This week’s Torah portion is action packed and full of Messianic significance.
But this is also a very troubling parasha:
- Story of Sodom and Gomorrah
- Abraham pawning off Sarah as his sister – A SECOND TIME!
- During Lot’s escape from the city, his wife is turned into a pillar of salt
- Daughters of Lot get their father drunk, and then sleep with him
- Hagar cast into the desert, and Ishmael almost dies of thirst
The central story, of course, is the Akeidah, the binding of Isaac (Genesis 22). There is more commentary written on this passage than on any other portion in the Torah. The rabbis struggled with this passage and its meanings. As we delve into the Akeidah, it is vitally important to keep in mind the words of German Bible scholar Gerhard Von Rad:
One should renounce any attempt to discover one basic idea as the meaning of the whole. There are many levels of meaning.
This is especially true of the Akeidah. It has many lessons to be learned. Even the ‘WHY?’ is complicated. It is not just a test. It’s bigger than that!
The Torah states that G-d will provide Himself the lamb (vs. 8), an offering in place of Isaac. This is the reason we sound a shofar (a ram’s horn) on Rosh HaShanah and why this passage is read on the second day of Rosh HaShanah; to recall the substitution of the ram and to recall HaShem’s mercy. And the shofar itself contains a hint to Mashiach. According to the Talmud:
Rabbi Abahu asked, “Why do we sound the horn of a ram? Because the Holy One, Blessed be He, said, ‘Blow Me a ram’s horn that I may remember unto you the binding of Isaac the son of Abraham, and I shall account it unto you for a binding of yourselves before me (b.Rosh Hashana 16b).’”
Resurrection and Atonement
Although it may not be the majority position, there are a few commentaries that claim that Abraham really went through with it – that he really sacrificed Isaac. This idea is drawn from the text itself – they go up together, but Abraham returns alone:
|יט וַיָּשָׁב אַבְרָהָם אֶל-נְעָרָיו, וַיָּקֻמוּ וַיֵּלְכוּ יַחְדָּו אֶל-בְּאֵר שָׁבַע; וַיֵּשֶׁב אַבְרָהָם בִּבְאֵר שָׁבַע.||19 So Abraham returned unto his young men, and they arose and went together to Beer-sheva; and Abraham dwelt at Beer-sheva.|
Interestingly, immediately after this Sarah dies (see next week’s parasha). The rabbis speculate that it is due to hearing the news of Isaac and seeing Abraham return alone. One reason for this speculation is that very little is mentioned of Isaac after this, and there is a very clear change in the Hebrew (as if written by someone else – a later revision).
However, even more interesting, there is another remarkable tradition that Abraham completed the sacrifice and that afterward Isaac was miraculously revived …
Ibn Ezra (12th cent.) quotes an opinion that Abraham actually did kill Isaac … and that he was later resurrected from the dead.
Furthermore, Saadia Gaon (10th cent.) states, “there are ten reasons for blowing the shofar … the sixth one is to remind us of the binding of Isaac who offered himself to Heaven. So ought we be ready at all times to offer our lives for the sanctification of His name.”
According to the Encyclopedia Judaica, such views enjoyed a wide circulation in medieval writings. There are even a few references to Isaac’s sacrifice as an act of atonement:
-Philo (1st cent.) refers to Isaac as the son/servant of Isaiah 53, who provides atonement for both Jew and Gentile.
-Shir HaShirim Rabbah, quoting Song of Songs 1:14: “‘A bundle of myrrh (kofer) is my beloved.’ This refers to Isaac, who was tied up like a bundle upon the altar. Kofer, because he atones for the sins of Israel (1, sec. 14).”
Within the Akeidah we see not only a message of faith, obedience and sacrifice, but also a message of resurrection and redemption. Within our Jewish tradition, the Akeidah carries a glimpse of an even greater hope, a greater redemption, and a greater Resurrection still to come.