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An Exalted Faith

  • Harav Yehuda Amital

Sicha for Shabbat from the Roshei Yeshiva
Yeshivat Har Etzion



An Exalted Faith

Summarized by Betzalel Posy


And after these things came to pass, the Lord tested Avraham; and He said to him, "Avraham," and he said, "Here I am." And He said, "Take your son, your only son, whom you love, Yitzchak, and go to the land of Moriah, and offer him there as a burnt offering on one of the mountains which I will show you." (Bereishit 22:1-2)

I would like to examine how the Rambam deals with the parasha of the akeida (the binding of Yitzchak). First, the Rambam tells us that the purpose of nisyonot (Divine tests) in the Torah is not merely to test the recipient, but to teach others important principles in Divine service. The Rambam, then, points out two messages that we learn from this, the test of tests. Let us deal with the second one first, as I want to focus on the first.

The Rambam tells us that the incident of the akeida is a proof of the perfect clarity of prophecy. After all, if there were any doubt that the command to Avraham was both of divine origin and absolutely clear and unequivocal in its meaning, would not Avraham have looked for every excuse to refrain from sacrificing his pride and joy, the son of his dreams? And not only that, but Avraham had three days to think and contemplate whether he was doing the right thing; he did not just impulsively sacrifice his son.

This is an important message for us, as Jews. Judaism is based on prophecy, on God telling us what we are supposed to do. Any doubt in the truth or accuracy of the revelation could destroy our whole system. For this reason, the Torah tells us a story of how perfectly clear the revelation of Hashem was to Avraham Avinu, and thus to all other prophets.

The Rambam says that the other message of the akeida is to show how much one must love God, even to the point of sacrificing one's only son. Avraham did so not because he was afraid that God would kill him, but rather because his strongest love and desire was to serve God. To convey this message, the Rambam quotes a verse: "Now I know that you are Godfearing, for you did not withhold your son, your only one, from Me" (Bereishit 22:12).

This point in the Rambam seems strange. After all, does God really need us to love Him to the extent that we would kill our children? Does God ever require us to do such a thing? Does He not, indeed, forbid human sacrifice? Furthermore, the verse that the Rambam himself quotes discusses yir'a (fear), not ahava (love), a recurring theme in this week's parasha.

I would like to explain the Rambam based on some letters of Rav Kook zt"l. Avraham Avinu was involved in a debate with the intellectuals of his time. Not all those who worshipped idols were merely primitives who thought that sticks and stones ran the world. Rather, many people intellectually supported the concept of attaching physical substance to divinity, to make it more palatable to the common person. "Your approach," they told Avraham, "is fine for people like yourself who are removed from the real world. But for a regular person to be willing to give his heart, soul, and very life, or the life of his son, there needs to be something he can touch, see or feel. Your pure faith is too elevated for him, me'od na'ala. He must be able to identify with the gods, to fight their battles, love their loves, and hate their hates. This is the only way for one to have true relationship with a deity." The akeida shows a person with a purified faith, the innovation of Avraham, can have a relationship with the Almighty - a relationship that goes to the extreme of devotion, and is based on the one God of truth and justice.

The alternate viewpoint is an attractive one. For many years, there were Jews who tried to attach some measure of physicality to God, until the Rambam rooted that out of mainstream belief. The Rambam says that all of Judaism is a fight against avoda zara (idolatry). Many say that today, when there is no avoda zara, emuna (faith) is irrelevant. However, I believe that there are many types of avoda zara today, just in different forms.

The editor of Ma'ariv recently wrote a book about his travels to India and his discussion with some Hindu priests there, who told him that Judaism, as well as its offshoots Christianity and Islam, had failed to create a livable system for the majority of people. When people do not have a something tangible on which to base their morality, results such as Nazism are evident. Even in America, the capital of intellectual openness, millions are attracted to cults and other primitive forms of belief, since they see that those who lack some faith, even if they are the biggest intellectuals, can be the worst people. Consider the man who spent years killing people with letter bombs: wasn't he a professor? Thus, the fight of Avraham Avinu is not over, and today more than ever, after the Holocaust and the rise of technology, we must show the world that faith in God is the way to achieve "tzedaka u-mishpat" (righteousness and justice).

But it is not only the outside world whom we must show. Today, many people try to sell Torah and mitzvot in the same way. There are "mystics" and "miracle workers" who claim to be able to tell the future or the past from physical objects, even if they are religious items, such as tefillin and mezuzot. Even worse, there are those who claim to have found new solutions to problems future and past by finding all sorts of codes and gimmicks in the Torah, using computers and calculators. These novelties have no importance; they are not mentioned by the Rishonim, nor did they need them! The Rambam had no codes, the Ramban had none, the Vilna Gaon, nor even the Ba'al Shem! What they had was faith and knowledge of God and His Torah. These gimmicks may seem like a good way to make "ba'alei teshuva," but a ba'al teshuva who is not for Torah and mitzvot is not a ba'al teshuva. EIN PATENTIM! There are no shortcuts or alternative ways to reach "tzedaka u-mishpat," nor are there shortcuts to reaching the Holy One, the source of tzedaka u-mishpat, who is high and exalted.

We must regain the pure faith of Avraham, who stood against the world and taught of the One God. This task falls mainly to us, the inhabitants of the batei midrash; we must purify the Torah of all dross and vulgarization, and show the world and our brethren the true faith, as we recite before blowing the shofar:

"Yediyei amim ne'esafu: am Elokei AVRAHAM; ki le-Elokim maginei eretz; ME'OD NA'ALA" -

"The great of the peoples are gathered together, the retinue of AVRAHAM's God; for the guardians of the earth belong to God; HE IS GREATLY EXALTED." (Tehillim 47:10)

(Originally delivered Se'uda Shelishit, Shabbat Parashat Vayera 5757 [1996].)



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