On Rosh Hashanah we blow the shofar in memory of this momentous event. An in-depth look at the Akeidah
Thousands of years have passed since the day Avraham Avinu bound his son Yitzchak on the mizbeiach, yet that act still brings his children merit and strength. On Rosh Hashanah, when we blow the shofar in memory of this momentous event, let’s take an in-depth look at the Akeidah. He Who answered Avraham Avinu on Har Hamoriah — may He answer you and hear your call
HaKadosh Baruch Hu said to Am Yisrael, blow the shofar of a ram before Me so that I should remember the ram of Yitzchak ben Avraham, and I consider it as if you bound yourself as a sacrifice.”
The mountains surrounding Chevron were the perfect setting. A light breeze blew, rustling the branch of the large tree planted near the tent standing in the center. Chattering crowds converged around tables laden with all kinds of delicacies — eating, drinking, and blessing Hashem, Who had been revealed to their dear friend, Avraham. People of influence mingled with the simpletons, kings and ministers reveled alongside the household members who had found permanent lodgings and a foster home in the domain of Avraham.
The babble of conversation of the diners, who had made the effort to come to Chevron to bless Avraham on the occasion of his 100th birthday, awakened the satan who was waiting for an opportune time for his accusatory remarks.
“Ribbono shel Olam, look down at Your servant Avraham who is holding such a big party, having invited all the dignitaries of the land,” the satan said. “See how happy he is and how he gladdens his guests. But for You, Who gave him his son in his old age, he gives nothing! Not a single cow and not a single ram!
“Besides, why do You call Avraham ‘ohavi,’ the one who loves Me? You have given him such bounty, and You have changed the course of nature and given him a son. You have always treated him with compassion and chesed; who would not maintain allegiance to a King Who gives so much good? Who guarantees, Ribbono shel Olam, that Avraham is truly a tzaddik? I wonder what would happen if You would take all this good from him… I wonder how Avraham would react if You would ask him to give back the gifts that You have bestowed upon him.
“In fact,” the satan suggested, “let’s see him sacrifice his son and still remain Your beloved!”
Silence reigned On High. What would Hashem reply? Who would hush the evil angel and present a defense in his stead?
“You will see that if I ask Avraham to sacrifice his son, he will do so immediately,” HaKadosh Baruch Hu replied. “And then you, the satan, and everyone else, will see and know that Avraham is My beloved and a most faithful and loyal servant."
The Last Test
Years passed. One evening, a figure emerged from the desert and made its way to the prearranged meeting point. Yishmael, who had been living in the desert since he’d been banished from his father’s house, longed for his father. Avraham, too, yearned for his son. Every so often, Yishmael would travel to meet his father and half-brother.
“You know, my brother,” Yishmael boasted to Yitzchak when they met, “now that I am 51, I understand that I am more beloved than you.”
“And why do you think so?” Yitzchak asked. “You are the one who was banished from our father’s house, while I am his dear son, and it is from me that Hashem promised him continued generations!”
“No, no!” Yishmael insisted. “I am more beloved, because I was circumcised at age 13!”
“The opposite is true,” Yitzchak claimed. “I am more beloved, because I was circumcised at eight days old. I fulfilled the Will of the Creator and the commandment of the Torah!”
“What’s special about that?” Yishmael jeered. “I could have protested having a bris, and I didn’t. You were so small when you were circumcised, and no one asked your opinion!”
There’s something to what my brother Yishmael is saying, Yitzchak thought to himself. I am now 37 years old, and I did not merit to do what Yishamel did. Perhaps he is more beloved? On the other hand, he only gave three drops of blood when he was young, and I am ready to give my whole body, every bit of my blood and fat, for Hashem’s Name.
Oh, halevai, that HaKadosh Baruch Hu would appear to me and tell me that I should cut off one of my limbs! Halevai, He should ask me to be slaughtered, because if He would tell me to do so, I would not delay at all.
Immediately, HaKadosh Baruch Hu appeared to Avraham and instructed him regarding the Akeidah.
“Avraham, Avraham,” HaKadosh Baruch Hu called.
“Hineini! I am here!” Avraham replied. He understood that Hashem directly calling his name indicated that Hashem would request that he do something extraordinary. “I am here, ready to do Your Will!”
