By Dr Russell Jay Hendel
Copyright RashiYomi Inc. Dec 2001, Dr Hendel President
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THE PROPHECY THESIS
Genesis Chapter 22 (Gn22) presents one of the most enigmatic and dynamic events in theology -- the Akaydah -- the sacrifice of Isaac. God had promised Abraham several times that a large nation would descend from his son, Isaac. Some typical verses are
And suddenly there was a prophetic vision of God to Abraham as follows:
God took him outside and said: Please look heavenward and count the stars, if you can. Then God said: This is the way your progeny will look like
Gn17-02:07 And God said to Abraham: I am the Almighty, the AllPowerful...I will make a treaty...I will make you very very numerous....for I have designated you as the father of a multitude of nations...you will have many many children
Gn21-12 ...for your progeny will be called by Isaac
Gn21-12 ...for your progeny will be called by Isaac
And yet, abruptly, after all these promises, God orders Abraham
Gn22-02 Take..Isaac and offer him as an elevation offering on a mountain I will show you
The drama of the enigma is heightened by a later counter-order of God
Gn22-12 Dont strike the lad and dont do anything to him
This leaves an open question: If God did not want Isaac killed then what did He want?
The classical approach to the Akaydah, is that it was a test of faith. As Gn22-12 explicitly continues
For now I, God, know that you are God fearing in that you didnt withhold your precious son from me
In other words, Abrahams greatness was that after placing the whole focus of his life on his son, he could abruptly turn around and kill that son solely because God ordered it-- this showed that Abraham had complete trust and faith in God.
This paper presents an alternative approach: the Akaydah was a test of prophecy.
The essence of prophecy is to dynamically sustain a continuously changing relationship with God, without question:
*4) The prophet has total commitment to the consistency & accuracy of Gods word
OVERVIEW AND SUMMARY
It will take us a whole paper to fully document and prove these ideas. It however will facilitate the presentation if we examine the relevance of each of the above 4 points to the Akaydah. For example the third bullet in the above list states:
* The ideal prophet never questions God but always zealously & cheerfully executes all orders
And indeed throughout Gn22 we do not find one question, concern, or expression of doubt by Abraham.
The second bullet in the above list states
* The prophet actively & fully accepts each current task, as is, during the relationship
And indeed Abraham zealously executed each of Gods separate orders. For example, in response to the non-fully defined order (Gn22-02) to
offer your precious son as an elevation offering on some mountain that I will show you
Abraham, does not, as we might expect, ask for clarification -- he does not ask which mountain, nor does he seek clarification on the consistency between this order and the promise to make Isaac the source of his progeny. Nor does Abraham procrastinate. Rather immediately
Gn22-03 And Abraham arose in the morning and (personally) prepared his donkey;
he took two servants and his son Isaac and went to the (general)place God ordered
The fourth bullet in the above lists states
* The prophet has total commitment to the consistency & accuracy of Gods word
This will take some work, but we will show later in the paper, thru direct citations, that even as Abraham was taking his knife and preparing to kill Isaac, he was continuously aware of the inconsistency of Isaacs death with Gods previous promise to make Isaac the source of his progeny. Abraham was also continuously aware that another counter-order modifying the first order might come. Abrahams greatness manifested itself in his simultaneously being prepared either to kill Isaac or to receive a new order modifying the first--all this being done zealously and without question.
Finally the first bullet in the above list states that
* A full understanding of Gods order only occurs at the end of the relationship
To the best of my knowledge, the rich and varied literature on the Akaydah has never posited a unified interpretation of Gods two orders:
The most popular position is that the two orders were a test of faith: That is Gods real goal was that Isaac should not be stricken but God acted like he wanted Isaac killed in order to test Abraham. In other words, in reality, the initial order to kill Isaac had no intrinsic merit, rather it only existed to be overridden.
This explanation is faulty on several accounts. Quite simply, God does not tease people. God also does not contradict himself. God would never tell someone something and then contradict Himself. Indeed the Torah explicitly states Nu23-19 God is not like man: He is not deceitful . God is not human: He dosent regret his words
God is not like man: He is not deceitful . God is not human: He dosent regret his words
Rather a full understanding of the Akaydah requires a a unifying theme and model of the multiple orders to offer Isaac as an elevation offering but not strike or do anything to him. Such a synthetic perception will be presented in the last sections of this paper.
QUESTIONING & DISSENT -- MOSES SIN
QUESTIONING & DISSENT -- MOSES SIN
It is normal in human dialogue to question, dissent and raise alternate points of view. A simple example occurs in Ruth04-01:06(paraphrased)
Boaz gathered 10 elders to talk about taking over the estate of the deceased Elimelech. Boaz offered the right of estate management to a closer relative to Elimelech who accepted it--this is considered an honor since taking over the estate commemorates the memory of the deceased.
Boaz continued: Besides taking over the estate you must marry the widowed daughter in law.
The relative responded: Although these activities are worthwhile since they commemorate the deceased nevertheless I cant marry his daughter-in-law as that would overextend my own marriage. Therefore you can take over the estate & marry the daughter in law.
In this simple example Boazs request to commemorate the dead by managing their estate and marrying their daughter-in-law is counterbalanced by the equally important value of preserving ones own marriage.
Another example with a little more complexity occurs in Nu10-29:34 (Paraphrased)
Moses told his father-in-law:We are finally going to the land that God promised us. Please come with us and we will treat you nicely since God has promised us good things.
