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Parsha Vayera Genesis 18:1-22:24

Parsha Vayera Genesis 18:1-22:24

In this week’s portion we read of Abraham’s great and final test of his life. Genesis 22 starts out by saying, “Now it came to pass…that God tested Abraham and said to him, ‘Abraham!’” When I first started writing, I wrote out the whole verses of Genesis 22:1-3. But the more I wrote, the more I realized how many concepts there are just in these three verses, so I had to break them down.
As I mentioned before, this is the last and utmost of tests that Abraham had ever experienced. According to Pirkei Avot 5:3 (Ethics of the Fathers) we read, “With ten trials was Abraham, our father (may he rest in peace), tried, and he withstood them all…” Abraham faced 10 trials throughout his life. What those happened to be, are not mentioned in Pirkei Avot. But many noteworthy Rabbis have given their lists of “the 10 trials” of Abraham. It may seem like a small list for an entire lifetime, but when you read through the different lists compiled by various Rabbis, you realize the magnitude and seriousness of each trial that shaped Abraham into the character we read about in this week’s portion. Many Rabbis include Midrashic (Rabbinic Biblical Interpretation) stories as part of the tests that Abraham endured. While these traditional stories are great and help paint a picture of Abraham’s younger life, for the sake of this “observation” I want to use a list compiled by the Rambam, otherwise known as Maimonides. His list of trials comes directly out of the Torah, starting with God’s call in Genesis 12 to the final trial that we’re reading about today in Genesis 22. The other 8 trials are recorded between those ten chapters.
According to the Rambam, Abraham’s (who was at the time, Abram) first trial started when God called him to leave his father’s house in Haran, to go “…to a land [He] would show [him].” Abraham’s last trial would also be a call from God. To “…go to the land of Moriah…(to) one of the mountains of which I shall tell you.” The way Abraham started his journey of trials is the same way he would finish them. His faithfulness in each trial is what would lead to the ultimate test of offering up his son Isaac to God.
“Sacrifice of Isaac” by Rembrandt (1606-1669)
Continuing on in verse 1, “And he (Abraham) said, ‘Here I am.’” God calls Abraham and Abraham immediately responds. In Hebrew, “here am I” is the word, “Hineni.”
In Modern Hebrew, the word “Hineh” means “here is.” It is used the same way we use the English word “here.” As in “Here, take it.” This word can be used to offer someone something that they need, want or ask for. So when Abraham says “Hineni,” he’s saying to God “‘here I am’—Take me, use me, I’m listening—to hear and do what You say.”
When I (Samuel) had my Bar Mitzvah, my Mom had a basket for people to write notes congratulating me on that special day. It was a big day! The day I became a man…or maybe, started becoming a man! But the one note that has stuck in my mind by memory since then, was from an “older-young man” (I was 13 and he was probably mid-20’s) He wrote, “I showed up—Signature…” I thought it was hilarious, in fact I still think it’s hilarious. But that is not the attitude of “Hineni.”
Abraham did not hear God’s call and say, “Ani Poh—I’m here.” Abraham responded with the word “Hineni—Here I am, use me, what do you want from me, how can I be useful to you?” Abraham knew the voice of God! And he responded to God’s call!
 
Next verse, Then He said, ‘Take now your son…Isaac, whom you love, and go to the land of Moriah, and offer him there….’” 
I want to start with the glaringly obvious…When we read this chapter it can be repulsive. This is a chapter that turns a lot of people off. How could God ask for Abraham to sacrifice his son? Why would He desire to be worshiped in the same manner as the gods of the nations?
Child sacrifice in Abraham’s time was widespread throughout the known world. The “gods” demanded blood, and humankind was only too happy to keep them appeased.
Not much has changed since then, people still “worship” these spirits in our “modern—enlightened era.”
But why would Our God ask for this? We know Him as “…not the God of the dead, but the God of the living.” (Mark 12) Why would He ask for something when He explicitly states in the Torah, “You shall not worship the Lord your God in that way (the way of the nations)…[for] every abomination to the Lord which He hates they have done to their gods; for they burn even their sons and daughters in the fire to their gods.” (Dt. 12)
Here are several things to understand about this verse. First, we know from the story that Isaac doesn’t end up being sacrificed. It was not a sacrifice. The Angel of the Lord calls to Abraham, Abraham answers “Hineni” and he is told not to kill his son. Abraham did not go through with the offering. God stayed Abraham’s hand from offering his son. 
Rabbi Avraham Yitzchak HaCohen Kook (First Ashkenazi Chief Rabbi of British Mandatory Palestine in the Land of Israel) writes in one of his essays in Olat Reiyah (Eyewitnesses), that the peak of the story between Abraham and Isaac was the point of the narrative, “…to put an end to the ritual of child sacrifice, which contradicts the morality of a perfect and giving (not taking) monotheistic God.”
The last thing to notice here is the word for “offering” that God uses when telling Abraham to “offer [his son].” It is the Hebrew root word “Olah.”
The Hebrew word “Olah” means literally “rising, ascending, upward, crescendo.” In the Bible it is the word that is associated with a “whole-burnt offering.”
Rashi makes a comment concerning this phrasing, he says, “He (God) did not say, ‘Slay him,’ because the Holy One, blessed be He, did not desire that he (Abraham) should slay him (Isaac), but He told him to bring him up to the mountain…” In other words, God didn’t command Abraham to “slay his son.” He commanded him to “lift him up” as an offering. Which is exactly what Abraham did.
 
There are so many things I could keep writing about. I wish I could keep going but I also don’t want to overload anyone or myself with too much information.
For those of you who want to continue studying this Parsha, I would encourage you to look into “The Mountain” that Abraham offered his son on. Or think about the significance of Isaac carrying the wood up the Mountain. What do the knife, fire and wood represent that Abraham and Isaac are carrying? How was Isaac, the son, submissive to his father? Think about Isaac’s binding and the scars that remained on his hands and feet…think about these things. Where else do we see this story?
 
To finish I want to end with verse 3. “ So Abraham rose early in the morning and saddled his donkey, and took two young men with him, and Isaac his son; and he split the wood for the burnt offering, and arose and went to the place of which God had told him.” After what sounds like a restless night, it says, Abraham arose early in the morning, he got his son and two young men, and chopped the wood for the offering. Abraham heard from God and immediately took on the task. No hem-hawing around. First thing in the morning, he does what God instructed him to do. He is diligent and faithful, to be and hearer and a doer when God speaks.
 
These are just some of the lessons we could learn from the life of Abraham as we walk in his footsteps.
“Abraham’s Journey from Ur to Canaan” by Jozsef Molnar (1821-1899) 
Here is my observation for this week. We will be tested in this life…When God calls us, our reply shouldn’t be “I showed up” or “I’m here.” Our response to the trials and calling of God should be “Hineni—Use me Lord, I’m ready and wanting to hear and do what you say.”
Sometimes we may be called to give up the most valuable or important thing in our life…Whatever it is, put it on the altar and offer it all up as an “olah—a rising, ascending” offering to God. As the Apostle Paul wrote, I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that you present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God, which is your reasonable service.” (Romans 12)
Our calling is to be “daily, living sacrifices.” To say “Hineni—how can I be used of God today?” And as we walk in the footsteps of our forefather Abraham, may we see the Kingdom of the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob established, on earth as it is in heaven!
 
Shabbat Shalom,
Samuel

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