“I want to test you with yet another test, a tenth and last one,” Hashem requested. “I have tested you nine times: In Ur Kasdim in front of the furnace; when I sent you from your home (Lech Lecha); the test of the famine; in Egypt when Sarah was taken to Pharaoh’s house; when you were asked to send Hagar away; when you were asked to send Yishmael away; the test of the kings who wanted to kill you; the Bris bein Habesarim, when I told you that your children will be strangers in a foreign land, and you did not question My middos; and of course, the test of the bris milah when you were elderly and weak.
“I have tested you nine times. You are like flax, which improves when it is pounded. I have tested you only because you are a tzaddik. I do not challenge the wicked ones, who cannot withstand these tests. Now I am going to ask you to withstand another test: the tenth one.
“Please, My beloved, persevere and withstand this final test so the world will understand why I have chosen you to be the patriarch of the Jewish nation.”
Avraham stood under the sky strewn with stars and waited with anticipation and submission to hear the Divine command.
“Take your son,” Hashem said. “Please, I ask you, take your son…”
“My Creator, I have two sons,” Avraham replied.
“Your only one.”
“But my Creator, this one is an only son to his mother, and this one is an only son to his mother.”
“The one you love,” Hashem explained.
“I love Yishmael, and I love Yitzchak! Which one should I take?” Avraham cried.
“Yitzchak,” Hashem replied. He had prolonged the command in order to give a reward to his servant for every single word. “Take Yitzchak, go to the Land of Moriah, and bring him there as a sacrifice.”
The stars that twinkled in the skies and the carpet of sand in the desert seemed to be laughing at Avraham. “Didn’t Hashem promise that your descendants will be more numerous than us?” they seemed to mock him. “How will this promise come to fruition if you sacrifice your son Yitzchak — who was supposed to carry on this promise? Can you have more children? You are already an old man.”
But Avraham did not focus on questions or doubts. He was concerned only with the exact details of the halachah. “How can we bring a korban if there is no Kohein?” he asked.
“Why do you say there is no Kohein to sacrifice the korban? I have already appointed you as a Kohein, as it says, ‘Atah Kohein l’olam,’” Hashem answered.
“Which mountain should I go to?”
“Wherever you see My Honor standing and waiting for you. Go, Avraham, and bring the korban on the mountain which I will tell you.”
Avraham accepted the decree immediately and was filled with courage and strength. He had simchah shel mitzvah, excited to fulfill the Will of Hashem in the best way possible.
“We are going to Eretz Hamoriah,” he said to his sons, Yitzchak and Yishmael. “Hashem has not revealed to me the exact place, but I am sure He will reveal it as we are on the way.” He then explained, “You surely know that a talmid chacham must not travel alone at night without an entourage. Therefore, we will depart first thing in the morning!”
At Dawn’s Light
Dawn broke over the east. The first rays of light shone over Avraham’s tent; he was already awake, busy chopping wood and loading it onto the back of his donkey. He did not know that every piece of wood he split provided another merit for his descendants, for whom the Yam Suf would be split.
The donkey Avraham harnessed was a son of the donkey that was born on Erev Shabbos bein hashemashos. Moshe Rabbeinu rode this donkey on the way to Egypt, when he came to announce the impending redemption, and Mashiach will ride on this donkey in the Geulah of the future.
“I see, Father, that you are fulfilling ‘Zerizin makdimin l’mitzvos,’ ” Yitzchak greeted his father. “Why didn’t you wait for the servants to prepare the donkey and our provisions? Also, there is wood everywhere, we don’t need to bring it with us. Besides, does Mother know that I am going with you?”
“When the moment will come that Hashem will tell me His Will, I want to do it right away, without delay, so I have already prepared the wood,” Avraham explained. “Besides, I wanted to make sure that the wood is blemish-free.
“Regarding your mother: I asked her last night to prepare a meal, and while we sat and thanked Hashem for His chasadim, I told her that I would like to take you to a place where you could increase your wisdom and learn Torah. Your mother agreed right away that you should come with me, even though she will miss you. So we can leave Chevron right away and head straight for Eretz Hamoriah. Let’s go!”
