What kept Abraham from consulting with Sara on the Akedah?

The first and only instance in which he chose not to consult with Sara and to work alone led to her tragic death.

Rabbi Ronen Neuwirth ,

Rabbi Ronen Neuwirth
Rabbi Ronen Neuwirth
Gil Eliahu

Sara's life is suddenly cut short, at a young age (at least in those days) - 127 years. According to the Midrashim, Sara died of a heart attack when she heard about the Akeda from Yitzchak (or from the Satan, in other versions of the story):

"When he came to his mother, she said to him: What did your father do to you. He told her: Father took me, brought me up mountains, brought me down valleys, brought me up to the top of a particular mountain, and built an altar. So he told the whole story. If the Angel had not said to him ‘Do not raise your hand against the lad!’ (Bereshit 22:12), I would have already been slaughtered.

She said to him: Woe to you, my poor son! If the angel had not said to him ‘Do not raise [your hand]’, you would have already been slaughtered! She did not succeed in finishing the sentence before her breath departed from her.” (Tanchuma Buber, Achrei Mot 3)

Why did Abraham not tell Sara that he was taking Yitzchak to perform the Akeda? How can one take the only child of his mother on such a dangerous and meaningful journey without consulting her?

According to the Midrash, Abraham was afraid to consult with Sara: ”Abraham asked himself: What shall I do? If I tell Sara all about it, consider what may happen. After all, a woman’s mind becomes distraught over insignificant matters; how much more disturbed would she become if she heard something as shocking as this! However, if I tell her nothing at all, and simply steal him away from her when she is not looking, she will kill herself."

What did he do? He said to Sara: ‘Prepare some food and drink that we may eat and rejoice’…While they were eating, he said to her: ‘When I was a child of three, I already knew my Creator, yet this child is growing up and still has had no instruction. There is a place a short distance away, where children are being taught, I will take him there.’ She answered: ‘Go in peace.’ Immediately: ‘And Abraham arose early in the morning’ (Bereshit 22:3). Why did he arise early in the morning? He said to himself: Perhaps Sara will change her mind and not permit me to go; I will arise before she does.” (Tanchuma, Vayera 22)

Abraham was afraid to consult with Sara in case she would stop him, and he persuaded himself that it was not worth consulting her. He told her that he was taking Yitzchak to teach him about G-d, and he got up early in the morning so that she could not stop him.

Until that moment Abraham had not moved an inch without consulting Sara. They always acted as a team and Abraham always listened to his wife. When he was unhappy with her advice, G-d said to him, "Whatever Sara tells you, listen to her voice. So why, in this tragic story of the Akeda, did Abraham choose for the first time not to consult with Sara?

The answer suggested by the Rabbis is insecurity – “Perhaps Sara will change her mind and not permit me to go”. Abraham was afraid to consult Sara because he knew that she would object to the plan, and he was afraid to hear a different opinion. He was focused on his mission and certain that he was fulfilling G-d's commandment, so he did not want anything to stand in his way.

But in truth, Abraham did not correctly understand G-d's commandment: “When I said, "Please take your son," I did not say, "slaughter him," but rather, "and bring him up." For the sake of love did I say [it] to you: I said to you, "Bring him up," and you have fulfilled My words. And now, bring him down.’” (Bereshit Rabba 56:8) Perhaps, if he had consulted with Sara, she would have helped him to better understand the Divine intention, as she had greater prophetic insight. But Abraham was afraid to consult her.

Often, because of our insecurities, we prefer to work solo. We do not share or consult with others, but make our own decisions on important and critical issues. We are so confident in our path, and we think it is unnecessary to consult with others because we understand the situation better than anyone else. But, in truth, this weakness stems from our insecurities. We are often afraid to hear contradictory opinions that may challenge our assumptions. If we mistakenly start to feel that the other person is right, it undermines who we are. But arguing, debating, considering, sharing, consulting, and working as a team with others is not a sign of weakness – it is an act of courage!

It has been suggested that Abraham comes along to correct Adam’s sin, continuing from the point where Adam failed. Adam was expelled from the Garden of Eden for failing to answer the question “Ayeka?”, where are you? Abraham is the first person to answer this question and to say “Hineni” - here I am. Adam listened to his wife when she tempted him to sin and, as a result, a death sentence was imposed on both of them - "On the day you eat from it (the Tree of Knowledge) you will die.” (Bereshit 2:17)

Abraham had consistently listened to his wife throughout their journey, and they worked together as a team. The first and only instance in which he chose not to consult with Sara and to work alone led to her tragic death.

Having the courage to consult with others, to test our ideas and convictions and to reach informed decisions, particularly with help from a spouse or good friend, can help us all to make better choices.

Rav Ronen Neuwirth, formerly Rav of the Ohel Ari Congregation in Ra'anana is author of “The Narrow Halakhic Bridge: A Vision of Jewish Law in the Post-Modern Age”, published by Urim Publications.



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