Mount Moriah and the Akeida (part II)

  • Rav Yitzchak Levy
The Israel Koschitzky Virtual Beit Midrash

Jerusalem in the Bible
Yeshivat Har Etzion

Shiur 10 - Mount Moriah and the Akeida (part II)


By Rav Yitzchak Levi



            In the first part of this shiur we discussed the story of the "Akeida" as hinting to the Temple that was destined to be built on Mount Moriah and the connections between this narrative and the stories of the Divine revelation to Yaakov in Beit-El and the revelation to King David on the threshing-floor of Aravna the Jebusite.  In this second part of the shiur, we shall examine the different meanings of the Akeida and its significance for future generations.


A.  Choice of the sacrifice and choice of the place of offering [1]


            As we saw in the shiur on the name "Moriah," the term "re'iya" (seeing) is sometimes meant in the sense of choosing.  There are two examples of this in the story of the Akeida:


"Avraham said: God will choose for Himself (yir'eh lo) the sheep for the burnt offering, my son" (22:8)

"Avraham called the name of that place "Hashem yir'eh" ("God will choose") (22:14)


In the first verse, Avraham tells Yitzchak that it is God Who will choose the sacrifice that He desires.  In the second verse, Avraham calls the place "Hashem yir'eh" – in the sense that "God will choose." Meaning, this place will be chosen by God - not by mortals.


            In this context there is an interesting parallel to the choice described in Parashat Re'ei, where the Torah presents the Divine command to Am Yisrael as the absolute opposite of paganism:


You shall surely destroy all of the places where the nations whom you will inherit worshipped their gods; upon the high mountains and upon the hills and under every green tree.  And you shall shatter their altars and break their pillars, and burn their asherim with fire, and cut down the carvings of their gods, and destroy their name from that place.


You shall not do so to the Lord your God.  To the place which the Lord your God will choose out of all your tribes, to place His Name there – you shall seek His dwelling and come to there." (Devarim 12:2-5)


            In contrast to the idolaters, WHO CHOOSE BY THEMSELVES where they will serve their gods – "upon the high mountains and upon the hills and under every leafy tree" – Israel is commanded to seek out God's dwelling place, to serve God at the place where GOD WILL CHOOSE to cause His Name to dwell.  These verses, then, parallel the story of the Akeida in terms of the choice of the place of Divine service.


The parallel in terms of the choice of the sacrifice appears at the end of the same chapter:


Guard yourself lest you be ensnared to follow them, after they are destroyed before you, and lest you seek after their gods, saying: "How did these nations serve their gods? I shall do the same." You shall not do this to the Lord your God, for every abomination that God hates - they did for their gods, even their sons and their daughters they burned in the fire to their gods.  Every thing WHICH I COMMAND YOU, that is what you shall observe to do; you shall not add to it, nor shall you detract from it. (Ibid. 12:30-31 – 13;1)


Here again, the Torah contrasts Am Yisrael and the other nations. The pagans choose their sacrifices themselves, and will even burn their own sons and daughters with fire.  For Am Yisrael, on the other hand, God establishes the sacrifices that must be brought.  This is an expression of the philosophical principle discussed by Rabbi Yehuda ha-Levi in many different places in Sefer ha-Kuzari (see, for example, II, 46) that one may come close to God only through the paths that He commands, not through independent initiatives.  In other words, the way or method of coming close to God is an integral part of His service.


            Thus, through the story of the Akeida, Avraham lays down for future generations – in accordance with the rule that "the deeds of the fathers are a sign for their descendants" – the fundamental principle that the choice of the sacrifice, and the choice of the place for the sacrifice, are in God's hands.  These two points distinguish very clearly between us and the nations of the world – a matter whose practical significance Am Yisrael will discover in Parashat Re'ei [2].


B.  Relationship between "re'iya" - "seeing" (choosing) and "yir'a" – awe, fear


            We have noted the use of the word "re'iya" – in relation to God – in the sense of "choosing," and the sense of being seen (presenting oneself) before God that is hinted to in the Akeida.  Now, let us address the relationship, in the story of the Akeida, between human "seeing" and "yir'a" (fear, awe).


