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    The merit of Abraham: how the Midrash sees it

    Abraham & Isaac, by Jan Lievens, c.1637

    The eyes of Abraham looked into the eyes of Isaac and the eyes of Isaac looked up to Heaven. The tears ran down Abraham’s cheeks until his whole body was bent over in weeping.

    He raised the knife to slay Isaac, but Satan came and pushed his arm so that the knife dropped from his hand. When he put out his hand to pick it up, he wept bitterly and sighed deeply.

    He looked up and raised his voice and said, “I lift up my eyes to the hills: from whence shall my help come?” (Psalm 121:1).

    At that moment the Holy One, blessed be He, revealed Himself above the angels and opened up the firmament. Isaac raised his eyes and saw the heavenly chambers and he trembled and gasped.

    In the firmament rows upon rows of ministering angels stood lamenting and weeping, and they said to one another: “See, an only son slaughters and an only son is slaughtered. Lord of the universe, what will come of Your oath, ‘Thus shall your seed be’ (Gen 15:5)?”

    At once the Holy One, blessed be He, said to the angel Michael, “Why are you standing there? Do not let him do it!”

    “And the angel of the Lord called to him out of heaven and said, ‘Abraham, Abraham'” (Gen. 22:11), twice, like one who cries out in pain. Abraham turned his face to him, and the angel said to him, “What are you doing? ‘Lay not your hand upon the lad’ (Gen. 22:12)”. Abraham said to him, “Who are you?” “I am an angel!”. “When the Holy One, Blessed be He, told me to offer my son, He spoke to me Himself: therefore now, if he wants, He Himself will speak to me!”

    Suddenly the Holy One, blessed be He, broke open the firmament and the thick darkness and said, “By Myself have I sworn…” (Gen. 22:16). Abraham said to Him, “You have sworn, and I too have sworn that I will not descend from this altar until I have said all that I must.”

    He said to him, “Speak!” Abraham said to Him, “Did you not say to me, ‘Count the stars… Thus shall your seed be’ (Gen. 15:5)?” “Yes.” “From whom?” “From Isaac.” “Did You not say to me, ‘I will make your seed as the dust of the earth’ (Gen. 13:16)?” “Yes.” “From whom?” “From Isaac.”

    “I could have answered You and said, Yesterday You said to me, ‘For in Isaac shall your seed be called’ (Gen. 21:12). Now You say to me, ‘Offer him up there for a burnt-offering’ (Gen. 22:2). I overcame my evil impulse and did not answer You. So, when the children of Isaac shall sin and be led astray, let the binding of Isaac be remembered for them, and consider it as if his dust were gathered on this altar, and be filled with mercy for them and forgive them and redeem them from their sorrows.”

    And the Holy One, blessed be He, said to him: “You have spoken yours and I shall speak Mine. The children of Isaac are destined to sin before Me, and I shall judge them; but if they seek that I forgive them, I shall remember for their sake the binding of Isaac.”

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