This week’s Torah portion tells of the binding of Isaac. Its lesson for today is that the Jewish people are defined not by victimhood but by resilience.
“G-d put Abraham to the test (Genesis 22:1).” It is with those words that most Biblical translations begin the story of the binding of Isaac. The question is obvious. Certainly, G-d, who knows all, knew the kind of person Abraham was. G-d Himself said so, when He said, “For I have known him, that he will command his children and his posterity after him, to keep the way of G-d, by doing what is just and right (Genesis 18:19).” Surely there was no need for a test to prove Abraham’s righteousness and devotion to G-d.
The Hebrew word “nisah,” that is usually translated here as a test can have another meaning. The word “nes” can mean “banner,” as in “harimu nes al haamim – raise a banner over the peoples (Isaiah 62:10).” The purpose of the binding of Isaac was not to put Abraham to a test, which was not needed, but to raise him as a banner before the world.
In the ancient pagan world, human sacrifice was rampant. The pagans proclaimed that the fact that they were willing to sacrifice their children, showed that they were more devoted to their gods.
Hamas official Ghazi Hamad recently said; “We will repeat the October 7 attack time and again until Israel is annihilated. Will we have to pay a price? Yes, and we are ready to pay it. We are called a nation of martyrs, and we are proud to sacrifice martyrs.” Hamas official Moussa Abu Marzouk said that Hamas built tunnels to protect its fighters and is not responsible for defending civilians. What both officials have essentially said is that Hamas sacrifices its own people, not for the sake of building a state or defending its citizens but for annihilating Israel. That is not sacrifice, that is perversion.
The purpose of the binding of Isaac was to show the world that G-d rejects that form of sacrifice. While we are ready to sacrifice what is most near and dear to us, when necessary, G-d wants us to live for Him not to die for Him. As we read in the Torah: “I have put before you life and death, blessing and curse, choose life that you and your offspring may live (Deuteronomy 30:19).” We believe not in the glorification of death but in the sanctification of life.
All too many times, we have sacrificed what is most precious to us. Through the destruction of the two temples and the exile from our homeland, to the Crusades, the Spanish Inquisition, the pogroms, the Holocaust and to this very day, millions of our people have been killed because of who we are and what we believe in. In a world where groups of people compete for the mantle of righteous victimhood, we have been the ultimate victims.
But we do not allow victimhood to define us. We define ourselves by faith, commitment, and resilience. Our reaction to persecution has always been to mourn, to remember and to rebuild.
Much of the world has accepted the principle of “intersectionality.” The idea that the world consists of oppressors and victims and that the victims should unite to defeat their oppressors. Anything that victims do to their oppressors is justified. In that world view, Jews, perhaps the ultimate victims of history, are seen as oppressors rather than as victims. The hatred of Israel by the squad and others who claim to fight for “social Justice” is a result of our rejecting the mantle of victimhood. Rather than sit in refugee camps wallowing in self pity, subsisting on hand outs from the rest of the world and sacrificing our children to annihilate our enemies, we build and defend a state.
Israel represents more than the fulfilment of an age-old dream. It is the ultimate rejection of victimhood. Holocaust survivors, and Jewish refugees from Russia, the Arab world, Ethiopia and elsewhere have proclaimed we will be victims no more. From now on we will fight back. We have returned to the land where we became a nation, where our kings ruled, our prophets preached, and our sages taught. An Indigenous people returning to our land after 2,000 years of exile and oppression, praying to the same G-d and speaking the same language we did 2,000 years ago. Israel has become a high-tech military and economic power where Torah thrives as never before. We have built a modern state based on the timeless values of our heritage. That is what our enemies seek to destroy. That is what we fight to defend. That is why we will prevail.