Avraham’s Crowning Achievement

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The Shulchan Aruch states (Orach Chaim 1:5): טוב לומר פ’ העקדה
(It is good to read the passage of the Binding of Yitzchak, i.e. the Akeidah
[each morning]). The Mishnah Berurah explains (O.C. 1:13) that it
is not sufficient just to read it; rather, one must think about it deeply and
recognize the wonders of Hashem. He adds that one who recites the Akeidah
each day is guaranteed a place in the World to Come. How come reading the Akeidah
produces such amazing results?

Many years before the Akeidah, Hashem gave Avraham a
promise (Bereshit 15:4-5): וְהִנֵּה דְבַר־יְיָ
אֵלָיו לֵאמֹר לֹא יִירָשְׁךָ זֶה כִּי־אִם אֲשֶׁר יֵצֵא מִמֵּעֶיךָ הוּא
יִירָשֶׁךָ: וַיּוֹצֵא אֹתוֹ הַחוּצָה וַיֹּאמֶר הַבֶּט־נָא הַשָּׁמַיְמָה וּסְפֹר
הַכּוֹכָבִים אִם־תּוּכַל לִסְפֹּר אֹתָם וַיֹּאמֶר לוֹ כֹּה יִהְיֶה זַרְעֶךָ (And behold! The word of Hashem came to
him saying, ‘He [i.e. Eliezer] will not inherit you, but rather he that shall
come out from you, he shall inherit you.’ And He took him outside [from his
nature-based way of thinking] and said, ‘Look now to the heavens and count the
stars, if you can count them.’ And He said to him, ‘Thus shall be your
offspring!’). And the Torah testifies about Avraham’s response (15:6): וְהֶאֱמִן בַּיְיָ
(And he believed Hashem). No
questions; just a simple and profound emunah in Hashem’s promise.

But then, in the very next verse, Hashem also
promised him that he would inherit the land of Canaan (15:7). But what
is Avraham’s response this time? He questioned Hashem and asked (15:8): בַּמָּה אֵדַע כִּי אִירָשֶׁנָּה (But how shall I know that I will inherit it?).

One minute, Avraham is soaring above the clouds with
unwavering emunah; the next minute he doubts Hashem’s promise and needs
a sign of confirmation. What happened in such a short space of time? It’s not
too difficult to understand if we think about events in our own lives. There is
a big difference in believing in Hashem’s promises as they pertain to our
private lives and believing His promises in situations when we must interact
with others.

This deficiency in emunah wasn’t a simple matter. It
would result in tragic and far-reaching consequences (see 15:9-20).
Basically, Avraham’s weakness in emunah led to exile in Egypt, and only
after four generations would his descendants return to the land to inherit it.
Avraham’s one little question became a fundamental turning point in all of
Jewish history, not only because it led to the Egyptian exile but because it
set the pattern for all future exiles. As R’ Nachman explains (Likutei
Moharan 7:1
): דַּע כִּי עִקַּר הַגָּלוּת אֵינוֹ
אֶלָּא בִּשְׁבִיל חֶסְרוֹן אֱמוּנָה
(Know that the essence of exile is only due to a deficiency of emunah).
But this deficiency was not only in emunah; it expressed itself also as
a deficiency in the power of prayer and the whole aspect of miracles, all of
which led to a blemish to the land of Yisrael (see L.M. 7:1 and 9:5
for an explanation of these interconnected ideas). So whenever we find
ourselves in exile (like now), it is fundamentally due to a lack of emunah,
which manifests itself as a deficiency in prayer and a failure to really
believe in miracles—all of which cause a blemish to the land of Yisrael.

But Hashem wasn’t finished with Avraham just because he
fell. He provided him with one challenge after another, and through them all,
Avraham continued growing (e.g. he witnessed the destruction of S’dom, Amora
and their sister cities in spite of his attempts to intercede on their behalf,
he fought a war to rescue Lot, he saw his wife Sarah abducted by Avimelech, and
was told to listen to Sarah and exile Hagar and Yishmael from his home).