            Twice the story mentions "seeing" with reference to Avraham.  First, in verse 4, concerning the discovery of the place:


"On the third day, AVRAHAM LIFTED HIS EYES AND SAW the place from afar."


Then, in verse 13, concerning the discovery of the sacrifice:


"AVRAHAM LIFTED HIS EYES AND SAW, and behold, a ram was behind, caught by his horns in the thicket.  So Avraham went and took the ram, and offered it as a burnt offering in place of his son."


These two "seeings" parallel, in content, the two selections mentioned above, likewise using the word "re'iya" (but this time referring to God): the selection of the place and the selection of the sacrifice.  In other words, while it is God Who chooses the place and the sacrifice, He allows man to see – to discover – God's choice by himself.


            The concept of "yir'a" is actually not mentioned directly in relation to Avraham, but rather appears in the context of Divine knowledge: "Now I know that you FEAR GOD."


            It is possible that the juxtaposition of verses 12-13 – "Now I know that you fear God… and Avraham lifted his eyes and saw, and behold, a ram…" is meant to teach us that sometimes "yir'a" - fear, or awe, facilitates a higher or more profound "re'iya" – seeing.  Standing before God and fearing Him allows a person to see reality in a clearer, truer way, and in this specific case – to see that the ram is the offering instead of Yitzchak.


A similar connection arises in other places, such as in Tehillim 128:


"A song of ascent: happy is anyone who fears God, who walks in His ways…

Behold, so shall the man be blessed Who fears God.

May God bless you from Zion, and may you see the goodness of Jerusalem all the days of your life.

And may you see your children's children – peace upon Israel."


Fear of God makes a person worthy of "seeing the goodness of Jerusalem" and "seeing one's children's children" [3].  Similarly, in Tehillim 34:12-13:


"Come now, my children, listen to me: I shall teach you fear of God.

Who is the man who seeks life, loving days to see good?"

Fear of God makes it possible to see good.


On the other hand, there is also SEEING THAT LEADS TO FEAR.  An example of this in the context of Mount Moriah is to be found in the case of David, in the threshing floor of Aravna the Jebusite [4].  Like Avraham in his time, David also lifts his eyes – "HE SAW the angel of God standing between the earth and the heavens, with his sword drawn in his hand, stretched over Jerusalem."  In the wake of this vision, "David fell, along with the elders, covered with sackcloth, upon their faces" (I Divrei Ha-yamim 21:16).  Later on in the story, "When David saw that God had answered him at the threshing floor of Aravna the Jebusite, he offered there… but David could not go before it to ask of God, for he was terrified of the sword of the angel of God" (Ibid. 28-30).  In other words, fear of the sword of the angel of God causes David to fear God.


            A similar situation – seeing God's face, which leads to fear – is to be found at the splitting of the Sea (Shemot 14:31):


"Israel SAW the great hand that God had performed upon Egypt, and the nation FEARED God and believed in God and in Moshe, His servant."


            In any event, we learn that with regard to Mount Moriah, Avraham and David give expression to both aspects of the connection between "yir'a" and "re'iya": on one hand, fear leads to a higher or more profound seeing; on the other hand, seeing God's face – or the sword of His angel – leads to fear.


C.  Significance of the Akeida as the first sacrifice on Mount Moriah


            One of the most fundamental questions that arise upon reading the story of the Akeida concerns the relationship between the original command and the ultimate conclusion of the Akeida.  The end of the story teaches us that God does NOT want human sacrifice, and the Torah presents here – for the first time – the concept of the sacrifice of an animal as replacement for human sacrifice [5].  But in light of such a clear and unequivocal conclusion we may ask: what is the meaning of the vast, unfathomable abyss separating the original command to sacrifice Yitzchak from this eventual conclusion [6]?


            We would like to propose here a direction that relates to the essence of the test taking place specifically on Mount Moriah. The absolute, categorical command is meant to clarify that the first sacrifice offered at this site (upon the first altar built there, as far as we know from the text [7]) must be altogether on the level of human sacrifice.  How is this to be achieved?


