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The ultimate test of Abraham

What was so great about the binding of Isaac?

hebrew scriptures with BENJAMIN LEON

And it came to pass after these things that God tested Abraham, and He said to him: “… Please take your son, your only one, whom you love, Isaac, and go away to the land of Moriah, and bring him up there as an offering on one of the mountains, of which I will tell you….” (Genesis 22).

[In the Binding of Isaac] lies the entire glory of Israel and their merit before their Father in Heaven. And that is why it pervades our prayers every day. Quote: Rabbi Don Isaac Abarbanel (1437-1508).

Why did God test Abraham? Why does He test us? Why does an all-knowing God need to test anybody? Shouldn’t He know what is in our hearts without testing us?

A test is any situation that demands more from you than you think you have. In a test, if you would use your rational mind, you would say: “This is impossible. This is not what I bargained for. I don’t have to do this because it is not within my skill set. It is beyond who I am.”

You don’t pass a test with understanding, with reason. You pass a test with rock-solid faith and blind perseverance.
Tests are closely related to miracles. In fact, in Hebrew they are practically the same word.

A miracle is when God breaks out of his standard pattern of natural law and demonstrates unlimited powers. A test is when God invites you to do the same. That is why people who pass tests cause miracles to happen — God is mirroring them.

There are different kinds of tests. All of them break barriers. Some tests take a person past old habits that bridle him. Others pull out of him new strength, a tenacity, a deep confidence in his purpose and the inherent goodness within the world.

The ultimate test is that which takes a person beyond the ultimate barrier: The barrier between creation and Creator. Such was the test Abraham passed when he was asked to offer up his son Isaac.

The actual sacrifice was a ram caught in the thicket by its horns. Human sacrifice as a crucifixion or suicide bombing is an abomination.

Abraham had passed many tests before — nine in total. As a young man, he had chosen certain death in a fiery furnace over worship of the evil demagogue, King Nimrod, and was miraculously saved. Throughout his life, he had never questioned God’s justice, despite his many tribulations. Except for once, when he demanded justice for the inhabitants of Sodom and Gemorrah — and that itself was how he passed another test.

But the test of offering Isaac was a class in itself. Because this test made absolutely no sense.

Throw yourself in a fiery furnace rather than worship a megalomaniac who thinks he is a god — you’ve made a statement and you’ve got it out there. The same with all the other tests — they were ways to promote a cause, to publicise to the world the faith of Abraham. And as such, there always lurked a doubt that perhaps, just perhaps, all this was tied to Abraham’s ego. Because what could be a greater accomplishment than being the founder of the faith of Abraham?
Turn the whole world on its head and you’ll be the most significant man in history. Isn’t that worth fire and high water, and even death itself?

But the Akedah (“Binding” of Isaac) didn’t fit that profile. The Akedah flew in the face of everything Abraham ever stood for: that God is good and kind, that He keeps His promises and has a destiny for His world. All this is thrown out the window when God says: “Abraham! Remember that son I promised you, for which you waited for so long? The one about whom I promised he is destined to carry on all that you began so that it will continue until eternity? Remember how I told you to listen to Sarah against your own judgement and send Ishmael away so that this other son could flourish? The son who you have fostered with your wisdom and trained for his destiny these many years? The son of your old age, that you love more than any father has ever loved a son?

“Take him to the land of Moriah and raise him up for a burnt offering on one of the mountains I will show you there.”
No explanation. No consolation. No excuses. Just do it. Turn around and destroy everything you have built until this day so that there will never be a chance to rebuild.

To repeat: Human sacrifice is an abomination!

Benjamin Leon is a member of the Jewish community in Zimbabwe.
Feedback: vleon@ mango.zw

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