberg, CPT Director – The Morris and Gertrude Bienenfeld Dept. of Jewish Career Development and Placement Center for the Jewish Future – RIETS Yeshiva University 500 West 185th Street, FH 419 New York, NY 10033 212.960.5212 rschwarz@yu.edu http://www.yu.edu/cjf

    Sent from my iPhone

  3. Anonymous says:

    Amazing as always 🙂

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