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    What did God really want? – Rosh HaShanah

    The binding of Isaac, by Adi Holzer

    Look at the story of the Akedah, the Binding of Isaac, which we solemnly read on the second day of Rosh HaShanah. It is not merely a narrative but a dialogue with a number of speakers.

    God speaks and tells Abraham to take his son Isaac as an offering. Isaac himself apparently does not hear the command, but realises there is to be a sacrifice and asks about an animal for the offering. Abraham says God will provide the animal, hinting that Isaac will be that animal. An angel speaks and tells Abraham to leave Isaac unscathed.

    We know that the first speaker is God but I think we can also say that the voice of the angel is also the voice of God, since angels are God’s agents. If so, then God is saying two things: “Offer up Isaac” and “Don’t offer up Isaac”. Which is the real voice of God? Probably both. How perplexing!

    There is a Midrash which quotes the view of Rabbi Elazar ben Pedat who said, “Though Isaac did not die, the Torah regards him as though he had died.” Other sages said that Isaac died but was revived, though Ibn Ezra disputes this notion.

    Rabbi Shlomo Riskin suggests that something in Isaac did die: “Perhaps Isaac was so traumatised by the Akedah that a specific aspect of him did die. After all, he became the most ethereal and passive of the patriarchs”.

    If Rabbi Riskin is right, what God wanted was psychological: a part of Isaac’s personality had to be sacrificed, but not his entire being.

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