Nothing Happened to Yitzhak

Nothing happened to Yitzhak. He was bound on the altar. That was it.  The knife did not touch his throat. The fire was not kindled.  He was not consumed by the unkindled fire, nor was he reduced to ashes, nor were those ashes heaped before the glory throne, nor was he resurrected by the life giving dew.  Ein hamikra yotzei m’y’dei p’shuto-scripture never exists in its plain meaning. Nothing happened to Yitzhak. He came to Moriah alive and well, and left much the same way. That is why the next passage in the Torah announces the birth of Rivka, his soon to be wife.

The Akedah is the fitting conclusion to the educational odyssey of Avraham and Sarah. Their life story begins with a clear notice that sets the agenda for their development, “and Sarai was barren, she had no child.”  One of the central life lessons that Avraham and Sarah must learn is the meaning of her barrenness. In barrenness lies the promise of birth. They must learn that the Kadosh Barukh Hu, who created all life in six days, continues to be the master of life and creation.  These two, Avraham and Sarah, who believe that there is ought but the one God, who is the creator, nevertheless denied His creatorship beyond the six days of creation.  They are promised that the land will be given to their children; and that their children will become a great nation. Promise follows promise, and they have no children. They doubt the word of God.  They offer alternatives.  Eliezer of Damascus can be the successor.  Yishmael can be the successor.  When told that the successor, the next Patriarch, will be child of Avraham and Sarah, they both mock God.

17 Abraham threw himself on his face and laughed, as he said to himself, “Can a child be born to a man a hundred years old, or can Sarah bear a child at ninety?” 18 And Abraham said to God, “O that Ishmael might live by Your favor!” (Ber. 17)

12 And Sarah laughed to herself, saying, “Now that I am withered, am I to have to flow Eden-like — with my husband so old?” (Ber.18)

Sarah becomes pregnant only after Avraham prays to God to restore fertility to the estate of Avimelekh.

17 Abraham then prayed to God, and God healed Abimelech and his wife and his slave girls, so that they bore children; 18 for the LORD had closed fast every womb of the household of Abimelech because of Sarah, the wife of Abraham. (Ber. 20)

The LORD took note of Sarah as He had promised, and the LORD did for Sarah as He had spoken.

2 Sarah conceived and bore a son to Abraham in his old age, at the set time of which God had spoken.  (Ber. 21)

In so doing Avraham and Sarah learn that the creation of life is still in God’s hands. Now they are summoned to the test of the Akedah.  God in effect is saying to Avraham, “You two, alone in the whole world, know that I am the one God who has created heaven and earth.  Yet when I told you that you would have a child, you laughed at me.  Well now comes the test.  If you really, really believe that in your withered old age I created life with the two of you; if you really, really believe that I am the One, who gave you Isaac, then you will give Isaac back to me.”  This makes perfect sense.  For if you really believe that in your withered old age, God has miraculously given you a child, you’d surely give the child to God.  The test of the Akedah is to give the child back to God. The promise of the Akedah is that, if you do so, the child will be returned to you. Avraham passed the test. Yitzhak is returned. The Akedah is a narrative whose purpose is exposed at the very outset. Sarah was barren. How will she birth?  God continues to create life.  Avraham and Sarah learned the lesson well.  Nothing happened to Yitzhak.

About the Author
Rabbi Yehiel Poupko is Rabbinic Scholar at the Jewish Federation of Metropolitan Chicago.
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