Then one day after Yitzchak had grown up, Hashem decided the
time was ripe for Avraham’s big test (Bereshit 22:2): וַיֹּאמֶר קַח־נָא אֶת־בִּנְךָ אֶת־יְחִידְךָ אֲשֶׁר־אָהַבְתָּ
אֶת־יִצְחָק וְלֶךְ־לְךָ אֶל־אֶרֶץ הַמֹּרִיָּה וְהַעֲלֵהוּ שָׁם לְעֹלָה עַל
אַחַד הֶהָרִים אֲשֶׁר אֹמַר אֵלֶיךָ
(And He said, ‘Please take your son, your unique son, whom you
love—Yitzchak—and go, for yourself, to the Land of Moriah and bring him up
there as a burnt offering on one of the mountains about which I will tell
you’). Let’s try to put this into perspective. Avraham dedicated his entire
life to teach against idolatry (which included child sacrifice as an integral
part of its worship system) and to reveal the light of the Holy One, blessed be
He. He and Sarah brought out a lot of people from under the bondage of idolatry
and taught them freedom in the light of the Creator of the world. And now, that
very same Creator was telling him to do the one thing that he taught others was
most abhorrent to the Creator! Not only did this go against everything Avraham
thought he understood about G-d, but if he went ahead with this, he would be
throwing away what he thought was his life’s mission. Those whom he taught
would call him a hypocrite and turn against him—and against G-d. And to add
even greater confusion to Avraham’s sense of logic, Hashem Himself had already
told Avraham that His promises would be fulfilled only through this very son
that he was now being told to sacrifice (Bereshit

But Avraham didn’t
ask, “How are You going to fulfill Your promises if I sacrifice my son?” He
didn’t ask, “What will become of the people that I have led to You? Do you want
them to return to their pagan roots?” He didn’t say, “But this will be a
disgrace to Your holy name throughout all the world!” He didn’t question Hashem
at all; he didn’t utter a single word (as he had done before). Avraham had learned
to accept paradoxes. He had come to learn that no amount of creative thinking
on his part, no matter the greatness of his intellect, would ever compare to
the infinite Supernal Wisdom. He understood that there was no point in trying
to think up a rational explanation for how Hashem would ‘pull
this off’—in fact, he knew that it is impossible to figure out how Hashem is
going to do anything. So what did he do instead? He just got up early in the
morning and began the preparations needed for carrying out Hashem’s command as
expeditiously as possible. Action was needed here, not trying to figure out the
mind of G-d. And so, in his conduct here, Avraham fixed the blemish in his emunah that he had earlier when Hashem told him that he would inherit the
land. There, he couldn’t figure out how it could possibly come to pass. After
all, how could a single man or even a nation descended from him who would
become Torah scholars and sages ever possibly conquer the warrior nations of
Canaan? Here, he dismissed relying on so-called ‘rational’ thinking. Instead,
he had come to believe in miracles without limitation.

How does one
achieve this level? It seems so completely beyond anything we could ever hope
to achieve. Simply put, he had learned to nullify himself completely to the
oneness of his Maker. R’ Nachman explains how this is accomplished (Likutei Moharan 52): וְאִי
אֶפְשָׁר לָבוֹא לִידֵי בִּטּוּל כִּי־אִם עַל־יְדֵי הִתְבּוֹדְדוּת כִּי
עַל־יְדֵי שֶׁמִּתְבּוֹדֵד וּמְפָרֵשׁ שִׂיחָתוֹ בֵּינוֹ לְבֵין קוֹנוֹ
עַל־יְדֵי־זֶה הוּא זוֹכֶה לְבַטֵּל כָּל הַתַּאֲווֹת וְהַמִּדּוֹת רָעוֹת עַד
שֶׁזּוֹכֶה לְבַטֵּל כָּל גַּשְׁמִיּוּתוֹ וּלְהִכָּלֵל בְּשָׁרְשׁוֹ (It is impossible to come to
self-nullification [bitul] without hitbodedut [pouring out one’s
heart to Hashem in prayer while secluding oneself away from the distractions of
the physical world] because by being secluded and speaking at length with his
Maker, one can merit to nullify one’s physical desires and bad character traits
until he merits to nullify his physicality and to be encompassed in his
Source). This is what Avraham had done over the years to such an extent that he
had rectified his lack of emunah completely. He didn’t need explanations
or even possibilities about how or what Hashem was going to do. On the
contrary, thinking about such things would demonstrate a blemish in the very emunah
he was working on perfecting! All he had in his mind was that Hashem promised
and Hashem would fulfill. As he said to those who accompanied him (Bereshit
): שְׁבוּ־לָכֶם פֹּה עִם־הַחֲמוֹר וַאֲנִי
וְהַנַּעַר נֵלְכָה עַד־כֹּה וְנִשְׁתַּחֲוֶה וְנָשׁוּבָה אֲלֵיכֶם (Sit yourselves here with the donkey, and
I and the youth will walk there, and we will worship, and we will return to