Avraham urged his son to hurry, because he was afraid Sarah might retract her agreement.
The small convoy with Avraham, Yitzchak, Yishmael, and Eliezer set out. Avraham led the way. With every step he took, he forged a path of mesirus nefesh and dveikus, a route upon which millions of Jews who would merit the name “Bnei Avraham” would tread. For three days, Avraham cast his soul into the furnace of this trial and created a new being called the “Jewish soul that is moser nefesh for its Creator.”
The donkey walked lazily, and the trip was long. A disturbing conversation took place between Avraham’s servant Eliezer, and Yishmael.
“If something happens to my brother, I will get his inheritance,” Yishmael claimed.
“You are mistaken!” Eliezer objected. “Your father sent you to the desert, and you no longer have a share in his inheritance! I am the one who will inherit the money of my elderly master, because I have been serving him loyally for many years.”
The two were still debating when a Bas Kol emerged and declared: “Neither this one nor this one will inherit. Yitzchak alone will inherit!”
The sun was beginning to set, but Eretz Hamoriah was not yet visible on the horizon.
“The journey is taking a long time,” Yishmael murmured. “We’ve been walking for hours already. According to my calculations, we should have been there by now.”
Yishmael did not know that Hashem purposely delayed Avraham in order to give him time to think about the tremendous sacrifice being requested of him. Without that extra time, people would have said that Avraham had acted out of confusion and because he was shell-shocked by the command.
On the third day, the riders reached a place called Tzofim.
Avraham raised his gaze and saw a large cloud enveloping the mountain facing him. “Is this the mountain that Hashem wants us to climb?” he asked. He turned to his son. “Tell me, Yitzchak, do you see that cloud at the top of the mountain?”
“Yes. There is also a pillar of fire ascending from the ground up to the Heavens!” Yitzchak exclaimed.
“And you, Eliezer and Yishmael,” Avraham turned to his other son and his servant, “do you see something?”
“No, we do not see anything,” Eliezer replied. Yishmael agreed.
“If so, remain here with the donkey,” Avraham declared. “The youth and I will go and prostrate ourselves and we will return to you.” Avraham Avinu did not realize that he was prophesying when he promised that he would return with his son, alive.
Avraham left the donkey behind because he did not want to bring an impure animal onto the holy mount. He placed the chopped wood on Yitzchak’s back and carried a flaming torch and the knife in his arms. Together with his son, he began to walk with tremendous joy and a calm heart to the place that Hashem had selected.
Along the Way
While Avraham was ascending the mountain, an elderly man approached him.
“Saba! Saba! Where are you going?”
“I am going to pray,” Avraham replied. He recognized the old man as the satan who was trying to dissuade him from carrying out Hashem’s directives.
“And why are you taking the fire, the knife, and the wood?” the satan asked.
“We might stay on the mountain for two or three days. With these, we will be able to prepare food,” Avraham replied.
The satan saw that Avraham was pushing him away. He shouted: “Old man! Don’t you have any mercy? Have you lost your heart? Your son was born when you were 100 years old. Now you want to slaughter him?”
“Indeed, that is what I am doing!” Avraham replied with great strength.
“Hashem should not have tested you with this challenge!” the satan coaxed him, trying a different tack. “All your life you taught the nations that one must not sacrifice the blood of another human being, and that they must not give their children to Molech. Now you are doing this? The people will mock you, and all that you have worked for in your life will be destroyed!”
“And still, I will do this!” Avraham replied.
“What if, after you slaughter your son, Hashem asks you, too, to die for Him? Isn’t it better to refuse now, and at least you will spare the young man’s life?!”
“If my Creator will ask me to give my life for His Honor, that is what I will do!” Avraham replied. “The One Who created the pure soul within me can take it and can give it back.”
“And what if Hashem will punish you for cutting your son’s life short and spilling innocent blood?” the satan insisted. “One must not kill!”
“Even if I receive a punishment for this act, I am ready,” Avraham declared. He forged ahead with emunah.
When the satan saw that Avraham was so faithful to his Creator, he turned and appealed to Yitzchak.
“Where are you going, Yitzchak?” he asked.
“I am going to learn Torah.”