Jethro responded: I have my own land and culture (where I am treated nicely)
Moses responds: Please reconsider: Besides the good you will receive, you will have a leadership position since you are familiar with our journeys and can give us insights.
Notice the simple give and take: First Moses asks Jethro to come for his own sake so that he will benefit. When that doesnt work Moses adds another dimension: Jethro will have a leadership position and greatly help the Jews.
In these examples requests are dealt with thru the vehicle of dialogue, questioning and dissent. By contrast Gods orders are ideally dealt with thru passive silence and zealous cheerful acceptance. More specifically, when God orders a prophet to do something, it is incorrect to question God or even to enter into dialogue about possible complications on the order. The ideal prophet acts immediately and cheerfully on the order.
To fully appreciate this point -- that the ideal prophet acts with passive silence and zealous cheerful acceptance -- we critically review about half a dozen instances where the famous prophet Moses did not act ideally. Moses was severely criticized for his questioning doubting behavior and was ultimately punished by being deprived of the right to enter Israel or to lead the Jews there.
Table 1 summarizes half a dozen incidents where Moses spoke back to God
Table 1: A summary of Prophetic incidents where Moses incorrectly questioned God or insulted the Jewish people
In this and the next section we review the details of these incidents.
REVIEW OF MOSES DOUBTS & COMPLAINTS
REVIEW OF MOSES DOUBTS & COMPLAINTS
We first examine the water rebellion in Ex17 where Moses was concerned that the Jews might stone him.
It is illuminating to compare Moses and Abraham who in identical circumstances of fear of murder had totally different responses. Abraham had been promised to ultimately acquire Israel (Gn12-07). But a famine forced him to leave Israel (Gn12-10). Abraham was explicitly worried
Gn12-12 When the Egyptians see Sarah and find out she is my wife they will kill me and take her
Abraham does not complain to God or even seek guidance in prayer. Rather he develops a subterfuge to save his life (Gn12-13). (Sarah lies and claims she is Abrahams sister)
By contrast, although Moses was promised by God, to lead the Jews to Israel, and had seen God provide adequate food and water on several occasions (e.g. Ex15-22:26 or Ex16-04:10), nevertheless he vocally expressed concern to God that the Jews will kill him:
Ex17-04 What can I do for this nation; they will soon stone me.
Ex17-05:06 Go before the nation, .. Take your stick,...hit the rock and water will flow
On the Biblical text Go before the nation, Rashi comments with the added italicized phrase
Go before the nation....let us see if anyone will try and kill you
Gods response as amended by Rashi shows Gods displeasure with Moses prayer.
Furthermore, Rashis comment is not homiletic or sermonic but based on a stylistic comparison of verses where God ordered Moses to do things for the Jews. Ex17-05 is the only order by God to Moses which is accompanied by the phrase Go before the nation (cf. other orders to Moses in Nu27-18, Nu25-04, Nu20-08, Nu08-01, Nu08-06, Nu03-45, Ex16-33---none of these orders request going before the nation). Thus the phrase Go before the nation stands out and seems to suggest, as Rashi says, that God was responding to his fear of murder: Go, Moses, before the nation---let us see if anyone tries to kill you.
The dialogues in Nu11 further support our thesis that Moses could not sustain an ongoing prophetic relationship in a cheerful accepting manner.. The people did not like the Manna food that God provided them. Moses had personally received the order to provide Manna to the Jewish people -- he personally saw Gods providence (Ex16-04:10). Nevertheless Moses did not, as a good prophet, ask for guidance, but, rather broke down emotionally
Nu11-11:15 God, why did you mistreat me...did I give birth to this nation that you gave me the responsibility of holding them in my bosom like a nursemaid holds an infant...I cant take it ...it is too much...if this is what you are doing to me then please kill me
Look indeed at the contrast between Abraham and Moses. When God told Abraham to offer his son, couldnt Abraham have used these exact words? Couldnt he have said....?
I gave birth to this son....I held him in my bosom like a nursemaid...I cant take it God...it is too much...if this is what you are doing then please kill me
Would anyone have held anything against Abraham if he had complained this way. We see the remarkable faith of Abraham: Not only did he follow all Gods orders, but remarkably, he never broke down, and never said a nasty word. Again the contrast of Abraham and Moses in identical prophetic circumstances strikes us.
Continuing with the Manna rebellion of Nu11 we see that God promised to give food to the nation(Nu11-18). Moses response was one of doubt
Nu11-22 There are 600,000 people in this nation. Are you going to find enough cattle and sheep to slaughter for all of them?
Gods response to Moses,
Nu11-23 Does Gods hand lack power? You will see now if my word will be fulfilled,
shows a displeasure with Moses doubt. Although some commentators have sought to reinterpret these verses so that they do not reflect doubt in Moses, nevertheless, from Gods response as well as from the other verses we cited in Table 1, it appears that this is the true meaning of the text.
Continuing our review of the examples in Table 1, we next turn to Ex05-22. God had appeared to Moses, given him signs and promised to redeem the Jews (Ex03-04). Moses does as God orders.
Ex04-29:31 Moses and Aaron went, Gathered the Jews...Aaron told them what God promised Moses and did the miracle-signs for the people. The people believed: They understood that God remembered the Jews and understood their suffering
But Pharaohs response to the miracles Moses did at the hand of God was different.
