Parsaht Chaye Sarah
We’ve known, from perhaps our very first encounter with the story, that the Akeidah (Binding of Yitzchak) was a particularly difficult test for Avraham to handle. Yet we may not have appreciated how tremendously challenging the Akeidah truly was.
Avraham had to show complete submission to God in order to be designated as the father of the Jewish people. This was necessary because the Jews would need to show tremendous levels of dedication, a legacy of someone who had passed the most difficult test of faith ever recorded.
The most grueling part of this trial was that Avraham was asked to destroy his entire identity, by eagerly fulfilling the opposite of everything he believed to be good and right. The paradigm of chesed (loving kindness), who strenuously opposed the idolatrous cults of his era that used human sacrifice as a mode of worship, was asked by God to kill his beloved son in broad daylight. The stark contradictions alone, to all Avraham believed and taught up until that point, must have been overwhelming.
But there was also Sarah’s reaction to consider. The rabbis, noting the juxtaposition of the Akeidah with the account of Sarah’s death, suggest that when Sarah heard of the Akeidah her soul flew out of her body. However we are to understand this, her passing is not the portrait of a desirable or timely death. The rabbis are telling us that Sarah could have been an inevitable victim of the events that just transpired. It would seem that here too, God included another painful trade-off and made the test facing Avraham as difficult as possible.
And there was Avraham’s bond with Yitzchak as well. One should note that, after the Akeidah, the only time father and son appear in the same verses are in the account of Avraham’s funeral (Bereshit 25:8-11). It appears that, after the Akeidah, the human bond between father and son was forever ruptured. Even though Yitzchak agreed with every action his father took, a human being cannot see his father attempt to kill him and remain the same.
The estrangement between the loving father and the son of his old age, both committed to the same Godly mission, may well have been yet another inevitable cost of the Akeidah. The bitter irony is that, though God halted the actual sacrifice just in time, by being prepared to meet the challenge Avraham still sacrificed the two most important relationships in his life.