David Harbater
Author, educator and scholar

The Akedah and Israeli soldiers today

(via Facebook)
(via Facebook)

The Akedah-the Binding of Isaac- which appears in this week’s parasha- is arguably the most painful and heart-rending stories in all of the Torah. I often read this parasha in my local synagogue and I have always found it difficult to hold back tears when chanting this story aloud. What has gnawed at me is not just the horror of Abrahams’ unimaginable predicament, but the realization that, as parents of a son born and raised in Israel, my wife and I will be expected to offer him one day on the altar in defense of this country. And this year, with tens of thousands of soldiers- including our son – putting their lives on the line to protect us from the Hamas bloodthirsty murderers, this gnawing feeling is almost too difficult to bear.

Nonetheless, there is one important distinction between the Akedah and our current situation, which provides me a degree of comfort. Isaac’s experience of the events that unfolded in the Akedah and the way in which it impacted his relationship with his father Abraham is radically different from the experience of our soldiers who serve in the army and the way in which it impacts the lives of all of us today.

When God told Abraham to sacrifice his son Isaac, the text says nothing about what Isaac was feeling at the time, although the context provides a clue. One fine day, Abraham wakes up early in the morning, saddles his donkey, takes two of his servants along with Isaac, splits wood for a burnt offering, and embarks on a journey to Mount Moriah. Two days later, Abraham observes the mountain from a distance and tells his servants: “You stay here with the donkey. The boy and I will go up there; we will worship and we will return to you” and there is no reason to think that Isaac didn’t hear these instructions as well. Thus, from Isaac’s perspective, the upcoming journey could only mean one thing: that he and his father were going to worship God together, much as a father and son might go to synagogue to pray together today. When Isaac subsequently asks his father “Here are the firestone and the wood; but where is the sheep for the burnt offering?” he presumably did so quite innocently. Then, when Abraham replies that God will provide the sheep, the Torah tells us “the two of them walked on together”, as if to say, they were of one mind and one spirit.

Against this background, Isaac’s silence upon learning that it was he who was being offered and not the sheep is deafening. Could it be that the events happened so quickly that he had no chance to respond before God told Abraham “Do not raise your hand against the boy”? Could it be that Isaac was so secure in his father’s love for him that he could never imagine his father using the knife against him? Or could it be that Isaac simply froze, paralyzed by the incomprehensible reality that stared him in the face? Perhaps we can gain some insight into this question from what occurred subsequently. After Abraham descends from the mountain, the Torah says: “Abraham then returned to his servants, and they departed together for Beer-sheba…” On their journey toward the mountain Abraham walked together with Isaac (see Genesis 22:6, 8), but now Abraham walks away from the mountain together with his servants, not with Isaac. Thus, what appeared as an unbreakable bond between Abraham and Isaac, prior to the Akedah, has now been ruptured, perhaps beyond repair, after the Akedah.

Unlike Isaac, however, our soldiers today are fully aware of the dangers they face when they join the army, and understand why they are being called upon to put their lives on the line. After learning of the unspeakable atrocities committed by Hamas on October 7th they are now more determined than ever to win this war, even though they know that some lives will be lost in the process. And unlike Abraham and Isaac who parted ways after the Akedah, we provide our soldiers supplies, home-cooked meals and moral support, and we will greet them with an outpouring of love when they return home, hopefully soon, victorious from the battlefield.

About the Author
Rabbi Dr. David Harbater's recently published book "In the Beginnings: Discovering the Two Worldviews Hidden within Genesis 1-11" is available on Amazon and at book stores around Israel and the US. He teaches Bible and Jewish thought at Midreshet Torah V'Avodah, at the Amudim Seminary, and at the Women's Beit Midrash of Efrat. Make sure to follow him on Facebook and LinkedIn for more interesting content.
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