Abraham's tenth and final test was the extraordinary challenge of what is known as the Akeida. Abraham was commanded to offer up his beloved son Isaac as a sacrifice to Hashem. Even though Hashem ultimately told Abraham not to kill his son but Abraham's willingness to follow Hashem's will earned him a promise of spiritual and physical blessing for his decendents for all generations.
For all of its intensity, the story is difficult for many of us to comprehend. Human sacrifice is the opposite of our understanding of what the Creator wants. Even so, Abraham's willingness to offer his son won him untold reward. Let's try, with Hashem's help, to get a better understanding of this entire episode.
As described in the beginning of Bereshis (Genesis), first man was commanded not to eat from the tree of knowledge of good and evil. For some almost inexplicable reason Adam decided to ignore the direct command of Hashem and to eat the fruit. The commentators discuss why he ate from the fruit which, although important, is not the issue at hand. What is essential to our discussion is the very process of Adam deciding to eat the fruit. Let's try to approach the issue by describing and analyzing some of life's conflicts.
For most of us, we relate to the requirements of a life of Torah with mixed emotions. Some ideas and commandments "talk to us" and others may be more difficult. We have a similar tension in day-to-day life. In certain parts of our lives we feel kindness being showered upon us from Heaven while other parts are hard to accept. Our reactions and feelings about these difficulties and challenges can be a source of great distress. We don't understand the Creator's "need" to put us through certain trying circumstances.
In short we want one thing and apparently Hashem wants something else. We may want to drive on Shabbat and Hashem says no. We might want to go with friends to a non-kosher restaurant and again Hashem says no. We may want certain situations in our lives other than the present reality and it seems clear that Hashem wants something else. There is us and there is Him. Two clashing opinions.
Where did this tug-of-war start historically? Adam, at the very beginning of man's history, was the first one to choose to follow his own understanding by eating the fruit instead of following Hashem's clear directive. The beginning of the decline of man was the decision to do something against Hashem's command based on the assumption that another option seemed more reasonable.
When and how was this mistake rectified?
Abraham was told to sacrifice his son. It was a seemingly incomprehensible command for Abraham for many reasons, not the least of which that he was told prophetically "through Isaac you will have offspring". The dichotomy was set up much like Adam in the Garden of Eden. Adam was told don't eat the fruit but he felt the preferred path was to yes, to eat from it. Hashem told Abraham to sacrifice his son and yet it made little sense "objectively". However this time Abraham made a choice that created the foundations for an eternal people. He realized that Hashem's will must be the correct path because ultimately there is no other source of truth than Hashem. He put aside his thoughts and understandings and completely subjugated himself to the will of the Creator. Hashem responded with a promise that Abraham's decedents would be eternally blessed. Why? The only thing that is eternal is Hashem Himself. Had Abraham decided to follow what made sense to him he would have repeated the mistake of Adam and lost the opportunity to completely give up his limited understanding to the infinite will and truth of Hashem.
By casting his own logic aside, Abraham replayed and corrected the mistake of Adam and bequeathed this ability to the Jewish people.
Let me note that this explanation of Abraham and the Akeida, which I learned from my teachers, is not just a nice thought and insight. The Jewish people have gone through "hell and high water" through their long exile. Time and again we were challenged with situations which boggle the mind. We were called upon, over the centuries, to act and live with situations that seemed almost illogical. Even so, the Jewish people chose to give their lives and their possessions and cling to their Creator rather than choose more "reasonable" and "logical" options. This tenacity is the opposite of blind faith. This is a faith based on a profound understanding and clarity that doing anything less than the full will of the Creator is to cut oneself off from life itself. A nation of lesser status and belief might have forsaken this dedication to the absolute truth of Hashem's will. However our spiritual genetic make-up, which we inherited from Abraham, is such that in the most horrendous of situations we lived with the words "Shema Yisroel" on our lips and in our hearts.
Adam led mankind downward, placing his will before his Creator's will. Abraham turned around the course of history placing Hashem's will before his personal will. He bequeathed this dedication to truth to his offspring who became the teachers of mankind by living and breathing that truth. It is the knowledge that every Mitzva and every situation, however much it seems to contradict our limited understanding, is a vehicle to bring us closer to our loving and compassionate Creator. May Hashem help us live with that clarity.