            In the Akeida, Avraham was required to display a double measure of selflessness, for the command stood in stark and complete contrast to both the Divine promise that "through Yitzchak shall your seed be called" (Bereishit 21:12) and the moral world in which God guided Avraham - "the path of God, to perform righteousness and justice" (Ibid. 18:19).  The demand that he offer his son was therefore meant to bring about a display of devotion and selflessness on a scale that had not theretofore been seen in the world.  Therefore, according to our theory, the command is formulated in absolute language, to teach that the highest essence of sacrifice is man's absolute readiness to give up his life (or the life of his son) for the punctilious fulfillment of the Divine command: a supreme level of both love and awe.  The moment that Avraham actually displayed this selflessness and devotion, the angel called to him, and Avraham sacrificed the ram instead of Yitzchak [8].


D.  The Akeida and the worship of Molekh


            The phenomenon of worship of Molekh was manifest in the Kingdom of Yehuda during the reigns of Achaz, Menasheh, and Yehoyakim.  The Torah (Vayikra 18:21; 20:1-5) addresses the severity of the prohibition and establishes the death penalty as its punishment.  This is such a terrible sin that Yirmiyahu points to it as a major cause of the destruction of Jerusalem (Yirmiyahu 19).


            Indeed, in certain senses this transgression manifests aspects of idolatry, sexual immorality, and spilling of blood – the three central reasons for the destruction of the city and of the Temple (Yoma 9b):

·                    Idolatry: The Gemara (Sanhedrin 64a) records a debate as to whether this was actual idolatry or a type of witchcraft.

·                    Sexual immorality: This prohibition is included in the section on forbidden sexual relations (Vayikra 18:21), and we may explain this on the basis of the commentary of Abarbanel (ad loc), teaching that the burning of one's child retroactively desecrates the relationship with his mother [9].

·                    Spilling of blood – Chazal (Sanhedrin 64b) and the Rishonim are divided as to whether Molekh-worshippers indeed burned their children with fire, or whether they merely passed them over in between two fires.  Ramban, in his commentary on the Torah (Vayikra ad loc) brings strong proof that it involved real burning.


What, then, is the difference between burning children to Molekh and the command, in the Akeida, to offer Yitzchak as a sacrfice [10]? There are, it seems, several differences:


            First of all, we must take into consideration the conclusion of the Akeida, which – as we have emphasized – is clear: God does not desire human sacrifice, and such sacrifice is not permitted anywhere in the Torah, for any purpose whatsoever.


            Secondly, the Akeida was a direct command from God, while the worshippers of Molekh offered their children of their own free will.


            Thirdly, there is a fundamental difference between the two acts from the point of view of the perception that lies behind them.  The perception of pagan sacrifice is based on the idea of a cruel god, who can only be pacified with the most precious of all gifts – children.  The Torah's concept of sacrifice is entirely different: its aspiration is towards supreme closeness to God, whether for the purposes of atonement for sin or for praise and thanks.  The significance of sacrifice, according to the Torah, is uplifting reality towards is Source, connection between the physical and the spiritual.  Hence, its orientation is fundamentally different from that of pagan sacrifice: love rather than terror; closeness rather than fright; unmediated closeness rather than alienation [11]. 


In this context it is interesting to note a teaching of Chazal (Ta'anit 4a) on Yirmiyahu 19:5 –


"It is written, "Which I did not command, nor did I speak it, nor did it arise in my heart": "Which I did not command" – this refers to the [sacrifice of the] son of Meisha, King of Moav, as it is written; "He took his eldest son, who would reign in his place, and offered him as a sacrifice" (II Melakhim 3:27); "Nor did I speak it" – this refers to Yiftach (Shoftim 11:31 onwards); "nor did it arise in my heart" – this is Yitzchak, son of Avraham."


Rashi explains: "That you should not say: Did the Holy One not similarly command Yiftach, and Meisha, and Avraham?! – for I [God] never commanded Meisha to burn his son with fire… "nor did it arise in my heart" – this is Yitzchak, son of Avraham – meaning that even though I commanded him, IT NEVER AROSE IN MY HEART THAT HE SHOULD SLAUGHTER HIS SON, [IT WAS] ONLY TO TEST HIM…."