Ex05-06:08 Pharaoh gave an order...no more raw materials to make bricks--the Jews will gather the raw materials themselves--the quantity of expected bricks made will remain the same....let the work become heavy on the people...so they wont hope
Moses complains, Ex05-22:23 God, why did you send me...since I came to Pharaoh to speak in Your Name, it has gotten worse for them, and you have not saved them
God, why did you send me...since I came to Pharaoh to speak in Your Name, it has gotten worse for them, and you have not saved them
By contrast, when God made an identical promise to Abraham to eventually redeem the Jews we find no complaints. Indeed, God told Abraham
Gn15-13:21 You, Abraham, must be aware that (first) your descendants will be aliens..they will be enslaved..they will be tortured 400 years...It is the 4th generation that will return here....on that day God contractually obligated Himself to give Abrahams descendants ..the land of the 10 nations
We again see the contrast of the accepting Abraham versus the questioning Moses.
MOSES SIN BY THE ROCK--THE SIN OF PROPHECY
MOSES SIN BY THE ROCK--THE SIN OF PROPHECY
Continuing with the
above God-Moses dialogue in Ex05-22:23 we see that
Rashi is quick to pick up some nuances in Gods response to Moses in
Ex06-01a which might otherwise go unnoticed.
God answers Moses in Ex06-01a
Moses: Now you will see what I will do to Pharaoh for he will..let the people go
Rashi makes two comments.
Rashis first comment is as follows:
Rashi: You Moses have doubts and are not like the Patriarchs who accepted me without question.
Rashis 1st comment is based on the technique of inference from Other verses. Indeed the next few Biblical verses explicitly mention the Patriarchs
Ex06-01 God said to Moses: Now you will see what I will do to Pharaoh.....God spoke to Moses and said I am God, who Make Things Happen. But (by contrast) I revealed myself to the Patriarchs with the attributes of Almighty and AllPowerful but my attribute of Making Things happen was not known to them
Thus the contrast that Rashi brought between the accepting Patriarchs and the doubting Moses was not homily but rather intrinsic to the Biblical text which explicitly makes this comparison.
Rashis second comment focuses on the Biblical word Now. Ex06-01a
Again Rashi is not sermonic or homiletic. If we review the 5 citations in Table 1, displaying cases where Moses incorrectly questioned God, then we see that God, in 2-3 of them, uses the keyword now: * Ex06-01
Rashi cleverly combines these 2 verses with a 3rd verse from Table 1, Nu20-12a, the verse citing Gods punishment to Moses for his rude behavior in the Merivah rebellion. Let us therefore 1st analyze Nu20-12a and then go back and review the nuances of the word Now.
Nu20-07:11 relates how the Jews had no water in Merivah. God told Moses to speak to a rock which would gush forth with water. God apparently saw nothing wrong with the complaints of the nation. Indeed, besides providing water for the nation God explicitly orders Moses
Nu20-08 Water both the nation and their flocks
But Moses, while carrying out Gods orders does so with great anger and bitterness
Nu20-10 Moses and Aaron assembled the nation by the rock and Moses said
God responds to Moses uncooperative attitude by punishing him
Nu20-12 God said to Moses and Aaron: Since you did not have faith in me(the way
While there are commentators who see Moses sin by the Rock as hitting it with a stick vs speaking to it we find this distinction petty and unsatisfying. A deeper approach sees the sin by the rock as a continuation of a long history of Moses complaining, doubting and insulting the Jews. It is for this reason that he was punished.
We can now re-visit the two verses where God says: Now you will see my salvation. God was hinting all along that if Moses did not attain the level of faith of the Patriarchs he would not merit to bring the Jews into Israel as actually happened in Nu20-12. Again we see that Rashis comment is more than a homiletic inference: It is rather a justified cross reference to other Biblical verses. Table 2 below summarizes some of the contrasts between the Patriarchs and Moses in identical situations:
Table 2:Comparison of Abraham vs Moses in identical prophetic circumstances. For example, Abraham was afraid of being murdered in Gn12-12 but did not complain to God while Moses who was afraid of being murdered in Ex17-04 did complain. Further details are provided in the text.
SOME POSSIBLE COUNTEREXAMPLES
In the preceding two sections we presented strong arguments that prophets are suppose to
In this section we lightly review 2 counter-examples where the above principle does not seem to be true. The explanation of these counter-examples will enrich our understanding.
First we review Moses famous prayer by the idolatrous sin of the Golden calf. Recall that the Jews had made a golden calf for an idol which they worshiped. God wishes to destroy the Jews:
Ex32-10 Now, Moses, leave me, and I will burn up against the Jews & destroy them
Moses responds with a famous prayer
Ex32-12:13 ...return, God, from your anger; regret the evil decree against your nation. Remember your oath to the patriarchs ....to make their progeny as numerous as the stars of heaven
Moses seems to be questioning Gods decree. Indeed, Moses explicitly asks God to regret His decree
Quite startlingly, God accepts Moses prayer
Gn32-14 God regretted the evil (decree) which He said he would do to his nation
This story however, does not at all contradict the thesis we developed in the previous 2 sections. The key 2 words to focus on occur in Ex32-10 Now Moses, leave me
Now Moses, leave me
In other words, God explicitly made His decree dependent on Moses consent. God explicitly states
If you dont pray I will destroy them. If you do pray I will think about it.