“Alive or dead?” the satan snickered.
“Only a live person can learn Torah,” Yitzchak replied.
“Oh, you wretched soul!” the satan shouted. “Despite the many fasts your mother fasted to merit a son, your father wants to slaughter you!”
“I will not transgress my father’s commandment and the Will of my Creator,” Yitzchak replied. He was deeply moved by his father’s dveikus to Hashem. “I will do this!”
“It’s not a wise thing to die, you must think about what your mother will feel,” the satan tried to play on the son’s conscience. “How much pain will she feel when she sees the servant’s son inheriting your father!”
Yitzchak began to fear that perhaps this was a mitzvah haba’ah b’aveirah. He turned to his father. “Father, Father,” he pleaded, seeking to evoke the natural middah of rachamim that a father has for his son. “Here is the fire and the trees, but where is the lamb to be sacrificed?”
“If Hashem wants, we will find the lamb near the mizbeiach. If we don’t find a lamb, you will be a Korban Tamim,” Avraham said.
Yitzchak realized that he was going to be slaughtered. Still, he did not protest or try to flee. On the contrary, he accepted the decree with complete submission, and even made sure to do everything possible not to damage his father’s korban, chalilah. And thus, father and son walked together, their hearts turned toward Hashem.
The satan saw them and fumed. How could this be? He immediately transformed himself into a roiling river that threatened to drown everything. But the tzaddikim walked right into the rushing waters. When the waters reached his chest, Avraham raised his eyes to the Heavens and said: “Ribbon Ha’Olamim, You appeared to me and said, ‘I am One and you are one, inform the whole world of My Name and sacrifice your son.’ I did not question Your words, and did not delay. Now the waters have reached my heart. If my son Yitzchak will drown, how will Your Name be glorified?”
Immediately, Hashem rebuked the satan, and the waters dried up.
Avraham and Yitzchak continued on their way until HaKadosh Baruch Hu pointed to the place for Avraham. “This is the mizbeiach,” Hashem said.
This was the mizbeiach that Adam Harishon had sacrificed on. Kayin and Hevel brought their korbanos on this mizbeiach as well. It had been destroyed in the Mabul and rebuilt by Noach. It was destroyed yet again in the time of the Dor Haflagah.
Now, when Avraham and Yitzchak quickly gathered the stones and rebuilt it once more, their faces glowed with the joy of Yom Hachuppah. Avraham looked like he was escorting his son to the chuppah; Yitzchak’s face glowed like the face of a chassan.
“Father, after my death, who will take care of you in your old age?” Yitzchak worried.
“We are old, and our deaths are near,” Abraham answered. “The One Who consoled us until now will console us until our deaths.”
“Father, quickly do the Will of your Creator, and burn me well,” Yitzchak said. “After I am burned, send my ashes to my mother. I am sure that whenever she will see them, she will say, ‘This is my son that his father slaughtered!’ ”
Yitzchak spoke with joy, and Avraham became nervous that the satan would harm Yitzchak as they were completing the preparations. “Wait here,” he instructed. “Hide from the harmful forces, so that the satan will not come and throw a stone at you to disqualify you from being sacrificed!”
Yitzchak hid until Avraham called him and invited him to lie on the mizbeiach.
When Avraham wanted to start the Akeidah, Yitzchak’s hands and feet began to tremble from fear of the knife. “Father…” he said, “I am afraid that my body might shake, and I will kick you from fear of the knife. And then your korban will be disqualified, and I will have caused you distress and desecrated your honor! Please, tie me well, so I don’t move, chalilah.”
Avraham agreed. He bound Yitzchak’s arms and legs behind his body, and then placed him atop the wood. And at that moment, Hashem bound the sarim of the nations of the world in the Heavens, and weakened their strength, so that they would never be able to rule over Am Yisrael.
The Heavenly Entourage gazed at Avraham, standing at the top of the mountain, his son — who had been born to him at a ripe old age — bound before him. The malachim were awed; would a human being be able to overpower his nature and his feelings? Would he be able to suppress the natural compassion of a father? Could he make his mind rule over his stormy emotions?
Yitzchak lay there, gazing at his father in silence, submitting to his father.
