Yael Chaya Miriam Gray

Hineni and Akeidas Yitzchok

Before the sin:
Both the man and his wife were naked[; G-d spoke with them,] and they were not afraid. [Bereishis 2:25].
After the sin:
  • Then the man and his wife heard the voice of the L-RD G-d walking in the garden in the breeze of the day – [that is, Adam had a prophetic experience, for the voice of G-d is prophecy, see below];
  • and they hid themselves from the presence of the L-RD G-d among the trees of the garden [talk about irony! And chutzpah! Adam was supposed to tend and protect the garden, but here, he expects the trees of the garden – by which he had sinned – to tend and protect him from the Divine Presence.]
  • But the L-RD G-d called out to the man, “Why are you not where you belong?” [R. David Fohrman].
  • “I heard Your voice in the garden” [- viz., I had a prophetic experience – Adam] replied,
  • “and I was afraid [viz., because my vessel of reception is contaminated by my sin and i am now unfit to receive prophecy, Your voice – which, once, I used to cherish – SCARES ME NO END]
  • because I was naked – [-viz., because I had lost my identity by sinning, prophecy became a very scary business, and I don’t belong in this garden anymore!]
  • So I hid myself. [Bereishis 3:8-9.]
  • From whom did Adam hide himself? Well, he certainly didn’t succeed at hiding himself from G-d. But Adam did do a fairly creditable job of hiding himself from himself!
Let us look at this story a bit more closely and compare it to the Akeidas Yitzchok narrative. Right away, one notices the stark contrast between how Adam answered G-d’s question to him after the sin, and how Avrohom answered G-d, Yitzchok, his son, and the angel of the L-rd, in the Akeidah narrative. To wit:
  • And it happened after these things that G-d tested Avrohom and said to him, “Avrohom.” And he replied, “Hineni! (“Here I am”).
  • Then Yitzchok spoke to Avrohom and said, “Father -” And he [Avrohom] said, “Hineni, my son.
  • And he [Yitzchok Avinu] said, “Here are the fire and the wood, but where is the lamb for the offering?
  • And Avrohom replied, “G-d will seek out for Himself the lamb for the offering, my son.”
  • “And he [Avrohom] stretched out his hand, and took the knife to slaughter his son.
  • And an angel of HASHEM called to hm from heaven, and said, “Avrohom! Avrohom!”
  • And he [Avrohom] said, “Hineni.” And he [the angel, quoting Hashem] said, “Do not stretch out your hand against the lad, nor do anything to him, for now I know that you are a G-d-fearing man, since you have not withheld your son, your only one, from Me.”
Interpreted on the simplest level, G-d’s question to Adam and Chava in Gan Eden – which is translated in my Siddur as “where are you?” – makes no sense at all. Did G-d not know where Adam and Chava were, heaven forbid? Of course He knew where they were! It was Adam and Chava who had “forgotten where they were” for, “where a man’s thoughts are, that is where he is”! And Adam and Chava had not yet done teschuva for their sin so, in a sense, they had already forfeited their identities and had left the garden.
G-d was not asking Adam and Chava for a GPS location. He was asking Adam and Chava why they were not where they belonged (R. Fohrman, Id.), if they remembered who they were and what their mission was, “where” they were holding. Their answer to G-d makes it abundantly clear that no, Adam and Chava did not remember.
So G-d’s question, “Why are you not where you belong?” – to me – goes to the core of Adam and Chava’s respective holy identities which, in sinning, they had lost. They were “naked.” They no longer belonged in the garden. So they were afraid, and attempted to hide from G-d.
To me, this question is the equivalent of G-d asking Adam and Chava, “WHO are you? You do not appear to be the same Adam and Chava whom I so lovingly made and placed in this beautiful garden. Have you forgotten your names? Have you forgotten the critical mission I have given to you, to tend and guard my garden, which you agreed to accomplish?” For in Torah, a person’s name is his/her character, his/her mission, a valuable clue as to who they are and where they are holding.
Had Adam and Eve not sinned – or maybe even if they had repented promptly and sincerely of their sin – their answer to G-d’s question would have been, should have been, “Hineni.” Alas!
So – at least to me – there appears to be some connection between the question G-d asked of Adom and Chava in the Garden, after they sinned, and the implicit questions which G-d, Yitzchok, and the angel of G-d asked of Avrohom Avinu in the Akeidah narrative. What could that connection be?
Well, first, the implicit question which G-d asks Avrohom in the Akeidah narrative does not occur as the result of a sin. Instead, it appears that G-d is inquiring whether Avrohom truly understands and accepts his mission, to be the father of many nations until the end of all time, no matter what the personal cost, because that’s what the name, Avrohom, means,
Second, in calling him by the name which G-d had given to him – Avraham – and not by Avram, the name which his earthly father, Terach, the idol maker, had bestowed upon him – G-d is letting Avrohom know that a BIG, mission-related test was coming his way (“Shall I hide from Avrohom what I am doing?), and that it was ABSOLUTELY ESSENTIAL to the survival of the entire world – and to Avrohom’s personal tikkun – that he pass this test.
