An Akeida in Jerusalem

How come the angel saved Yitzchak?

Rabbi Dr. Aryeh Hirsch

Judaism Aryeh Hirsch
Aryeh Hirsch

“Man has absolute permit in his domain of action (reshut muchletet b’yado): if he so wills, he  acts;  and if he does not will it, he does not act”(Ramban, Bereishit 22;1).

Ramban’s  introduction to the Akeidah, the Binding of Isaac on the altar on Har Hamoriah (Mount Moriah, the present Temple Mount), is reminiscent of the same words that Rambam uses in Hilchot Teshuvah to discuss free will (openings of Chapters 5 and 7). Both great philosopher’s stress the מעשה, Man’s action: Man has full permit to “send out his hand” (Rambam quotes this sentence from Breishit 3;22 , from the story of Adam and the Tree of Life) and act, for evil or good.

Nothing will prevent that action: if a Nazi in WWII  pulled his trigger to kill a Jew , Free Will demanded that no bullet-proof screen descend from heaven to save the Jew. This answers the old question: “Where was G-d in the Holocaust? ”  Answer: G-d was there, but in our cause-and effect world, the Jew was inevitably killed.

This begs the question about  the Akeidah: the Akeidah is THE biblical source of Holocaust, of seemingly unjustified, senseless slaughter of the Jew. Yet, in the biblical story, the bullet-proof protecting screen did descend: the Angel did stop Avraham’s  outstretched hand (verse 10). In a 180- degree turnaround, the angel says (verse 11) : “ DO NOT SEND OUT YOUR HAND”, a screeching contradiction to Breishit 3;22 and to the Rambam’s and Ramban’s philosophy. How can that be- it is not supposed to happen in the post-Eden world?

The answer is found in my “usual suspects”, the Aznayim L’Torah and Rav Matis Weinberg. On verse 12 ( D’h Al Taaseh Lo Meuma), the Aznayim L’Torah notes that this is a story of Kodashim, Temple sacrifices. Avraham Avinu stood on Har Hamoriah, our Temple Mount, in a place NOT of this post-Eden, cause-and-effect world. He stood on the Makom Hamizbeach (the Altar), in a place of קדשים, sacrifices and Temple Avodah (service).

Avraham had been   oקורא ש designating Yitzchak Avinu to be a sacrifice, which is the first act in sacrificial service. Avraham knew  that the Kedushah( holiness) does not depart from an animal so designated without a redemption( Pidyon), and he wondered what should be done to Yitzchak: redeem with money, or designate Yitzchak for a life of celibacy( as the Midrash says were the possibilities with the daughter of Yiftach/Jephta the Judge)- or possibly even some minor, symbolic cut . That’s why the angel said: “Do nothing to him”.

Bringing the story into this realm of Kodashim (קדשים) inserts this incident into the ongoing story of Genesis starting with Eden.  Rav Weinberg points out that the Edenic world was one of Kodashim. Thus, Adam’s sphere of action involved ויקרא האדם שמות, he called names to all creatures ( Breishit 2;20) in an act defining the animal world, and designating living creatures as Kodashim (holy objects from which Man is allowed no benefit, only the Lord is allowed). In such a world, Man ate only from the plants.

Then came Noah and the post-Flood world.  Adam’s  world of Kodashim had been corrupted, and like any blemished sacrifice/Kodashim (קרבן בעל מום), had to be completely obliterated. Noah was now ויחל נח איש האדמה (Breishit 9:20, starting to tend the earth). However, the word “Vayachel” denotes Chulin, the realm of the non-holy, as opposed to Kodashim. Noah’s new world was a non-holy world in which  G-d no longer talked to man, and G-d tolerated “secular” man as long as he would follow the seven simple Noachide laws of good behavior.

All this, of course, continued until the appearance of Avraham (Abraham) Avinu, and Yitzchak (Isaac). Kodashim made its appearance again in the world, and G-d again talked to a man, Avraham Avinu. Thus, the Akeidah fits seamlessly into the running history of the world that is the Bible.

So the Ramban is telling us that this Akeidah story is from a different world than our own, and thus is no contradiction to Man’s free will, and “reshut”(permit/domain) to act. Akeidah is literally from Eden. Of course, we descendants of Avraham and Yitzchak had a Temple for 830 years, in which that Edenic, Kodashim world was actualized- and that is the Jerusalem that we Jews, and only we Jews, are capable of creating. Our connection to Akeidah is genetic, and philosophic - and it is ours alone. In this fiftieth Jubilee year since we returned to our Temple Mount, may we see full realization of Israel’s 2,000 year-old dreams of Redemption.

This dvar Torah is dedicated to Tzipporah Feigah bat Liba B’racha. Please pray for her full recovery to health.