Our Sages tell us that G-d tested Avraham 10 times.
The final and most difficult test was the Akeidah, the binding of Yitzchak on the altar. This is recounted in the Torah portion Vayeira, which relates how G-d told Avraham: "Please take your son, your only son, whom you love, Yitzchak... and offer him as a burnt-offering...."
The Rambam explains that the intent of this test was twofold: "To inform us of the perimeters of love and awe of G-d - how very far it extends." Also, "to inform us how prophets truly believed in that which was revealed to them by G-d during prophecy... For all that a prophet sees in the vision of prophecy is authentic and true for the prophet, who doesn't doubt any part of it."
The Rambam goes on to say: "The proof lies in that Avraham agreed to offer his only son whom he loved as he was commanded, even though this command came in a dream or a vision.... He would not have done so if there had been the slightest doubt [in his mind about the veracity of the prophecy]."
Mt. Moriah, the mountain upon which the Akeidah took place, was so hallowed that it became the site of the Beis HaMikdash - the place where the Jewish people would subsequently be privileged to witness G-dliness and bring offerings.
There is a direct correlation between the two things revealed to the world through the Akeidah and the two primary functions of the Beis HaMikdash:
The love and awe of G-d that was revealed through the Akeidah meant that the main aspect of spiritual service, that of offerings, would take place in this location. For Avraham's demonstration of unbounded love and awe prepared this place for continued service in this manner.
Additionally, the absolute truth of prophecy that was manifest through the Akeidah stimulated Avraham to pray that this place be a site for the revelation of the Divine Presence. Thus we find that Avraham "called the name of the place 'The L-rd Will See,' as it is referred to this day, 'On the mount where the L-rd shall reveal Himself.' "
This may be what the Rambam alludes to when he writes with regard to the Beis HaMikdash: "An abode for G-d, prepared for bringing the offerings; a place to come and celebrate three times a year."
"Bringing the offerings" refers to the service of offerings; "a place to come and celebrate three times a year" refers to beholding G-d, for: "Just as they appeared before G-d ('Three times a year ... appear before the L-rd') so too did G-d appear to them."
Specifically, the two things established through the Akeidah - spiritual service and the indwelling of the Divine Presence - are generally related to the primary difference between Avraham and his son Yitzchak with regard to the Akeidah.
The self-sacrifice of the Akeidah rested primarily on Avraham, who had to suppress his compassion for his only son in order to bring him as an offering. For even when Yitzchak became aware that it was he who was supposed to die, his self-sacrifice could not compare to his father's, who had to offer up a child born to him in his old age.
Indeed, because the Akeidah was much more difficult for Avraham than Yitzchak, the Torah describes it as Avraham's tenth and ultimate test, and not as a test for Yitzchak. For it is easier to offer one's own life than the life of one's child. This then was the service of the Akeidah.
Yitzchak's part in the Akeidah was mostly related to the result - the Akeidah imbued him with the sanctity of an Olah offering. Becoming sanctified is, of course, related to the indwelling of the Divine Presence.
The deeds of our fathers Avraham and Yitzchak also enable their children, the Jewish people, to achieve both aspects of spirituality: We are empowered to achieve the loftiest levels of spiritual service, and also to bring about an indwelling and revelation of the Divine Presence within this world.
Based on Likkutei Sichos, Vol. XXX, pp. 73-75.
- (Back to text) Avos 5:3.
- (Back to text) Bereishis 22:2.
- (Back to text) Moreh Nevuchim III, ch. 24.
- (Back to text) See Rambam, Hilchos Beis HaBechirah beginning of ch. 2.
- (Back to text) Bereishis 22:14.
- (Back to text) Rambam, beginning of Hilchos Beis HaBechirah.
- (Back to text) Devarim 16:16.
- (Back to text) See Chagigah 2a; Or HaTorah, Lech Lecha 102b ff.