That’s why G-d is so sensitive when he identifies the intended sacrifice as “Your son, your only one, whom you love, Yitzchok.” G-d is saying to Avrohom, I know this is going to be hard. But PLEASE, pass this test, FOR ME.
Unlike Adam and Chava, who were asked the selfsame question after they sinned (in order that they should think about what they had done, and repent for it), Avrohom knew EXACTLY where he was and where he was holding. So he replies to G-d with one word: “Hineni.”
This is a very important word in Judaism, and it appears in Torah again and again. Moshe Rabbeinu said “Hineni” to G-d. Shmuel haNavi said “Hineni” to G-d. Isaiah haNavi said “Hineni” to G-d.
And it is clear from the Torah that all of them said “Hineni” when they accepted a very great and very difficult mission from G-d, a mission essential to the survival of the entire universe, a mission which only these holy souls – with their unique personalities – could accomplish.
Now, we are G-d’s priests, His agents in the universe. In a very real sense, we are His eyes, ears, hands, and feet in this world, the means by which G-d prefers to reveal Himself. This being the case, it appears “hineni” means, “I know who I am and what my mission is, and I accept both gladly, whatever the cost may be!” It’s the same with Avrohom’s response to Yitzchok, who inquired of his father, “Father -“.
Now, Yitzchok Avinu was 37 years old when he made this inquiry of his father, Avrohom. And he was no dummy. He was very learned and a great, great prophet. So Yitzchok Avinu KNEW that he was DIN (strict judgment), that his father, Avrohom, was Chesed (lovingkindness), and that they were polar opposites.
Yitzchok Avinu KNEW that G-d created the world based upon mercy (Chesed, lovingkindness, AVROHOM), and that it could not survive unless something was done to control DIN (strict judgment, YITZCHOK). For the worlds which G-d had previously created and destroyed were destroyed because they were founded on DIN. And, as I have said before, Yitzchok Avinu is the very personification of DIN. Yitzchok knew all of this.
The Akeidah narrative never mentions that Avrohom Avinu ever explicitly told Yitzchok Avinu that he was to be the lamb, because it doesn’t have to mention it. Yitzchok Avinu KNEW that he was the sacrificial lamb. So when he says, “Father,” to Avrohom, Yitzchok is asking Avrohom whether it is not also Avrohom’s mission to be his father. Avrohom replies, once again, “Hineni, my son.”
How are we to understand the meaning of this “Hineni, my son”? I’ve busted my skull on this verse for years. And today, Baruch Hashem, an explanation occurred to me. When Avrohom replies, “Hineni, my son,” this is what I think he means:
“Yes, Yitzchok, I know I am your father and that it is my duty to act toward you with love and compassion. But I must also think of my future children, whom G-d has promised to give me, THROUGH YOU. You, my beloved son, you KNOW that the world cannot survive G-d’s strict judgment. So my actions now are eminently fatherly, compassionate, and loving. For the sake of my future children, it appears G-d wants me to shecht you. This, too, is compassion. I have no choice but to follow G-d’s commandment, and trust in Him to somehow fulfill his promise to me, that the offspring I shall have THROUGH YOU will be ‘greater than the stars in the sky and the sand on the seashore.’ Have faith!”
Avrohom’s “Hineni, my son,” to Yitzchok Avinu encapsulated all of the above. And, satisfied with this explanation, Yitzchok Avinu not only consented to be the sacrificial lamb: he was eager to do it. So much so that Yitzchok Avinu, considering his youthful vigor and his father’s advanced age and possible frailty, begged his father to bind him very tightly, so that Yitzchok wouldn’t wiggle from fear of the knife and blemish himself, becoming an unfit sacrifice! (See Bereishis Rabbah).
“And he [Avrohom] took the fire and the knife.” Fire, to burn the wood which Avrohom placed upon Yitzchok’s back. This wood represents the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil, from which Adom and Chava mistakenly ate. The fire is meant to burn this wood, for G-d intended the Yetzer Hora to be fuel for the Yetzer Tov. The “fire and the knife” symbolize the revolving, flaming sword that was placed in the hands of the cheruv, who guards the way back to Gan Eden.
Now, I’m getting the idea! Akeidas Yitzchok was meant to rectify the sin of Adom and Chova! It was essential to G-d’s plan that DIN be bound, so as to open for humankind the access roads to the higher worlds, which had been barred to Adam – and to his children – ever since the sin!
“And the two of them [Avrohom and Yitzchok] went together”: one to sacrifice, and the other to be sacrificed. And our Sages write that Yitzchok Avinu was even more eager to be sacrificed than His father, Avrohom, was to sacrifice him.