The elderly Avraham focused his thoughts and prepared himself until his entire being conveyed the message: I am ready and willing to fulfill this mitzvas aseh! Guided solely by the commandment of his G-d, and happy to do His Will, Avraham’s hands did not tremble, his heart did not flutter. He placed his leg on Yitzchak, the way one does with an animal being brought as a korban, reached out his hand, and took the knife to slaughter his son.
As Avraham reached for the knife, tears rolled from his eyes in fatherly compassion; still, his heart rejoiced to fulfill the Will of his Creator. His eyes looked into Yitzchak’s eyes, and Yitzchak’s eyes looked Heavenward. Avraham’s tears fell into Yitzchak’s eyes and blinded him. Yitzchak burst into tears and raised his voice, saying: “Esa einai el heharim me’ayin yavo ezri, ezri me’im Hashem.”
At that moment, the Heavenly Angels shouted and cried: “Is this the reward for Avraham ha’Ivri, who stood opposite the world and taught the people about Hashem? Is this his reward for bringing in so many guests, and for planting an eishel tree so that he should have guests regularly in his tent? Is this the reward for the one who fulfilled the bris kodesh?”
The Ministering Angels stood near the Kisei Hakavod facing the mizbeiach that Avraham built. They said to one another: “Look at the only two tzaddikim in the world, one is slaughtering, and one is being slaughtered. The slaughterer is not delaying, and the one being slaughtered is sticking out his neck.”
The malachim shed three tears, damaging the knife that Avraham had placed on his son’s neck. Because the sword had reached his neck, Yitzchak’s soul had departed. Now, a Bas Kol emerged from between the Keruvim and said: “Al tishlach yadcha — do not reach out your hand.” Immediately, Yitzchak’s soul returned to his body, and Avraham released him.
Yitzchak rose up and stood on his feet. He understood that this was how the dead will one day be resurrected. “Baruch Atah Hashem, Mechayeh Hameisim!” he declared.
Avraham needed only to move the knife to perform the slaughter, when another Bas Kol emerged from between the Keruvim, calling affectionately, “Avraham, Avraham!”
“Who are you?” Avraham asked, and stopped in his tracks.
“I am a malach,” came the reply.
“When Hashem told me to bring Yitzchak as a sacrifice, He Himself commanded me to do so. Now I ask that He Himself tell me to stop!”
The Heavens opened, and Hashem’s Voice was heard. “By Myself I have sworn.”
“I too have sworn that I will not come down from the mizbeiach until I have said everything I need to,” answered Avraham.
“Speak,” Hashem agreed.
“You told me, ‘Because through Yitzchak you will have descendants,'” Avraham began. “Then You told me, ‘Kach na es bincha, please take your son.’ And now You say, ‘Do not reach out your hand toward the boy.’ How am I to reconcile all of these different commands?”
“I will not violate My covenant, nor will I change the utterance of My lips,” Hashem answered. “When I commanded you to take your son, I didn’t command you to slaughter him — only that you should bring him as a sacrifice!”
“Nonetheless, I wanted to respond to you and I [held myself back and] refrained from responding to your command,” Abraham reminded Hashem, “therefore I beg you, when the sons of Yitzchak sin before You, and they cling to their sins and find themselves suffering, please remember the Akeidah of their father Yitzchak and redeem them from their travails.”
“When they ask that I forgive them,” Hashem replied, “they should blow the shofar before me.”
“Look, the knife I had was damaged by the tears of the angels,” Avraham added, showing it to his Creator.
“I therefore cannot sacrifice my son —but my hands are outstretched so that I can kill him by choking him.”
“Don’t lay your hand on the boy!” the malach warned, seeing that Avraham so greatly desired to sacrifice his son. “Hashem is not interested in human sacrifice.”
“Perhaps I should draw just a drop of blood from my son, so that it be considered that I brought him as asacrifice?” Avraham asked.
“Don’t do anything to him!” The malach ordered. “Now everyone knows how great is your love for the Creator!”
Avraham stood and called out, “Master of all the Worlds, I will not remove my son Yitzchak from the mizbeiach until You swear to me that the Akeidah will be considered as though he were actually sacrificed,
as if Yitzchak’s ashes were gathered and laid in front of You.”