Chazal emphasize the fact that from the very start God never intended that Avraham should slaughter Yitzchak (and therefore we need to seek out the reasons for the categorical formulation of the original command, as we have done above).




            In this shiur (both this part and the previous one) we have seen that the Akeida hints – in its various aspects – to the future site of the Temple.


            We noted the points of similarity and difference between the Akeida and the revelation to Yaakov in Beit-El, as well as the revelation to David at the threshing floor of Aravna the Jebusite, from the perspective of the type of revelation, the essence of the sacrifice, and the nature of the revelation in each case.  We discussed the principle of Divine choice of the sacrifice and of the place of sacrifice, and saw that the altar of the Akeida – the first altar to be built on Mount Moriah – is also the first expression that we find in the Torah of the Divine choice of this spot.  We examined the relationship between "yir'a" (fear, awe) and "re'iya" (seeing), and noted that the demand that Yitzchak be brought as a sacrifice in fact represents a demand for psychological readiness for absolute selflessness.  We concluded by considering the uniqueness of the act of the Akeida, as opposed to worship of Molekh.


            This shiur has an appendix, in which we review briefly the connection between Mount Moriah and Mount Sinai.  In the next shiur we hope to discuss the significance of the name Jerusalem (Yerushalayim).



Appendix: Mount Moriah and Mount Sinai


            In the previous shiurim we dealt with various aspects of the Akeida as hinting to the Temple that was destined to arise on Mount Moriah, and its significance for future generations.  As a complement to that discussion, we shall briefly examine here the relationship between the Akeida and the revelation at Mount Sinai, and the significance of the concealment of Mount Moriah up until the days of King David.


A.  Order of revelation: Mount Moriah-Mount Sinai-Mount Moriah


            As we saw in the previous shiur, and as Rambam explains (Laws of the Temple 2:2), Chazal point to a continuous tradition of Divine worship on Mount Moriah, starting with Adam and continuing through Kayin and Hevel, as well as Noach, up until the Akeida.


            After the Akeida, we find no further explicit mention of Mount Moriah in the Torah – neither during the period of the forefathers, nor even during the period of the tribes – the children of Yaakov.  Benei Yisrael are led to Egypt, in the footsteps of Yosef; they leave Egypt after years of suffering and subjugation, the Read Sea is split before them, and after a total of fifty days they arrive at Mount Sinai.  There, Am Yisrael merits a Revelation of immense magnitude; they receive the Torah and the two Tablets of the Covenant.  In the wake of the giving of the second set of Tablets, the Mishkan is built in the midst of the Israelite camp as a direct but covert continuation of God's revelation to His nation at Sinai.


            After the Mishkan is built, Am Yisrael starts off on its journey to Eretz Yisrael.  The Mishkan remains a portable structure that is carried along with the nation during forty years of desert wanderings and which remains temporarily housed for another 440 years in Eretz Yisrael, at different stations – Gilgal, Shilo, Nov and Givyon – until, finally, it is brought to Mount Moriah.


            During all of this period of nomadic existence for the Mishkan, Benei Yisrael establish themselves as a nation.  This process of consolidation begins at Mount Sinai, around the seminal Revelation in which the Torah and commandments are given.  Once they enter the land, the return of the Mishkan to Mount Moriah is dependent upon the consolidation of a stable monarchy – which appears only in the days of David and Shlomo.  The revelation at the time of the Akeida already revealed the uniqueness of Mount Moriah, but the concealment of this place teaches us that its rediscovery requires effort, searching, seeking – as happened, eventually, in the days of David.


B.  Connection between Mount Sinai and Mount Moriah


            The Mishna, at the end of Ta'anit (26b), teaches:


"Go out, daughters of Zion, and see King Shlomo, with the crown with which his mother crowned him on the day of his wedding, and on the day of the rejoicing of his heart": "on the day of his wedding" – this refers to the giving of the Torah; "on the day of the rejoicing of his heart" – this refers to the building of the Temple, may it be rebuilt speedily in our days


This Mishna clearly indicates a connection between the giving of the Torah and the building of the Temple on Mount Moriah.  Indeed, both the giving of the Torah and the inauguration of the First Temple took place on Yom Kippur, and the Mishna that points to the connection between these two events also discusses Yom Kippur, as one of two especially joyful days celebrated by Benei Yisrael.


