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eTeacherBiblical Official Newsletter
Issue #119 - 12/12
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Eli Dahan

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After the Summit

The binding of Isaac

 

The Binding of Isaac story -עקדת יצחק- in Rabbinic Judaism and early Christianity was the topic of Biblical Hebrew Summit II, which took place on December 20. I must say that even after two hundred minutes of a lecture, there are still things to say, since this story was, is and probably will always be a fundamental part of our culture as a story of sacrifice.

However, we can't discuss the Binding of Isaac without looking at the ten tests of character that Abraham was subjected to in his final years. There's a deep connection between the first and the last, as both included an expression that has become incredibly significant in Judaism, as written:

Now the Lord said to Abram:"Go forth from your country,And from your relatives And from your father’s house,"(Genesis 12:1)

He said, “Take now your son, your only son, whom you love, Isaac, and go to the land of Moriah, and offer him there as a burnt offering on one of the mountains of which I will tell you.”(Genesis 22:2)

"וַיֹּאמֶר יְהוָה אֶל-אַבְרָם לֶךְ-לְךָ מֵאַרְצְךָ וּמִמּוֹלַדְתְּךָ וּמִבֵּית אָבִיךָ אֶל-הָאָרֶץ,אֲשֶׁר אַרְאֶךָּ"

וַיֹּאמֶר קַח-נָא אֶת-בִּנְךָ אֶת-יְחִידְךָ אֲשֶׁר-אָהַבְתָּ, אֶת-יִצְחָק וְלֶךְ-לְךָ אֶל-אֶרֶץ הַמֹּרִיָּה; וְהַעֲלֵהוּ שָׁם לְעֹלָה עַל אַחַד הֶהָרִים אֲשֶׁר אֹמַר אֵלֶיךָ.

 

The expression" לֶךְ-לְךָ" doesn’t simply mean, “go for a walk.” This was a commandment of the Lord, who first asked Abraham to leave his home to journey to the Promised Land and then later commanded Abraham offer his son, Isaac, as a sacrifice at the place that, according 2 Chronicles 3:1, would be the site upon which Solomon built the Holy Temple- בֵּית הַמִּקְדָּשׁ.

One might wonder about the last test: why didn't Abraham speak with God about this commandment? One may also wonder why and how God chose Abraham to undertake such unfair test, a test that no father or mother would ever be prepared to undertake. 

The tradition surrounding these tests can be found in the Book of Jubilees, a book that was probably written around the second century B.C.E. In this book, the Angel of The Lord told Moses what happened before he was born, to the world and to his people. We will discuss this book further in another newsletter, but for now it's really important to understand that this book incepted a tradition in which we see a theological split with God – the introduction of the character we know as Satan. In this text Satan is given the name "Mastemah":

"And the prince Mastêmâ came and said before God, 'Behold, Abraham loves Isaac his son, and he delights in him above all things else; bid him offer him as a burnt-offering on the altar, and Thou wilt see if he will do this command, and Thou wilt know if he is faithful in everything wherein Thou dost try him."(Jubilees 17:21-22)

"ויבוא השר משטמה ויאמר לפני האלוהים, הנה אברהם אוהב ומוקיר את בנו יצחק מכל. אמור אליו להקריב אותו לעולה על המזבח, וראה תראה אם יעשה את הדבר הזה, למען תדע אם נאמנה רוחו בכל אשר תנסהו."

This tradition in Jubilees, with the introduction of Satan, continues in the Babylonian Talmud, Sanhedrin 69b, as well as several other Jewish texts and commentaries. Other tradition tells us that before being given the commandment to sacrifice his son, Abraham pondered the fact that he hadn't made a sacrifice to God. For that, the Lord commanded him to sacrifice his son. Another commentary also tells us about a disagreement between Isaac and Ishmael, about who suffered more from the circumcision; by the end of it Isaac bragged that he would gladly suffer any kind of pain should God reveal Himself to him and ask him to cut an organ from his body – and this is exactly what happened.

In Rabbinic Judaism, Abraham didn't reason with God the same way he did in the episode of Sodom and Gomorrah. The only time that he had a conversation with God in Rabbinic texts was when Satan became a big river that drowned both him and Isaac. Abraham asked God to remove this obstacle because he wanted to be entirely committed to God’s commandment!

The ocean of Hebrew is endless, as we can see with this story and many others. If you had to choose the topic for Biblical Hebrew Summit III, what would you choose? More questions about the Binding of Isaac story? Or another topic entirely?

I would love to hear your thoughts!

Have a blessed week,

Eli

 
Main phrases of the post + transcription + translation

 

English

Transliteration

Hebrew

Your son

binchā

בִּנְךָ

Take!

qach

קַח

Land

'erets

אֶרֶץ

Your father

'āvîchā

אָבִיךָ

He bragged

hitravrev

הִתְרַבְרֵב

He pondered

hirhēr

הִרְהֵר

He competed

hitmôdēd

הִתְמוֹדֵד

 
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