The 10 tests of Avraham were trials that were used by Hashem to elevate and perfect our Patriarch. The Binding of Yitzchak — the Akeidah — was perhaps the most difficult test of all.
After his birth (when his father, Avraham, was 100 years old), Yitzchak was raised by his parents as royalty. Through prophecy, his parents were aware that he was the next link in the chain that would produce the Chosen People. The holy parents invested all their power in training and educating their special son for his unique role in world history.
Thirty-seven years later, Yitzchak’s signs of greatness had given his father a sense of certainty that the destiny of his offspring was assured. Then came the test.
Hashem — Who had promised Avraham that Yitzchak would be his heir — commanded Avraham to take Yitzchak to a place that He would show him and to bind him on the altar as a sacrifice. The illogical command was greeted with acceptance and Avraham woke up early to do his Creator’s bidding. At the moment of truth, as Avraham held the knife in his hand, an angel cried out to him to stop. He warned that the father should in no way harm his son.
Another may have jumped at the opportunity and untied the young man as quickly as he could. Avraham, however, answered: “When commanded by the Master and given a contrary order by the servant, whom should one heed?”
The angel replied: “Now I know that you are a G-d-fearing man. You have not withheld your son, your special one, from me.” It was only then that Avraham untied his son.
What did the angel say that prompted Avraham to listen to the servant? His question was still valid. Shouldn’t he continue the sacrifice as his Master had commanded?
The angel’s response contained a message to Avraham. He added the words “from me.” Every mitzvah that a person does creates an angel. That angel will come to defend the one who created him when that soul faces the Heavenly court at the end of his life. But not all angels are the same. If the mitzvah was performed unenthusiastically, or even begrudgingly, the angel shows imperfection. If the mitzvah was not done perfectly according to Torah law, the angel will also be imperfect. The angel told Avraham: “You should stop. If you don’t believe you have done G-d’s will, look at me. I am the angel created by your act and I am perfect. You can tell ‘from me’ that you have done all you needed to perform the Will of your Maker.”
The lesson to us is that one should always strive for perfection in mitzvah performance. We must learn not only what to do but also what is the best way to do it. We may pray, give charity, help others and buy a fine pair of tefillin — but without Torah study, can one expect a perfect performance? Torah study also must include the study of mussar — ethics and morals — to instill the proper enthusiasm and approach to the commandments of Hashem. As we study the lives of our Patriarchs and Matriarchs, we should learn from their ways how to act “perfectly.”
Rabbi Raymond Beyda serves in the Sephardic Community in Brooklyn, N.Y. He lectures to audiences all over the world. He has distributed over 500,000 recorded lessons free of charge. He is author of the book 1 Minute With Yourself: A Minute a Day to Self-Improvement, Sephardic Press, 2008.