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Son Sacrifice: Humility and the Significance of the Akeda

November 13th, 2008by Haim Watzman · 5 Comments · Judaism and Religion

Haim Watzman

Many years ago, when I lived at Kibbutz Tirat Tzvi, a storm erupted in synagogue on Shabbat Vayare—the Shabbat, like this coming one, on which we read the story of Akedat Yitzhak, the binding of Isaac.

The shouts of anger and dismay were occasioned by one of the plethora of pamphlets that appear in nearly every synagogue in Israel, each one offering interpretations and glosses on the weekly Torah portion. The pamphlet in question had been written by an American immigrant to Israel, and it broke with tradition by condemning, rather than lauding, Abraham’s willingness to follow God’s command to sacrifice his son.

This was many years ago, so I don’t remember the name of the author or his exact words, but he pointed out—and he was hardly the first to do so—the anomaly between Abraham’s attempt to deter God from his plan to destroy the evil city of Sodom and the patriarch’s mute acceptance of the command to slaughter his son. In pleading for Sodom, Abraham argues that the city’s righteous inhabitants would be killed along with the guilty—and that God, the world’s judge, would be seen as committing an injustice. Yet Abraham raises no objection at all to the unjust sentence imposed on his own innocent, beloved son, nor to God’s insistence that he, Abraham, be the instrument of God’s injustice. The writer expressed his horror at Abraham’s behavior, and censured it in no uncertain words.

My guess is that his visceral reaction to Abraham’s apparently mindless obedience was triggered by a liberal American liberal upbringing. Like me, he’d been taught by his parents and by his society not to remain silent in the face of injustice and never to obey an unjust command without question.

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Image: The Binding of Isaac by Roni Pinto

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