Hence Moses prayer was not an act of questioning or doubt. Rather Moses prayer was in direct response to a specific request of God. Consequently, this example does not contradict our thesis that prophets should approach prophecy with unquestioning acceptance.
The second story that we review is the famous God-Abraham dialog regarding the destruction of Sedom and Amorah. This story is all the more important since many contemporary theologians argue that doubt and questioning of God is healthy and intrinsic to the proper religious experience.
Such a viewpoint directly contradicts the thesis of this paper that the proper religious experience requires zealous, cheerful acceptance without question. Thus the answering of the implications of this story is significant. We emphasize our conclusion: Judaism is intrinsically a prophetic religion. Judaism is dependent on the prophetic experience; the prophetic experience in turn is dependent on zealous, cheerful, unquestioning acceptance.
To see this here, let us now review the story. In Gn18-20:21 God pronounces judgement
God said: The screams of Sedom and Amorah are many; their sins are weighty. I will go down and investigate: If their behavior is as serious as their screams then I will destroy it; and if it isnt that bad then I will severely punish it.
Abraham in his prayers to God uses extremely harsh language
Will you God kill the righteous and wicked. Maybe there are 50 righteous in these cities? Will you then kill and not forgive for the sake of these 50?.... Will you kill righteous and wicked? Will the Judge of the world not do Justice?
Abrahams prayer certainly seems to contradict our thesis about acceptance!!!
The simple answer is that Abraham never questioned God. As we already indicated a good prophet is not allowed to question God. Rather the whole dialogue between God and Abraham happened in a prophetic vision. That is, God showed Abraham a vision in which Abraham asked God questions and received answers. Abraham himself never asked anything. He rather saw things in a vision whose purpose was to educate him in Gods ways.
The above vision-thesis can be proved from internal Biblical verses. Consider the following
Gn18-02 And Abraham saw (in his vision) 3 people
Gn18-03:08 Abraham prepares a meal for the 3 people
Gn18-09:15 Abraham is told that Sarah will give birth in a year to Isaac
Gn18-16:17 2 of the 3 go to Sedom & God plans on telling Abraham about Sedom
Gn18-18:19 God will tell Abraham about Sedom so he can know Gods charitable ways
Gn18-20:21 God announces that Sedom will be punished for its horrible sins
Gn18-22 The people go to Sedom and Abraham is still standing before God
Gn18-23-32 Abraham and God have a dialogue about whether Sedom should be destroyed
Gn18-33 God leaves after speaking to Abraham and Abraham returned to his place
As is clear from the bold italicized phrases the entire chapter did not happen in the real world but rather happened in a prophetic vision that Abraham saw. That is, in this prophetic vision
* Abraham was prophetically told that Sarah would give birth(cf Gn21-01)
* Abraham was prophetically told about the destruction of Sedom and Amorah
* Abraham prophetically saw a dialog between him and God explaining why the city was destroyed
All the above happened in a prophetic vision. Abraham himself never questioned God.
The Bible also explains why God explained to Abraham the reasons for the destruction of Sedom and Amorah. He was explained about the destruction of Sedom...
Gn18-19.... in order that Abraham be familiar with God
* so that he can command his children and household after him
* so that they can observe the ways of God to do charity & justice
* so that God can bring on Abraham the promises he made to him
In passing, the reason that Sedom and Amorah were destroyed is instructive: There were many evil people in the city and there were no righteous people among them. The cities had no hope (since righteous people were outlawed or killed). Hence the cities had to be destroyed.
THE POSITIVE ASPECTS OF PROPHECY
THE POSITIVE ASPECTS OF PROPHECY
In the preceding sections we have emphasized the negative aspects of the prophetic experience. A prophet must execute prophetic orders in a zealous, cheerful, non-questioning manner. In the next sections we are at last adequately prepared to critically understand the verses in Gn22 which describe the Akaydah -- the offering of Isaac. The Akaydah exposes us to the positive aspect of prophecy: A prophetic order is only intrinsically fully understood at the end of the prophetic dialogue. In fact, we shall review 3 instances, in the Akaydah-God-Abraham prophecy that takes on a form of a dynamic developing sequence of orders whose full meaning is only clear at the end.
Prior to examining these 3 examples we briefly explain why prophetic messages are only fully understood at the end of the prophetic sequence of orders. In other words, we critically expose that component of the prophetic message that intrinsically requires development over time.
To clarify the basic idea we give an analogy -- the explanation of love. We suppose a man wants to tell a woman he loves her. It is intuitively plausible that love can easily be misunderstood. Let us examine how the man might communicate his feelings of love in 3 stages--- we also carefully show the possible misunderstandings in the early stages.
In the first stage the man might tell the woman that despite his love they shall each keep their separate 9-5 jobs. This implies that his love for her does not mean he will be with her 24 hours a day. If this is all the woman knew she would be disappointed--after all he is telling her that they will not be with each other 8 hours every day but rather, they will be separated 8 hours a day.
In stage two he man might tell the woman the he would like to go to movies, theaters, camping or engage in communal services with her in their non-job hours. This looks a little better but the woman still has no cause to get excited. After all he only has committed himself to sharing and spending time together.
In stage three the man might tell the woman all he knows about her movie, theatre, camping and communal-service likes and dislikes. He might share with her his own thoughts about these things. He might display a great deal of empathy to her likes and dislikes. He also might show her how they complement each other in their approach to these activities.
