The Binding of Isaac

Rosh HaShannah 5782 – 2nd Day

“And it came to pass after these things, that G-d tested Abraham, and said to him, Abraham; and he said, [Hineni] Behold, here I am.” – Genesis 22:1, JPS 1917 Tanach

 “Such is the answer of the pious: it is an expression of meekness and readiness.”

– Rashi, Midrash Tanchuma, Vayera 22,

Abraham was called to bring his son Isaac as an offering to Mount Moriah – the future location of the Temple. He responded, without having specifically been told yet what commandment he was to fulfill. He answered with one word, “hineni,” “an expression of meekness and piousness.” Meekness denotes humility, in the face of G-d’s greatness. Readiness to serve H’Shem connotes the ideal mindset of a righteous person. Abraham made a commitment to carry out G-d’s will, inasmuch that his response was one of unequivocal piety, in regard to the will of the L-RD.

It is an even greater tribute to his merit, that upon hearing that he was to bring up Isaac as an offering, he did so without wavering. Consider the ramifications: Sarah was barren for thirty nine years, before G-d fulfilled the promise of a child. Abraham was ninety nine when Sarah gave birth. Isaac was the sole heir to the legacy of Abraham and Sarah, the next in line to fulfill the mission, whereof Abraham was called out from his homeland, to a place that he would be shown. To bring up Isaac as an offering was tantamount to the end of all the hope and aspirations of over fifty decades of patient waiting.

Yet, both father and son, Abraham and Isaac went willingly up Mount Moriah. Isaac permitted himself to be bound to the mizbeach (altar). Yet, when Abraham reached out for the macholes (knife), an angel stayed his hand, saying, “‘Lay not thy hand upon the lad, neither do thou any thing unto him; for now I know that thou art a God-fearing man, seeing thou hast not withheld thy son, thine only son, from Me’” (Genesis 22:12, JPS). Abraham was further blessed, “in thy seed shall all the nations of the earth be blessed” (Genesis 22:18, JPS).

Although the ram “caught in the thickets” was offered up instead of Isaac, Rashi comments that it was as if Isaac was offered up (Metsudah siddur). One reason why this reading may have been selected for Rosh HaShannah, is because the offering up of Isaac is seen as an atonement and source of merit for the Jewish people. As further mentioned in commentary, As long as Israel makes mention of Isaac’s Akedah before Him, it continues to serve as an atonement for them” (Beit ha-Midrash, part V). And, “When you appear on trial before Me on Rosh ha-Shanah, come with the shofar. Then even if there are many accusers against you, I shall recall Isaac’s Akedah and acquit you” (Pesikta Rabbati, 167a).