And the One who can revive the dead swore to him.
Moment of Sacrifice
Avraham raised his eyes and saw a ram. This ram had been created on Erev Shabbos bein hashemashos. It would stand under the Eitz Chaim in Gan Eden and graze, drinking from the waters that flowed beneath the tree. Now, the ram emitted the aroma of Gan Eden, and the smell spread throughout the world. Avraham saw the ram, its horns tangled in the brambles. The ram grabbed onto Avraham’s tallis. Avraham understood that this ram had been prepared for him to bring as a korban.
Avraham sacrificed the ram as an Olah in place of his son. Throughout the avodah he davened that each step of the sacrifice be a replacement for slaughtering Yitzchak: “May this be considered as if I sacrificed my son. As if my son was slaughtered, as if his blood was thrown, as if he was skinned, as if he was niktar and made into deshen.”
Avraham called the place “Hashem Yireh” because the world has no secrets from Hashem, and in that place, all had been clear to Him. The Creator knows all that is transpiring in our inner selves; He knew that the heart of Avraham was completely at peace with the Akeidah. Avraham then davened that Hashem choose the place of the Akeidah as the resting place of His Shechinah, where His Malchus will be recognized by all.
When Avraham concluded sacrificing the ram, an Angel of Hashem appeared to him a second time. “You swore by me, Avraham,” the angel called, “and because you withstood the test, I swear that I will bless you and your son, and I will multiply your offspring like the stars of the sky and like the sand on the shore. Your sons will prevail over their enemies, and all the nations of the world will be blessed through you.”
Avraham raised his eyes Heavenward and pleaded before the Creator that He not place another test before him or before Yitzchak. HaKadosh Baruch Hu acceded to the request.
Late at night, Avraham and Yitzchak descended from the mountain.
“My son, Yitzchak, we have just withstood the final test. I feel that all this has come to me because I engaged in Torah and mitzvos. I yearn that this Torah should never move from my offspring for eternity. I want you to continue from here straight to the yeshivah of Shem, to learn Torah there.”
“Why should I not go back with you to Yishmael and Eliezer?” Yitzchak asked. “I will accompany you on the way, and go to yeshivah in the morning.”
“No, my son,” Avraham refused. “Go now, in the darkness, so that no one should see you and place an ayin ra’ah on you, saying, ‘This one was bound to the mizbeiach, with a knife on his neck, and he was spared.’ ”
Father and son parted, and Avraham returned to Yishmael and Eliezer, while Yitzchak went to Yeshivas Shem, to grow in Torah.
Daven for Them
The parshah of the Akeidah is one of the most complex ever written. I focused on the story itself, as related in the sources, but bring you a beautiful concept written by Rav Samson Raphael Hirsch:
“Yitzchak was not a child anymore; he was an independent man of 37. We see that his greatness of spirit throughout the Akeidah was no less than that of Avraham’s. Yitzchak did not receive the commandment directly from Hashem; he knew about it only from his father, as Torah shebe’al peh. But he was ready to sacrifice himself for the tradition that had been learned only by his father. This is where the seed was planted for the mesirus nefesh that would be displayed by the generations to come, for what they had learned from their fathers.”
I had the privilege of learning about the Akeidah from Harav Dov Sternbuch ztz”l, in Gateshead. As he related the parshah each Erev Rosh Hashanah, Rav Sternbuch would quote Rav Samson Raphael Hirsch and remind us to daven for our parents, who are moser nefesh for us. He would also plead with us to daven for him.
For 17 years, I merited to daven for Rav Dov ben Devorah for chayim and shalom, until 10 Teves 5780, when we learned that the Rav had returned to his place On High, and that from now on, he would advocate for us from there.
The words of tzaddikim continue to resonate, and the message is still extant: The parshah of the Akeidah is a symbol of the bond and the trust between children and their parents. Therefore, I repeat the words of my rebbi: Daven for your father and mother! Mention the gedolei hador, the rabbanim and the teachers! Plead for them to have a year of yeshuah, health, and Yiddishe nachas, because it is in their merit that we are here.
(Originally featured in Family First, Issue 811)
Oops! We could not locate your form.