Thus it is only in stage 3 that the woman learns that the man really loves her. Of course, most of us are aware of these 3 stages of love. Most of us are aware that love blossoms on the soil of separation. Indeed, it doesnt even bother us that people we love require privacy and being alone.
Nevertheless the above analogy will serve its purpose. Carefully review the above example: It should be clear that the woman will initially be upset. Indeed
We can summarize the above as follows
Certain concepts can be explained, defined and illustrated in a sentence or two. But certain concepts intrinsically have components which are contradictory. For example the concept of (romantic) love requires separation (The opposite of love!). Similarly the concept of love requires sharing time together which is a less intense stage then love. These concepts, that intrinsically have either contradictory components, or less intense components, are difficult to explain and frequently give rise to misunderstanding. It is therefore best to explain these concepts in a sequence of stages.
Applying this analogy to prophecy we see that when God communicates difficult concepts that resemble the concept of love, God must take several stages to explain the concept. It is intrinsic to these difficult concepts that they are not fully appreciated, and may even be misunderstood, in early stages of the communication. Therefore the proper listening to these concepts requires cheerful, zealous acceptance, without question, with the understanding that full clarification will only occur at the end.
In a nutshell, God uses prophecy to communicate rich complex concepts. The reception of prophecy, by the prophet, requires simultaneous zealousness and blind acceptance with an understanding that full comprehension will come at the end. With this in mind let us study the Akaydah.
THE Akaydah -- THE TEST OF PROPHECY
THE Akaydah -- THE TEST OF PROPHECY
In this and the next section we present 3 instances of dynamically evolving prophecies in the Akaydah story. These examples will be used to support our thesis that the Akaydah was a test of prophecy. In the 3rd example we shall see that God did not contradict himself in the Akaydah anymore than a man contradicts himself when saying that he wants love and privacy. We shall also discover a new complex concept similar to love which has contradictory components. Here are the examples.
Example 1: Already Gn22-02 develops a prophetic order in stages
And God said please take
Thus God developed the request to take Isaac over 4 stages. Examples of possible nuances emphasized by these 4 phrases are compactly presented in table 3.
Table 3: The 4 stages in Gn22-02 enrich the meaning of Isaac. Isaac was not just Isaac, rather, Isaac was a descendant of both Abraham and Sarah; Isaac was the son that Abraham had prayed for; Isaac had been protected from Ishmael who was a bad influences so that Isaac could grow up properly. Abraham was explicitly promised that his progeny would be thru Isaac(hence Isaac could not die). By developing the order to take Isaac over 4 stages Abraham had time to fully understand that a new aspect of Isaac was about to be communicated to him.
Rashi does not present the full details of the above table. But Rashi is clear, both that God spoke to Abraham in a sequence of stages and that this communication in stages enriched Abrahams understanding. Here is Rashis language on Gn22-02b
Rashi(Slightly paraphrased): Note that
* Abraham had 2 sons
* Both sons were precious
* Abraham loved both of them
Thus Rashi clearly shows the development of the prophetic order over a sequence of stages with full understanding only coming at the end. Rashi also explains why God did this
God used a sequence of statements (vs one statement: take Isaac) in order to enrich the order to him (literally: to make it dearer to him); ....in order to give Abraham (emotional) reward on each component.
* regal reward for obeying the orders of the King, or as
* the emotional reward that comes from a higher appreciation (This would connect Rashis last statement of reward with his initial statement of making the order dearer to him).
(Rashi also offers an alternative explanation which is not directly relevant to our main thesis.)
At this point we do not yet know why God wants Isaac offered. But God makes it clear to Abraham that He is not just asking him to sacrifice any son---but rather a son he prayed for, was promised continuance in, and cared for. We therefore expect to see further development.
Example 2: Prior to presenting the texts for example 2 we point out that the Biblical phrase lifted his eyes and saw means prophetically. Such an interpretation is needed to support our prophecy-thesis. This interpretation can be justified by studying the 2 dozen times this phrase occurs in the Bible. The interpretation of nuances by examining comparable lists of verses is a necessary tool in developing Biblical concepts. The phrase seems to mean studiously observed. In about 25% of the cases this phrase clearly refers to prophecy. The interested reader can examine the following verses where lifted his eyes and saw means prophecy: Gn18-02, Gn22-04, Nu24-02, Jos05-13,1Chr21-16.
We now look at our second example of a prophecy test in the Akaydah. God did not immediately tell Abraham on which mountain to offer Isaac. We have the following verses:
Gn22-02 offer him for an elevation offering on one of the mountains I will tell you
Gn22-04 On the 3rd day of the journey Abraham prophetically saw the mountain
Notice the development of this concept. In fact Rashi on Gn22-02e explicitly states
Rashi further expands on this idea on Gn22-04a
In summary, God delayed showing the mountain to Abraham in order to allow him and Isaac to emotionally prepare for what was to take place. God did not want to rush Abraham into the event. This then is an example of enriching the appreciation of an event by developing it over time.(There are no outright contradictions in the Biblical texts brought in example 2, but the idea of emotionally enriching appreciation by development in sequence is clearly present).
