It was one of the greatest challenges of all time, the greatest sacrifice ever asked of a man: to offer up his own son. We often explain the difficulty of Abraham’s test according to the pain a loving father must endure in killing his beloved child; or because Abraham, being the worldwide leader of monotheistic religion, was being asked to do something that mimicked the lowliness of the pagan religions. But let us look deeper.
God Himself came to Abraham and asked him to sacrifice Isaac. Abraham understood better than anyone else what God was all about. He knew that God is compassionate, and that everything He does is for our good. Abraham had already been tested many times, and each time he demonstrated his faith in God and subsequently experienced his personal salvation. So why was this challenge considered so much more difficult than the others he had already faced? Why is it so great that on Rosh HaShanah – the Day of Judgment – we read this story in defense of our very lives?
The answer is that Abraham’s challenge had nothing to with the actual slaughter of his son. He was absolutely ready to perform this faithfully. But God had just said that Isaac would be his progeny and his spiritual legacy. And now He was telling him to kill Isaac. Wouldn’t anyone be confused by the conflicting messages he was receiving? But Abraham was made of greater stuff. He did not question God’s ability to make one out of two seemingly conflicting things. He was able to rise to the level where faith in God became his personal reality, even when all his senses screamed out, “This is impossible!”
The Torah hints to Abraham’s faith in the verse, “And he saw the place [of the future Temple] from afar … And he called the name of that place HaShem-Yireh, as it is said to this day, ‘In the mount where God is seen’” (Genesis 22:4-14). On his way to killing his son, Abraham saw the future site of the Temple. He understood that the Jewish people would be born and that God’s Presence would one day rest there. True, this was very “far” fetched, considering the task he was currently charged with; nevertheless, he strengthened his faith in God and behavedas though he saw God’s very promise unfolding before him.
How did Abraham reach this level? By focusing on the “today” and the “now.” The exact details of how things were going to work out mattered little to him. God asked him to do something, and he put all his concentration and devotion into fulfilling His request.
Elijah the prophet was asked, “When will you come [to usher in the Messianic era]?” He answered, “Today, if you will heed my voice” (Sanhedrin 98a). One may ask: Certainly there were many great Tzaddikim who completely fulfilled God’s precepts; if so, why has Mashiach not yet arrived? Although it’s impossible for us to grasp, these great Tzaddikim actually did bring the Mashiach. Yes, it is currently being withheld due to the actions of others, but the day will come when their actions will be recalled and we will see that, indeed, Mashiach did come.
Each of us has similar questions. Challenged by various tests, we often we feel we’ve given it our best, but we don’t see our salvation. When will our personal “Mashiach” finally come? Like Abraham, we must be capable of lucidly envisioning our future redemption: yes, the day will come. More importantly, we have to live in the present. The “how” and “when” is in the hands of God, for God is capable of creating one even out of two opposites. But we are capable of focusing on what matters right now, and by living this way, we, too, can make peace out of all our conflicts. Amen!
Based on Likutey Halakhot, Matanah 5