“And he [Avrohom] stretched out his hand, and took the knife to slaughter his son. And an angel of HASHEM called to him from heaven, and said, “Avrohom! Avrohom!” And he [Avrohom] said, “Hineni.” And he [the angel, quoting Hashem] said, “Do not stretch out your hand against the lad, nor do anything to him, for now I know that you are a G-d-fearing man, since you have not withheld your son, your only one, from Me.”
“Stretched out his hand to take the knife” – just as Chava stretched out her hand to pick the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge, so Avrohom stretched out the knife to slaughter his son, to rectify this sin.
“Avrohom! Avrohom!” – why does the angel repeat Avrohom’s name? Two reasons: (1) to signify Avrohom’s dual mission as father of many nations, and father to Yitzchok Avinu, and that there is no contradiction between these two missions; and (2) because everyone has two souls: one above and one below. The angel spoke to both souls of Avrohom Avinu for, like all of us, Avrohom had a leg in both worlds. But, unlike most of us, Avrohom knew this, was constantly aware of this, and heard the voice of G-d on both levels, following it on both levels, above and below.
For our Sages assure us that the Patriarchs are the merkava (chariot), and Avrohom Avinu was the first of these Patriarchic merkavot. This means that there was essentially no difference at all between the will of G-d and the will of Avrohom Avinu. As R. Abraham Abulafia would say of Avrohom, it is as if “he were He” (Chayei Olam HaBa?)
“Do not stretch out your hand against the lad, nor do anything to him, for now I know that you are a G-d-fearing man.” This is extraordinary! Why does G-d apparently command Avrohom Avinu to shecht Isaac, and then command His angel to urge Avrohom not to shecht Yitzchok? Did G-d change his mind, heaven forbid?
No way, Jose! Because Yitzchok Avinu – holy, sanctified, rectified DIN – is a code word in the Torah for when we overcome our Yetzer Hora, which is rooted in unrectified DIN. And we are absolutely FORBIDDEN to slay our Yetzer Hora completely (Zohar).
Why? Because the Yetzer Hora – sanctified, uplifted DIN, YITZCHOK – is meant to be fuel for the Yetzer Tov, pure lovingkindness, personified by Avrohom Avinu. So all Avrohom had to do was to BIND Din/YITZCHOK and raise him up on the altar, as an olah to Hashem, in order to sanctify him further, to rectify him further. It was not necessary to shed even a drop of Yitzchok Avinu’s holy blood.
What relevance does this story have to us, who cannot even begin to contemplate the holiness, the greatness, of our Patriarchs? After all, we are not Avrohom Avinu or Yitzchok Avinu.
What it means is that all of us, Avrohom’s children, must likewise bind, elevate, and sanctify the DIN in our respective personalities, to make it meaningful. And, in repenting thoroughly for our sins, turn DIN into CHESED, which is the fit and appropriate food which Hashem has created to nourish the holy Yetzer Tov.
“And all the nations of the world will be blessed by your offspring, because you have listened to My VOICE.” NOT My words. MY VOICE. Avrohom Avinu was the first person in recorded history who understood that “word” and “voice” are two different levels of Divine communication.
G-d’s word to Avrohom – as Avrohom may have understood it at the time – was to shecht Yitzchok. G-d’s VOICE said merely to bind him. “As to us” and “As to G-d.” Two different levels.
The lower level – word – is communication from our limited, mortal point-of-view. The higher level – voice – is communication from G-d’s point-of-view (and this is also the difference between Yosef and Yehudah. See the Mei Ha Shiloach by R. Yosef Mordechai Lerner, on Parashas Vayigash).
For it is axiomatic that there are 600,000 “letters” in the Torah, just as there are 600,000 Jewish souls who stood at Har Sinai. But if you count up the Torah’s letters, there are not nearly that many. There are only 304,805 letters in Torah.
But each letter of Torah is a “word” all unto itself: a cosmic, creative energy that can be spelled out, permuted, combined with other letters. The remainder of the 600,000 “letters/”words” in Torah consist of the empty spaces between each letter. (R. Ephraim Nisenbaum).
And it is from these empty spaces that Prophecy issues, for this is “Voice.” “Word” issues from Elokhim. “Voice” issues from YKVK. “Voice” is what G-d means; not necessarily just the simple meaning of what He has said. (Mei HaShiloach, Id., the chapter on “Everything Is In The Hands Of Heaven, Including The Fear Of Heaven.”)
Voice is prophecy, as in, “[a]nd all the people saw the voices,” and as in, “[a]nd Avrohom said to his young men, stay here with the donkey. I and the lad will go yonder. We will prostrate ourselves, and we will return to you.” And both Avrohom Avinu and Yitzchok Avinu were divine merkavot and great, great prophets. Who literally saved the world.
It is therefore only fitting that we remind ourselves – and G-d – of this most important fact every single day. Maybe that’s one of the reasons why the Men of the Great Assembly made it a part of the daily Shacharit service.
About the Author
Jewish Mystic.