THE GREAT CONTRADICTION--OFFER ISAAC; DONT SLAUGHTER HIM
THE GREAT CONTRADICTION--OFFER ISAAC; DONT SLAUGHTER HIM
Example 3: Perhaps the most famous contradiction in all theological literature:
Gn22-02 Take your son and offer him for an elevation-offering
Gn22-12 Dont strike the child and dont do anything to him
To fully understand this example we must first review the fact that, in the Bible, contradiction is a vehicle for communicating nuances. Let us give 2 examples
Lv25-54 The slave will go free at the Jubilee year
The two verses together are taken to mean that even though the slave deserves to work forever nevertheless he is punished enough if he works to the Jubilee year and then goes free. Thus the contradictory verses were a vehicle for communicating both the actual law as well as what he deserves
Another example of this contradiction method may be found by comparing Nu08-24 vs Nu04-03
Nu04-03 They shall work from age 30 to 50
The two verses together are taken to mean that the Levites start their training at 25 but start their actual work and service at 30. Thus the contradictory verses were a vehicle for communicating two stages in Levite service: The training stage and the service stage.
Many other examples of contradictions may be found in Jewish law. As indicated above it is a normal Biblical style. As suggested in a previous section -- using the love example -- contradictions can serve to hilight various contradictory facets of complex ideas. Applying this contradictory verse tool to the 2 Akaydah verses of example 3 we immediately understand the Rashis on this contradiction
Rashi-Gn22-02d: God did not tell Abraham to kill him. Rather He told him to offer him as an elevation offering. Once he elevated Isaac on the altar God did not request him to slaughter him(as usually happens in elevation offerings) but asked him to bring him down.
Rashi-Gn22-12a: The Biblical text Dont strike the lad means dont slaughter him. Furthermore the Biblical text Dont do anything to him means that unlike other elevation offerings where something is done to the elevated animal, in this case, we only want Isaac going thru the act of elevation without anything else done to him.
So the resolution of the contradiction is that Isaac was to be elevated on the altar but, unlike other elevation offerings, was not to be slaughtered.
To fully understand the new concept taught to Abraham -- there is elevation without sacrifice -- we return to the love analogy of the last section. Recall that the lovers may initially look at the fact, that each party has their own job and privacy during the day, as an act of rejection. It is only at the end of the 3 stages of communicating love that the lovers realize that a positive statement of full love has been communicated -- the privacy and separation were simply necessary prerequisites. In a similar manner Abraham initially thought that elevation required sacrifice; at the end of the stages of the Akaydah Abraham realizes a new concept: there is elevation to God without sacrifice.
In fact looking ahead to the sacrificial code in the Bible we explicitly find two types of sacrifices: Those that require slaughter and those that dont!
* however, the perfume sacrifice on the golden altar is pure aroma without sacrifice;
Indeed, animal sacrifice was prohibited on the gold altar! (Ex30-01:10)
There are other Biblical verses which echo this theme of closeness to God without physical negation. Let us review some of them. One interpretation of the reception of the Torah at Mount Sinai echoes this high state of closeness without sacrifice Ex24-11 And they visioned God and (nevertheless) ate and drank
Ex24-11 And they visioned God and (nevertheless) ate and drank
Similarly, the Jewish Messianic vision promises us that
Zach14-21on that day all pots in Jerusalem will be holy to God; those who slaughter will eat from them and 3rd world nations will no longer be present before God
In conclusion the Akaydah taught Abraham the following new concept: It is possible to go up--to elevate oneself--to leave the material world and get closer to God, without negating the physical ( the binding of the physical body is necessary but mutilation and destruction are not necessary) Abraham was the first person, and Judaism is the first religion, to teach, that the highest religious experiences need not involve, as they do in other religions, a denial of the physical body. True, we are not told how to achieve this state but we are told that this spiritual-physical state exists, and as shown above there are other Biblical texts supporting it.
If we adopt this interpretation then the Akaydah test shows 2 strengths of Abraham
* It showed his capacity to temporarily be prepared to kill and give up his son
These two aspects of the Akaydah are possibly hinted at in the Biblical text
* and you did not without your precious son from me (test of sacrifice)
Notice how prior to verse Gn22-12 Abraham really thought that the Biblical text Offer your son for an elevation offering required slaughtering him --- in fact the Bible explicitly says that
Gn22-10 Abraham lifted the knife to slaughter his son
So indeed, the giving up of his son was a strength which Abraham showed. It however was not the only strength of Abraham. In fact this is the contribution we have made in this paper to the understanding of the Akaydah: Abrahams willingness to give up his son was not the only strength of Abraham that was brought out by the Akaydah; rather the giving up of his son was part of a larger test---the test of prophecy --- which required a zealously active, cheerfully accepting relationship with God thru prophecy. Furthermore by having the receptive capacity to dynamically receive prophecy, Abraham learned (and hence taught the world) a new concept: A person can elevate himself from this world and cling to God without negating (sacrifice) himself.
It may seem anti-climatic to assert that the Akaydahs goal was to teach a complex concept: elevation without slaughter. However, as we have emphasized, Abraham could only learn this concept by being a dynamic prophet and continuously interacting with Divine commands. Like the woman who sees love growing in a soil of a separation that appears like rejection, so to Abraham saw elevation and cleaving to God growing in a soil of (a potential) slaughter and negation. In summary, the lesson of the Akaydah, what we take away from it, may be only a complex concept -- elevation without slaughtering, -- but the capacity to receive and learn this concept required the prophetic greatness of an Abraham who was prepared without question to slaughter his son and who accepted with simple faith that all would be clear in the end.
In this section we review several Rashis echoing the analysis we have given in the previous sections. We also explore Rashis showing that Abraham was continuously prepared and aware that he might not have to kill Isaac -- Isaac would not have to die.
