Daily Israel Report

Judaism: Rabbi Kook on Vayera: The Binding of Isaac

What is so profound, so amazing about the Akeida? After all, it was common among certain pagan cults to sacrifice children (such as the idolatry of Molech). In what way did Abraham show greater love and self-sacrifice than the idol-worshippers of his time?
Published: Friday, November 18, 2005 1:24 AM


The merit of the Akeida (Binding of Isaac) is mentioned repeatedly in our prayers. It is a theme of central importance to Judaism. Yet, one could ask a simple question:

What is so profound, so amazing about the Akeida? After all, it was common among certain pagan cults to sacrifice children (such as the idolatry of Molech). In what way did Abraham show greater love and self-sacrifice than the idol-worshippers of his time?

Rabbi Avraham Yitzchak Kook addressed this issue in a letter he wrote in 1911.

The absolute submission that idolatry demanded - and received - was not just a result of primitive mankind's fearful attempts to appease the capricious gods of nature. Even the most abject paganism reflects the truth of the soul's deep yearnings for closeness to God. Even the most abase idolatry contains profound awareness that the Divine is more important than anything else in life.

With the introduction of Abraham's refined monotheism in the world, it was necessary to counter the objection of paganism: can the Torah's abstract concept of God compete with the reality of tangible idols? Can monotheism produce the same coarse vitality, the same passionate devotion, as paganism? Or is it merely a cold, cerebral religion - theologically correct, but tepid and uninspiring?

Through the test of the Akeida, Abraham demonstrated to the world that, despite the intellectual refinement of his teachings, his approach lacked none of the religious fervor and unlimited devotion to be found in the wildest of pagan rites. His Torah could match idolatry's fire without relying on primitive imagery and barbaric practices.

[Adapted from Igrot HaRi'eyah vol. II, p. 43]