            The Mishna defines the giving of the Torah as a "day of his wedding," while the day of the building of the Temple is referred to as the "day of the rejoicing of his heart."  The giving of the Torah – marking the beginning of the covenant between the Holy One and His nation – represents a direct preparation and precursor to the building of the Temple, which symbolizes the completion of the forging of this covenant, and its establishment in a permanent home.


            Indeed, the connection between the Torah which was given at Mount Sinai and the Temple which was built on Mount Moriah finds expression in several spheres [12]: the location of the Book of the Torah inside the Ark of the Covenant; the Book of the Torah that is placed in the courtyard of the Temple; the 'hak'hel' gathering – a renewal of the experience of Sinai once every seven years at the end of the Sabbatical year; and in the encounter with the great Torah sages of the generation at the Temple at the time of the pilgrimage.  It is no coincidence that one of Chazal's interpretations for the name "moriah" is based on its derivation from the word "hora'a" – teaching: "The mountain from which teaching emanated to Israel" (Ta'anit 16a).


            A further connection between the giving of the Torah and the Temple is the awe that characterizes the encounter with both.  In fact, the Torah explicitly connects these two focuses of awe in the commandment, "You shall observe My Shabbatot, and fear My Sanctuary; I am God" (Vayikra 26:2) [13].  In Sefer Devarim (4:10) we read:


The day when you stood before the Lord your God at Chorev, when God said to me: "Gather the nation to Me, that I may make them hear My words, that they may learn to fear Me all the days that they live upon the land, and teach their children."


We find another explicit reference to the connection between these two mountains – Mount Sinai ("the mountain of God") and Mount Moriah ("the mountain where God desired as His abode") in Psalm 68 (verses 16-18):


"The MOUNTAIN OF GOD; mountain of Bashan, mountain of high peaks, mountain of Bashan: why do you look askance, mountain of high peaks, at THE MOUNTAIN WHICH GOD HAS DESIRED AS HIS ABODE? God will surely dwell there forever."


The psalm makes mention of the "mountain of God," and goes on to mention Mount Sinai several times, but "the mountain which God has desired as His abode"  - Mount Moriah – is the place where God will dwell forever.


Midrash Tehillim explains this psalm as follows:


"The mountain which God has desired as His abode" – this refers to Sinai, which is lower than all of you (mountains), as it is written: "I dwell in exaltedness and holiness; and [also] with the oppressed and lowly of spirit," and it is written, "For God is great: the lowly shall see, and the high shall know from afar."  Can God's Presence remain there [at Mount Sinai] forever? [No,] therefore we are told, "Surely God shall dwell forever" – He returned His Presence to the heavens.


And as for Sinai – where did it come from? Rabbi Yossi taught:


It was taken and separated from Mount Moriah, as challa is separated from the dough – from the place where Yitzchak was bound.  The Holy One said: Since Yitzchak was bound there, it is appropriate that his descendants receive the Torah upon it.  And from where do we know that it is destined to return to its place? As it is written, "The mountain of God's House shall be established at the head of the mountains" – these are Tavor and Carmel and Sinai and Zion.  "The mountains" (he-harim) – "God lifted" (Hashem herim); in other words, like the number of the five books of the Torah.


The Midrash uses language full of imagery to allude to the inner connection between the two mountains – Sinai and Moriah; the giving of the Torah, which began on Sinai, continues at Mount Moriah.  The distinction or division between the two mountains is described by the Midrash as comparable to the separation of challa from the dough.  Sinai is the "separated piece," as it were, that is raised up on high.


            In summary, then, the uniqueness of Mount Moriah was known from the time of the Creation and up until the days of Avraham.  This place was known to have special properties for a unique connection with God.  After the Akeida, the location of the place was concealed from the consciousness of the forefathers and the tribes.  Meanwhile, at the time of the Exodus, the receiving of the Torah and the construction of the Mishkan, Mount Sinai "took the place" of Mount Moriah, as it were [14].  From this point onwards, throughout 480 years, there is a gradual return to Mount Moriah – up to the actual building of the Temple by Shlomo.


