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The Binding Of Isaac: What Is the Nature Of the Test?


Torah Text:

And it came to pass after these things (lit. words), that God tested Abraham and said, “Abraham.” And he said, “Here I am.” And He said, “Take your son, your only son, the one you love, Isaac, and go into the land of Moriah and offer him there for a burnt offering upon one of the mountains which I will show you.” (Genesis 22:1-2)



Rashi explains “these words” as a conversation God had with Satan:

“After these words.” Some of the Rabbis say (Sanhedrin 89b) that it means after the words of Satan who denounced Abraham saying, “Of all the banquets which Abraham prepared not a single bullock nor a single ram did he bring as a sacrifice to You.” God replied to him, “Does he do anything at all except for his son's sake? If I were to ask him, 'Sacrifice him to Me,' he would not refuse.”

Rashi, looking at the scene from a different perspective:

“Take your son … and bring him up there as a burnt offering.” Genesis 22:2. He [God] did not say “slay” him, because the Holy One, blessed be He, did not desire that he should slay him, but he told him to bring him up to the mountain to prepare him as a burnt offering. So when he had taken him up, God said, “Bring him down.”

Eitan Gorlin, teacher from Kehillat Israel in Pacific Palisades, CA:

Abraham had doubts abut Isaac's DNA. He was concerned that perhaps Avimelech was Isaac's real father (See Chapter 20:1 - 21:2). So when God commanded Abraham to kill Sarah's “illegitimate” son, God was tapping into an already existing jealousy/concern of Abraham. The test was to whether Abraham would resist the temptation. The test was not “to kill” but rather “not to kill” and Abraham passed the test.

Susanne Valdez, teacher at University Synagogue, Irvine, CA:

I assume that God asked Abraham to sacrifice his son as a test of faith/trust. However, if I were Abraham, I would not feel closer to God. I would feel anger and resentment toward God for asking me to make such an enormous sacrifice. I also think about how unhealthy this would be in regards to his relationship with his son.

Questions for Discussion:

  1. Which of the above comments do you like best?
  2. What is the nature of the test? Is the test to be willing to sacrifice Isaac? Or is it to be willing NOT to sacrifice Isaac?

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