Torah portion Vayera contains the Akeida (binding of Isaac), one of the most dramatic episodes in the entire Hebrew Bible. God instructs Abraham to go up to Mount Moriah and sacrifice his beloved son Isaac, and with pure dedication to his Creator Abraham sets out to fulfill this most painful command. It is impossible to imagine what Abraham must be feeling as he binds his son upon the altar and raises the knife to slit the neck of his adored progeny.
At that very instant, a voice from the heavens tells Abraham, “Do not stretch out your hand against the lad nor do anything to him for now I know you are a God-fearing man, since you have not withheld your son, your only one from me.” (Gen. 22:12). Abraham has passed his most difficult test of faith in the defining moment of the Jewish people until this day. God then blesses Abraham that he and his descendants will be “as numerous as the stars of heaven and the sands on the seashore; and your descendants shall seize the gates of their foes. All the nations shall bless themselves by your descendants, because you have obeyed My command.” (Gen. 22:17-18)
What a dramatic tale of self-sacrifice, spiritual elevation, and communion with the Divine! Oddly, this monumental episode appears to end on an anti-climactic note: “Abraham returned to his servants, and they stood up and went together to Beer Sheva.” (Gen. 22:19) Why such a mundane conclusion to this extraordinary story? Rabbi Samson Rafael Hirsch (1808-1888) teaches that these seemingly redundant words contain the most important message of the entire parsha. Despite experiencing a mind-blowing encounter with God and receiving a beautiful blessing, Abraham doesn’t keep himself distant from those on a lower spiritual level. He walks alongside his servants and his wayward son Ishmael. He stays humble. Rabbi Dovid Sipper writes, “Abraham taught us that true greatness is all about reaching for the stars while remaining in heart and mind with those around us.”
Image: Abraham e Isaac camino del sacrificio” by Pedro Orrente, c. 1620