- (Back to text) See Maamarei Admur HaZakein LeParshiyos HaTorah p. 128.
citing the verse:
"He [Avraham] called there in the name of G-d, L-rd of the universe," remarks: "Do not read 'Vayikra - He called,' rather, 'Vayakri - He made others call.'
"This teaches us that Avraham caused G-d's name to be called by all wayfarers. How? After they ate and drank, they would rise to bless him. He would say to them: 'Have you eaten anything that is mine? You have eaten from that which belongs to the G-d of the universe. Praise, extol and bless He who spoke and [thereby] created the world.' "
The Midrash adds: Those who did not want to bless G-d after the meal were asked to pay a fortune for the food. Upon hearing the enormous sum being demanded of them, the wayfarers would bow to Avraham's wishes and say: "Blessed is the L-rd of the universe, of whose food we have partaken."
Obviously, the dissenters blessed G-d not out of any true desire to do so, but because they were left with no other option. So what benefit was there in their blessing, since they were merely paying lip-service? Moreover, how can this be considered making G-d's name known to all, since these individuals lacked any true recognition of the Creator?
If the individuals had been Jews, then a ruling of the Rambam would apply, for he taught that even when a Jew is forced to perform a mitzvah, it is considered as if he had done it of his own volition.
The reason for this, as the Rambam states, is that "he desires to act as a Jew, longing to perform all the mitzvos and distance himself from sins. It is merely that his evil inclination has forced him [into acting in a contrary manner]. Once he is smitten to the extent that his evil inclination is weakened, and proclaims 'I desire [to give a bill of divorce, for example],' he does so of his own free will."
In other words, every Jew has an innate desire to perform mitzvos; any expression to the contrary is merely external to his essence. Thus, being compelled to act properly serves to negate the opposition of his evil inclination. So when he says "I desire," he does so because his true desire has been revealed.
Now, while this is true of all Jews, Avraham was dealing with an entirely different element. How did forcing them to acknowledge G-d result in a valid act of recognition?
In the Rambam's example cited above, reference was made to an individual who will, because of being smitten, reveal the true nature of his soul, the part that always wants to perform G-d's bidding.
Some people, however, are on an even lower plane; their coarseness and corporeality are such that the inner dimension of their soul is completely hidden and will not be revealed even by being smitten. However, even such individuals can have their corporeality "broken" by having their coarseness smitten, even verbally, i.e., by being shown his truly low level. This at least makes him able to receive holiness.
This latter form of "smiting," wherein the intent is not to reveal the illumination of a person's soul, but rather to shatter his corporeality, extends to non-Jews as well. Such "smiting" removes the obstacles that hinder them from attaining the degree of spirituality of which they are capable.
This explains why Avraham exerted so much pressure on the wayfarers who ate at his table. Non-Jews are also capable of understanding that the universe possesses a Creator, for which reason Avraham occupied himself in making G-d known to all by providing them with various proofs and explanations of His existence.
When some of them were - because of their coarseness and corporeality - unable to accept this concept, he would place them in an extremely uncomfortable situation by "smiting" them verbally. This removed some of their coarseness, and they were then able to accept Avraham's explanations. As a result, they would willingly say: "Blessed is the L-rd of the universe, of whose food we have partaken."
Based on Likkutei Sichos, Vol. XV, pp. 122-127.
- (Back to text) Sotah end of 10a ff. See also Bereishis Rabbah end of ch. 54.
- (Back to text) Bereishis 21:33.
- (Back to text) Bereishis Rabbah 49:4.
- (Back to text) End of ch. 2 of Hilchos Geirushin.
- (Back to text) See Kuntres HaHispa'alus 49b; Likkutei Bi'urim, ibid. 48a.
- (Back to text) See Mishlei 24:20. See also Tanya, end of ch. 11.
- (Back to text) See Rambam, Hilchos Avodah Zarah 1:3; Vayita Eishel 5701, ch. 1, et al.