In the first Rashi we examine, we see Rashi echoing the theme that the Akaydah teaches a complex concept -- elevation without sacrifice -- that has contradictory components.
* Gn21-12 Your progeny and nation will be thru Isaac
* Gn22-02 Take your son and offer him for an elevation-offering
* Gn22-12 Dont strike the child and dont do anything to him
God then responded: There is no contradiction. The contradictory verses are a vehicle for implying that your progeny will be called thru Isaac --- I therefore requested you to elevate him but not to kill him. It is an offering without slaughter.
In the 2nd Rashi that we examine we are exposed to the dual greatness that we have suggested that Abraham illustrated in the Akaydah. On the one hand Abrahams greatness was that he entertained (without question) the possibility of killing his son while on the other hand Abrahams greatness was that he prophetically learned a complex concept using the prophetic method of zealously accepting orders over a sequence of stages. Rashi seems to suggest that Abrahams real greatness was his prophetic greatness, not the sacrifice of his son. Here is the text and Rashi:
* that you are a God Fearing person
* and you didnt withhold your precious son from me.
Rashi - Gn22-12c: God told Abraham: I now have a means to respond to the nations who ask why I love you (over them). For I can now point out that you are God fearing.
Note carefully Rashis language: The Biblical text, Gn22-12, mentions two items:
- Abraham was willing to give up Isaac.
But Rashi quotes God as only mentioning one of these two items -- Abrahams God fearingness -- to respond to the nations. Apparently, the second item -- Abrahams willingness to give up his son is not that important to answering the nations. Indeed, other nations are also willing to sacrifice their children either for their national goals or even to god(e.g. see the example in 2King03-27). Thus Abrahams uniqueness, which the other nations do not have, is the ability to sustain a zealously active, cheerfully accepting, dynamically evolving prophetic relationship with God.
This last observation -- that the other nations are also willing to sacrifice their son but only Abraham manifested prophetic greatness is consistent with other Judaic themes. It is certainly superior to have the potential to sacrifice your son but not actually kill him then to kill him!. True, it takes emotional greatness to give up ones son for national goals (as the example above in Kings shows) but God ultimately wants life, not death. In fact the Bible explicitly states this
This verse is the basis of the Jewish concept that except for very serious crimes (like murder, incest, adultery and idolatry) a person should violate Jewish law rather than be martyred. Thus the higher ideal is the prophetic ideal where ones preparedness to kill ones son can be overturned at the last minute by God.
Perhaps this is why Abraham was chosen by God to be the father of many nations -- he, and he alone, can lead the nations to the Golden gift of prophecy. Unlike Moses, who we see, continuously complained and questioned God (albeit under very difficult circumstances), Abraham zealously and with simple faith accepted all Gods orders.
The 3rd Rashi we examine confirms this point -- the Akaydah illumines the essence of prophecy. This idea is explicitly stated both in the Biblical text and also by Rashi
Rashi - Gn22-14a: This is a prayer that God will chose this place to prophetically see/appear to man and let his Divine presence rest (Mount Moriah is the place of the Temple).
This explicit connection, between the Akaydah and the Temple, the place where Gods presence rested, clearly supports our thesis that the primary greatness of Abraham in the Akaydah was his capacity to receive prophecy which will be renewed one day via the rebuilding of the Temple.
We have claimed that contradiction is a Biblical method for indicating nuances. In other words, since God had promised Abraham that Isaac would be his inheritor (Gn21-12) therefore Abraham really knew that Isaac wouldnt die. Abrahams greatness was that he acted under the assumption that he would have to kill Isaac. Nevertheless Abraham constantly sought the resolution of the contradiction.
Here are 4 Rashis supporting this thesis that Abraham suspected a hidden resolution
Rashi Gn22-05a: The repeated plural indicates that Abraham knew that Isaac would return!
The next Rashi shows Abraham searching for a resolution to the contradiction:
Rashi Gn22-08a: God will show a lamb for a sacrifice [If we find a lamb then we will have fulfilled the Biblical order: For I took you up for a sacrifice!] And if we dont find a lamb then we will have to offer you.
In other words we see in this Rashi that Abraham was aware of two interpretations to the Biblical order in Gn22-02: Take your son...Isaac and elevate him for an elevation offering
At this point we reiterate, from Rashi, the explicit resolution of the contradiction that we brought up in the last section: There is elevation to God without sacrifice. Here is the verse and Rashi:
Rashi Gn22-20d: It does not say and slaughter him. Rather it says and elevate him.
Thus Abraham was only commanded to raise/elevate Isaac but not to actually slaughter him. This is consistent with the idea that certain sacrifices do not require slaughter and negation.
The next supportive Rashi looks homiletic but as we shall see it is the simple meaning of the text:
Rashi: Gn22-05a: The Biblical word, KOH can mean thus or here. The word thus in turn, can idiomatically refer to prophecy since many important prophecies begin with the word thus. Thus the proper translation of the verse is: I and Isaac will walk till we find out about the prophecy of thus (The prophecy of thus refers to the prophecy in Gn15-05: God said to Abraham: Look heavenly and count the stars if you can count them---and God said: thus will your seed be numerous---this implies that Isaac will not die (cf. Gn21-12))
As just indicated, the Biblical word KOH, can mean thus or here. Most English translations render Gn22-05a as stating: I and Isaac will walk till there: To explain why Rashi deviated from the accepted interpretation of other commentators we study the usage of the Hebrew phrase, AD KOH, which as we just indicated can mean here or thus. Surprisingly the phrase ad koh, only occurs 5 times in the entire Bible. In all of them, the phrase is connected with very important prophecies.
