Parashas Vayeira

The end of this week’s parashah relates the episode where Hashem asked Avraham to bring his son Yitzchak before Him as an offering. Avraham bound Yitzchak to the altar, took hold of a knife to slaughter him, and then was stopped by an angel at the last moment. The angel, speaking for Hashem, said (Bereishis 22:12): “Do not stretch forth your hand toward the lad, and do not do anything to him. For now I know that you are God-fearing, since you have not withheld your son, you only one, from Me.” Later, the angel called to Avraham a second time, saying (Bereishis 22:16-18):
“By Myself I swear,” says Hashem, “that, because you performed this deed, and did not withhold your son, your only one, I shall surely bless you, and make your offspring abundant like the stars of the heavens, and like the sand on the seashore, and your offspring shall inherit the gate of their enemies. And through your offspring all the nations of the world will be blessed,, because you heeded My voice.”
The Maggid asks two questions about this second statement. First, why is the phrase “from Me,” which appears in the angel’s first statement, absent from this second one? Second, what precisely was the angel’s intent in recounting Avraham’s act again?
The Maggid answers these questions as follows. Yitzchak was dear to Hashem; He did not want him to be lost to the world. At the same time, He wanted Avraham to pass the awesome test of bringing his only son as an offering. He was therefore compelled to allow Yitzchak to be taken to be slaughtered. In the end, though, Hashem had the great satisfaction of seeing both wishes fulfilled: Avraham passed the test, and Yitzchak remained alive.
How did this result come about? The answer lies in the Gemara’s teaching in Kiddushin 40a that if a person thought about doing a mitzvah, but was prevented from doing so by some outside interference, it is considered as if he did the mitzvah. The Maggid explains that this rule applies only under certain conditions. It does not apply to a mere passing thought of doing a mitzvah, nor to someone who grudgingly undertook a mitzvah. Rather, it applies only to a person who has firmly made up his mindto do a certain mitzvah, has taken steps toward doing it, and yearns with all his heart to carry it out, but is prevented from completing the mitzvah by some circumstance beyond his control.
Thus, had Avraham taken a grudging attitude as he set out to fulfill the Hashem’s directive to bring Yitzchak as an offering, the only way he could have gotten credit for passing the test would be if he carried out the actual slaughter, and then Yitzchak would have been lost to the world. In fact, however, Avraham took up the charge with great zest and alacrity, yearning to give Hashem satisfaction by doing what He had asked. He rose at daybreak to start early. After preparing the knife, the fire, and the wood, he jubilantly set out on his journey; his attitude was like that of a father escorting his son to the wedding canopy. He proceeded on his way with eager anticipation. Upon reaching Mount Moriah, he diligently arranged the wood and the fire, and bound his beloved son on the altar. With supreme joy, he took hold of the knife to perform the slaughter. He had shown the firmest possible commitment to carrying out Hashem’s word. Through this show of commitment, he passed the test – the actual slaughter was unnecessary.
Hashem therefore called out to him: “Enough! Do not stretch forth your hand toward the lad! I am satisfied with what you have done. Now I know that you are God-fearing. Your wholeheartedness has been manifested with supreme clarity; you have passed the test. It is not necessary anymore for you to actually carry through with the slaughter. There is no reason to take your gentle only son away from the world. Let him live, and continue to serve Me.” As the Midrash relates, He told him (Bereishis Rabbah 56:8): “You fulfilled My word and put him up, now take him down.” The actions Avraham had already performed, coupled with the devotion and purity of heart with which he performed them, constituted a complete fulfillment of Hashem’s word, and hence Hashem told Avraham to take Yitzchak down from the altar.
The intent of the angel’s second statement is to bring out more fully what Avraham had accomplished. Hashem tells Avraham: “Because you performed this act, and did not withhold your son, your only one, I shall surely bless you (bareich avarechechah).” Hashem omits the phrase “from Me” because here He is not speaking of Avraham’s not having withheld Yitzchak from Him, but rather of Avraham’s not having withheld Yitzchak from the world. Through his great devotion, Avraham passed the test perfectly while obviating the need for Yitzchak to be killed. On account of this double achievement, Hashem promised Avraham a double reward, as reflected in the double verb bareich avarechechah.
David Zucker, Site Administrator

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