            All in all, Mount Moriah accompanied the process of the consolidation of Am Yisrael as a nation.  The beginning of this process was at the giving of the Torah, and in the wake of this great event the nation followed God in the desert and thereafter in Eretz Yisrael.  Because the place was concealed, there arose a need to seek out the mountain.  Thus, it was only after the emergence of a permanent regime and stable monarchy in Eretz Yisrael that the mountain was once again revealed, and the Temple built upon it.


C.  Differences between Mount Sinai and Mount Moriah


            Despite the many connections between the two mountains, there are also significant differences.  First and foremost is the fact that the holiness of Mount Sinai existed only at the time of the Revelation; once that event was over – "When the shofar sounds long, they shall ascend the mountain" (Shemot 19:13).  The Gemara (Ta'anit 21b) comments on this, as follows:


We learn: Rabbi Yossi said, "It is not a man's place that brings him honor, rather, a man honors his place.  We see in the case of Mount Sinai that so long as the Divine Presence rested there – the Torah says, "Even the flocks and the cattle shall not graze facing that mountain."  As soon as the Divine Presence departed from there – the Torah says, "When the shofar sounds long, they shall ascend the mountain."


The same applies to the status of the Mishkan: the sanctity of its location exists only so long as the Mishkan functions there; once it moves on – its sanctity also dissolves.  In contrast, the sanctity of Mount Moriah is eternal; the destruction of the Temple does not bring it to an end.  Mount Moriah was destined to be the resting place of the Divine Presence from the time of Creation. From the moment it was revealed and the Temple was built there, in the time of David and Shlomo, its sanctity was permanently established.  As the Rambam teaches: "Because the sanctity of the Temple and of Jerusalem derive from the Divine Presence, and the Divine Presence is never nullified" (Laws of the Temple, Chapter 6:14).


            What is the significance of this difference between the two mountains? Aside from the essential difference  between the two revelations – a one-time, temporary revelation on Mount Sinai and an ongoing revelation on Mount Moriah – it would appear that the difference between the respective sanctities of the to places reflects several other differences between the two revelations:


1.                    The revelation at Sinai was an other-worldly, one-time event in human history, which left no traces on the physical, geographic spot where it took place.  The revelation on Mount Moriah, on the other hand, was less ethereal, and left its mark on the physical world [15].

2.                    At Mount Sinai, the initiative, appearance, and content of the revelation all came from God.  The human partnership in the Revelation at Sinai was expressed in listening to God's word, accepting the Torah, and internalizing the revelation.  In the Mishkan – and afterward in the Temple – there is a fundamental demand for human partnership, both in terms of seeking out the place ("You shall seek His dwelling and you shall come to there") and in the construction of the Temple ("They shall make Me a Sanctuary, that I may dwell in their midst").

3.                    The revelation at Sinai was meant for Am Yisrael alone, while the revelation at Mount Moriah is ultimately meant to reveal God's Kingship over the entire world.  This distinction is emphasized by the prophets: Am Yisrael, which at Sinai became a "kingdom of priests and a holy nation," is meant to bring the whole world to a recognition of God's Kingship.  In this sense, we may say that Mount Sinai leads to Mount Moriah [16].


            In summary: the revelation at Sinai was an ethereal, one-time, unique Divine revelation to Am Yisrael, and it took place at God's sole discretion.  This event signified the formal start of the connection between God and Am Yisrael; when the event was over, the journey began in the direction of Mount Moriah – where revelation is permanent, universal, and demands active involvement by man.




            In this appendix we have examined the significance of the connection between the Revelation at Sinai on one hand and the Akeida and building of the Temple on Mount Moriah, on the other.  In the next shiur, as mentioned, we hope to discuss the significance of the name Jerusalem (Yerushalayim).




[1] Rav Mordekhai Breuer offers a beautiful commentary on this issue in his book "Pirkei Mo'adot," pp. 332-333; we quote its essence here.

[2] Further on in the shiur we shall address the hint here at the polar divide that separates the story of the Akeida from the burning of sons and daughters to Molekh.

