The Akeidah and Us

Vayakam Avraham me’al pnei meiso vayedaber el bnei Cheis leimor ger v’toshav anochi imachem tnu li achuzas kever imachem v’ekbera meisi milfanai (Bereishis 23:3-4)

The Gemara in Bava Basra (15b) relates that the Satan questioned the piety of Iyov and suggested that his commitment to Hashem was not as reliable as that of Avraham, who did not question Hashem’s ways even when confronted with the test of purchasing a burial plot for his wife Sarah. If the Satan was attempting to demonstrate the extent of Avraham’s devotion, why didn’t he invoke Avraham’s actions at the Akeidah, where he demonstrated his willingness to offer his precious son Yitzchak to Hashem, and what indeed was the nature of the trial involved in purchasing Sarah’s burial place?

Harav Dovid Povarsky, zt”l, explains that after successfully passing the trial of the Akeidah and being blessed by the angel, it would be natural for Avraham to feel a certain sense of entitlement. Upon returning home and discovering that his beloved wife had died and that he did not even have a place to bury her, it would have been understandable for him to question Hashem’s ways and wonder why he was being punished so painfully after everything he had just accomplished. From this perspective, Avraham’s test was not to question or complain. Thus, even though Hashem had promised him that Eretz Yisrael would be his, he willingly paid 400 silver shekels to acquire a burial plot for Sarah without challenging the righteousness of Hashem’s ways.

Harav Nissan Kaplan adds that although we are not subjected to trials like the Akeidah, the yetzer hara still takes a similar tack with us, arguing that after we have worked hard to increase our Torah study, our commitment to prayer, and our generosity to the less fortunate, we deserve better than our current lots in life. He whispers in our ear that people who dedicate their lives to sincerely serving Hashem to the best of their abilities shouldn’t have to endure so much suffering with their finances, health and families. How do we reach the level of Avraham and remain strong after we have given Hashem our utmost, only to face more struggles and setbacks?

When Avraham set out for the Akeidah, he traveled with Yitzchak, Yishmael, and Eliezer. However, as he approached Har Hamoriah (the site of the Akeidah), he instructed Yishmael and Eliezer to remain behind, while he and Yitzchak proceeded “yachdav” — together (22:6). Rashi explains that the Torah’s use of this word to equate the two connotes the fact that Avraham approached the mountain just as joyously and willingly as Yitzchak, who at that point was unaware of his father’s plan to offer him as a sacrifice.

Subsequently, after Avraham hinted to Yitzchak that he would be the offering, the Torah (22:8) again stresses that the two of them continued “yachdav,” signifying that even after Yitzchak understood Avraham’s intentions, he remained just as enthusiastic as his father.

However, after the Akeidah concluded with a ram sacrificed in lieu of Yitzchak, the Torah records (22:19) that Avraham returned to Yishmael and Eliezer and they traveled to Be’er Sheva yachdav. Why is this term used again here?

Harav Samson Raphael Hirsch explains that after the spiritual elevation that Avraham experienced at the Akeidah, it would be reasonable for him to feel a smug sense of pride in his accomplishments and a desire to distance himself from earthly people who were beneath his level. Therefore, the Torah stresses that Avraham did not feel superior to Yishmael and Eliezer in any way because of what he had done, and the group went back to Be’er Sheva yachdav.

After we successfully overcome a difficult test, we should feel a sense of pride that motivates us to continue growing, but it should not be accompanied by a belief that we are now entitled to special treatment.

The key to Avraham passing the trial of burying Sarah was rooted in his ability to leave the Akeidah yachdav, on equal footing with those who didn’t participate. By returning with the same unassuming self-image with which he set out, Avraham laid the groundwork for staying strong in the face of Sarah’s death, a lesson we should internalize to help us cope with life’s inevitable challenges and difficulties.

Q: If Avraham and Sarah lived in Be’er Sheva (22:19), why was Sarah in Chevron when she died (Bereishis 23:2)?

A: The Sifsei Kohen, who was a student of the Arizal, writes that the Satan approached Sarah and inquired about Yitzchak’s whereabouts. She responded that he went with his father to learn how to offer a sacrifice. The Satan told her that she was misled, and that Yitzchak himself would be the sacrifice. She did not believe him, so she traveled to Chevron to ask the giants who lived there (Bamidbar 13:22) — Achiman, Sheshai, and Talmai — if they could use their tremendous height to locate an old man (Avraham) traveling with younger men. When they told her that they saw an old man tying up a young man and holding a knife, her soul immediately departed and she died there in Chevron.

Q: Eliezer presented Rivkah with garments that Avraham sent for the woman he chose as Yitzchak’s bride (24:53). As Avraham was unaware of the identity and size of Yitzchak’s future wife, how could he be sure that the clothing would fit her?

A: The Ichud b’Chidud cites Harav Yissachar Dov, the third Belzer Rebbe, zy”a, who suggests that the clothes Avraham sent with Eliezer were not meant to be worn by Yitzchak’s bride. Rather, they were garments from Sarah’s wardrobe that served as examples of the type of modest and refined clothing that were worn in the groom’s family. As part of her test, Rivkah needed to commit to dress in such a manner if she was to be chosen as Yitzchak’s wife.


Originally from Kansas City, Rabbi Alport graduated from Harvard, learned in Mir Yerushalayim for five years, and now lives in Brooklyn, where he learns in Yeshivas Beis Yosef, is the author of the recently published sefer Parsha Potpourri, and gives weekly shiurim. To send comments to the author or to receive his divrei Torah weekly, please email oalport@Hamodia.com.