Not only did he believe Hashem’s earlier promise that
everything would be fulfilled through Yitzchak in the face of Hashem’s
current command
to sacrifice Yitzchak, he went about fulfilling that
command with joy. How do we know that he went about this task from a heart
filled with joy? We know because, at the very last possible moment (when he had
picked up the knife to slay Yitzchak), he received another prophecy not to
sacrifice his son. How does this answer our question? It is as we learn from
the Rambam (Hilchot Yesodei ha-Torah 7:4): כָּל
הַנְּבִיאִים אֵין מִתְנַבְּאִין בְּכָל עֵת שֶׁיִּרְצוּ אֶלָּא מְכַוְּנִים
דַּעְתָּם וְיוֹשְׁבִים שְׂמֵחִים וְטוֹבֵי לֵב וּמִתְבּוֹדְדִים שֶׁאֵין
הַנְּבוּאָה שׁוֹרָה לֹא מִתּוֹךְ עַצְבוּת וְלֹא מִתּוֹךְ עַצְלוּת אֶלָּא
מִתּוֹךְ שִׂמְחָה (The
prophets [except Moshe Rabbeinu] do not receive prophecy whenever they want,
rather they focus their daat [spiritual awareness], sit happily in a
joyous mood and do hitbodedut, because prophecy doesn’t rest upon someone
in sadness or laziness [i.e. depression] but only in simchah). If Avraham’s state of mind is
difficult for you to comprehend, don’t be surprised. It’s extremely difficult
for all of us to understand.

But simchah wasn’t the only ingredient in repairing
his blemish in emunah. The other critical ingredient was silence. As we
already pointed out, when told to do the logically impossible, Avraham remained
silent. Why was silence such a lofty response? Because it is written (Sefer
Ha-Midot, Emunah 25
): אֱמוּנָה בָּא עַל־יְדֵי
שְׁתִיקָה (Emunah comes
by way of silence). This is also what Shimon ben Rabban Gamliel testified (Pirkei
Avot 1:17
): כָּל יָמַי גָּדַלְתִּי בֵין הַחֲכָמִים
וְלֹא מָצָאתִי לַגּוּף טוֹב אֶלָּא שְׁתִיקָה, וְלֹא הַמִּדְרָשׁ הוּא הָעִקָּר
אֶלָּא הַמַּעֲשֶׂה וְכָל הַמַּרְבֶּה דְבָרִים מֵבִיא חֵטְא (All my days I grew up among the Sages, and I never found
anything better for a person than silence; study is not the essence, but rather
action, and all who increase words bring about sin). We also see this in
Aaron’s response after Moshe explained to him the higher meaning behind the
death of his two sons Nadav and Avihu (Vayikra 10:3): וַיִּדֹּם אַהֲרֹן (And
Aaron was silent). It is also what we see prophesied for the future when all
the nations of the world will finally recognize that Hashem never abandoned the
Jews nor did he ever forsake Yerushalayim as His holy city (Zecharyah 2:17):
הַס כׇּל־בָּשָׂר מִפְּנֵי יְהֹוָה (Be silent all flesh before Hashem). This silence is an
indication of teshuvah and the beginnings of emunah.

So what’s the point in all of this? We should read the Akeidah
every morning for many reasons, not least of which is to be encouraged daily
never to give up on ourselves. If we fall from emunah from time to time,
just get up and keep going. Since Hashem didn’t give up on Avraham, He won’t give
up on us. We are, after all, his children.

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