[3] In his commentary to this psalm, Rav Y. Shaviv ("Yesod ha-Ma'aleh," Tevunot Publishers, Jerusalem 5744, pp. 137-143) notes the connection between fear or awe of God and the blessing of children and grandchildren, and shows how this blessing was realized through Yosef, who saw a third generation through Ephraim's grandchildren as well as "also the children of Makhir, son of Menasheh, were brought up on Yosef's knees" (Bereishit 50:23), and also through Iyov, who also feared God, and who merited to see four generations of his descendants.  The same idea arises from Tehillim 103:17 – "God's loving kindness is from everlasting to everlasting upon those who fear Him, and His righteousness to children's children…." 

[4] In general, this section (Divrei Ha-yamim 21) sees multiple uses of the root "r-a-h" in different senses.

[5] There is a well-known dispute among the Rishonim concerning the reason for the sacrifices.  The Ramban, commenting on the beginning of Vayikra (1:9) disagrees with the view of the Rambam, who maintains that the sacrifices were instituted for the purposes of softening the prevalent and accepted norm of idolatry.  The Ramban proposes, instead, that the parts of the animal that are sacrificed actually replace the body parts of the personal offering it.  In other words, God suffices with the offering of an animal as a sacrifice – but theoretically one could imagine human sacrifice as atonement for sin.  A well-known teaching of the Rashbam (on Bereishit 22:1) explains that the story of the Akeida is juxtaposed to the covenant that Avraham forged with Avimelekh, because the Akeida was a punishment to Avraham for what he relinquished through this covenant.  We shall not elaborate any further here.

[6] Chazal and the Rishonim offer various interpretations of this contradiction; the different approaches include different understandings as to the essence of the test, or even the claim that the conclusion is actually to be found right at the start, in the command itself, which was to "bring up" (le-ha'alot) Yitzchak – but not to sacrifice him.  We shall not elaborate any further here.

[7] The Rambam (Laws of the Temple, 2:1-2) quotes a rabbinical tradition (Pirkei de-Rabbi Eliezer, chapter 31) that Adam, Kayin and Hevel, as well as Noach all also sacrificed on Mount Moriah.

[8] We do not pretend, within this framework, to cover in any measure the subject of the Akeida, which is elevated beyond our understanding and includes many different issues and very broad philosophical perceptions.  We have addressed only one aspect of the Akeida, relating to the essence of Mount Moriah.

[9] Obviously, this is not a classic instance of sexual immorality, but there is something of a desecration and distortion of the sexual bond.

[10] The offering up as a sacrifice of the son of the King of Moav, upon the wall, with the expectation that this would bring victory, evoked Divine fury upon Israel (II Melakhim 3:27).

[11] We have dealt here with the significance of animal sacrifice as a replacement for the person.  However, Rav Kook (see, for example, Olat Ra'aya, part I, p. 292, on the verse "May it be sweet to God…") points out a further aspect to the sacrifice: uplifting the animal itself towards its Source.  Serving as a sacrifice is the greatest closeness that an animal can achieve with the Creator, through its blood.  We shall not elaborate further here.

[12] We listed the connections in detail in the shiur on Mount Moriah, its identity, and meanings of its name.

[13] This subject needs much elaboration and proof, but the scope of this shiur does not allow for it here.

[14] In fact, the special status of Mount Sinai is recognized already at the time of God's revelation to Moshe at the burning bush.

[15] This teaching is reportedly quoted from Rav Dessler (Ha-Dam Ha-kadosh," Jerusalem 5717, p.  187).

[16] It is interesting that the greater and more lofty revelation – which has no impact on the physical world – remains superior, temporary, and unrepeatable, while the "lower" revelation, which does have an impact on the material world, continues to exist over time and is eternal.  Apparently, the reason for this is that God "constricted" His revelation, as it were, at Mount Moriah at the time that He chose it at the Creation of the world, in order to facilitate the existence of the world, and in order to allow the world to be brought to perfection.  At Sinai – essentially an other-worldly and one-time event meant to commence the consolidation of the nation around the giving of the Torah – God was fully revealed, as it were.


Translated by Kaeren Fish