For example, translating the Hebrew AD KOH in Ex07-16 as the prophecy of thus vs until now, we see that Moses reprimands Pharaoh: God sent me to let the Jews worship Him in the wilderness and you do not pay attention to (the consequences of) the prophecy of thus. The phrase the prophecy of thus refers to the prophecy in Ex04-22:23: Thus says God: The Jews are my firstborn: I asked you to let them go and you didnt so I am killing your firstborn.
Rashi now appears plausible.. He takes a special phrase that occurs very rarely (5 times) and interprets it in a manner that is consistent with its unique setting. The reader may examine the 5 verses and reach his/her own conclusion: These 5 verses use the Biblical phrase ad koh which Rashi would presumably interpret to refer to a prophecy: Gn22-05 refers to the prophecy of Gn13-16, Ex07-16 refers to the prophecy of Ex04-23, Js17-14 refers to the prophecy of Gn48-16, 1K18-45 refers to the prophecies of 1K18-21 and 1K17-01, and Dan7-28 refers to the Messianic prophecies of Isa11. Although these 5 prophecies do not all begin with the word thus, nevertheless, they are all important prophecies (e.g. 1K17-01 is taken in the form of an oath by the Life of God).
As a final supportive Rashi we cite the following gem:
Rashi: Gn22-03a: The Biblical phrase got up the next morning indicates zealousness.
To appreciate the beauty of this Rashi we note that the phrase got up in the morning occurs only about a dozen times in the Torah. In about half of them it clearly denotes zealousness . For example it occurs in Ex24-04 with regard to the receipt of the Torah showing that Moses was eager to receive the Torah. The reader is invited to review 5 other verses containing the phrase he got up in the morning to appreciate how this phrase is skillfully used by the Bible to indicate zealousness: They are Gn19-27, Gn21-14, Gn26-31, Nu14-40, Nu22-13. Note that in verses like Gn21-14,--- Abraham got up early in the morning (to banish Hagar)--- Abrahams zealousness was focused on the performance of a prophetic order.
EPILOGUE AND CONCLUSION
We have woven an intricate logical tapestry with many threads. Let us step back and take a birds eye view of its wondrous patterns. Our thesis has 6 main points bulleted below.
* RICH CONCEPTS: We introduced the idea of rich concepts. A rich concept is a concept whose components may look contradictory or less intense than the whole concept. A simple example would be love: True love has a component of privacy or separateness which contradicts love which by its nature refers to attraction.
* DEFINING BY A SEQUENCE OF STAGES: We then introduced the idea of defining or presenting a rich concept by a sequence of stages. It is intrinsic to the rich concept that it will be misunderstood if presented at once. Hence a definition over stages is necessary.
*RECEPTION: ZEALOUS ACTION, NON QUESTIONING ACCEPTANCE, FLEXIBILITY:
* PROPHECY IS FREQUENTLY A COMMUNICATION BY GOD OF A RICH CONCEPT:
*ONE MEASURE OF A PROPHETS GREATNESS IS HIS LACK OF QUESTIONING:
* THE AKAYDAH: The Akaydah taught a rich concept: That man can elevate himself to God and cleave to him without negating or slaughtering the physical self. (This concept is also later echoed in the Ketoreth offering)
This concept is rich since cleavage to God seems to require some separation from the physical world and hence a negation of the self.
Abraham was taught this difficult concept thru a sequence of stages. The early stages required Abraham to believe that Isaac was losing his physical body since this is traditionally part of the elevation to God concept. (In the end Isaacs body was only bound, not mutilated. Although the Bible presents us this concept it does not tell us how to achieve it).).
Abraham zealously acted on the orders with non-questioning compliance even though
Although one aspect of Abrahams greatness is his willingness to give up his son, an ever greater aspect of his greatness is his capacity to learn rich concepts thru the prophetic experience. Emotionally giving up ones son is the harder test. But spiritually, the prophetic experience is more important for the relationship with God. Other religions have human sacrifice. But human sacrifice is not the basis of religious experience while dynamic prophecy is. Abraham was rewarded for his prophetic greatness by being the father of nations. Another reward for Abrahams acceptance of prophetic orders at the Akaydah, was the building of the Temple at that spot---and it is this temple which will one day enable the renewal of prophecy.
REFERENCES & ACKNOWLEDGMENTS
We have carefully developed all the above concepts, not only logically, but thru Rashi. In this final section I would like to share some references where the initial ideas of this paper were developed.
The first statement of the basic thesis of this paper -- that the Akaydah was a test of prophecy -- occurred on the E-mail Group Bais-Medrash, hosted by Torah.Org. . The various database defenses to the Rashis in the Akaydah were originally posted in the Rashi is Simple newsletter hosted by the RashiYomi website. The urls, volumes and numbers of these postings are all presented below.
Finally I would like to thank numerous people for both short and long conversations about these ideas. I have benefited tremendously from these conversations and have become aware, thru them, of the rich complexity of this prophecy thesis. Many of the sections of this paper came from conversations with people who urged me to give a detailed holistic picture.
Here are some basic references. The interested reader may look these up.