by Rabbi Jeffrey Adler
The Akedah, or “binding”, is one of the most gut-wrenching incidents in Scripture. It is usually associated with the High Holy Days in the Autumn, as it is the Torah portion for Rosh haShanah, but, there are definitely aspects seriously relevant to Passover.
We find the Akedah narrative in Genesis 22. Abraham and Sarah have just been described as finally receiving the answer to their long-offered prayer for a son, a prayer that has been met with Adonai’s repeated promises of a son for which they had waited at least 25 years. Several years have now passed and Abraham must have been reveling in the long-awaited pleasures of doing many father/son activities with Isaac. Sarah had emoted about how Isaac’s birth had led to laughter for her, but, I am sure that Abraham had also experienced much of the same. He must have been very pleased with God, and having a sense of expectancy of good things when Elohim called to him from Heaven in Genesis 22:1. Adonai called to Abraham, and, Abraham replied cheerfully, “Hineni.” Hadn’t Abraham and Sarah already paid their dues, enough to be able to count on God’s gentle goodness? Certainly, he could not have been anticipating what he was told in our narrative.
“Take 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 about which I will tell you.”
Instead of procrastinating, “Abraham got up early in the morning, saddled his donkey and took two young men with him, and Isaac his son. He split wood for the burnt offering, and got up and went to the place about which God had told him.” There does not seem to be any hesitation to carry out these seemingly awful instructions. He saddled up and went, prepared to go all the way to slaughter and sacrifice his son- the very son for which Sarah and he had waited for so long.
Arriving at the place to which he had been instructed to go, Abraham gave directions to the young servant-boys, directions which hint of a trust, even now, in the love and character of the One who had led them all along, One who even now could be counted on not to vary from the way He had led to this point. “Sit yourselves down here with the donkey. As for me and the young man, we’ll go over there, worship and return to you.” Abraham’s words reveal nothing of the thought that he might be saying goodbye to his beloved son.
Abraham loads up the various items for the sacrifice: wood onto Isaac, much like Yeshua had to carry His stake, and the fire source and knife in his own hands. As they walked toward the site of sacrifice, Isaac noticed that something vital was missing. “Look. Here’s the fire and the wood. But, ‘ayyeh hasseh l’olah?’ (Where is the lamb for a burnt offering?)”. Abraham’s famous reply to his son’s curious question is, “Elohim yireh-lo hasseh l’olah, b’ni,” “God will provide for Himself a lamb for a burnt offering, my son”. What incredible faith and trust! To the last moment, Abraham did not waver from the confidence that the God Who had revealed Himself to be so faithfully kind to him would not now deprive him of the fruit of the promise.
Abraham goes on to the slope of Mount Moriah and goes fully about the set-up to sacrifice his beloved son, to the point when he is about to plunge the sacrificial knife into Isaac. Adonai stops him, substituting a ram caught in a thicket. The substitution delivers Isaac from death.
At Pesach, Israel faced the same potential destruction as the Egyptians. The only escape for anyone was to kill a lamb and place it on the doorframes of their homes. The Egyptians could have applied the same remedy, but refused to do so, resulting in many tragic deaths. Today, people look to escape judgement at the hand of Holy God. We may also ask today, as did Isaac, “Ayyeh hasseh?”, “Where is the lamb?”. Yeshua, in Isaiah 53, is described as being led as a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before its shearers is silent, so He did not open His mouth.” Adonai still has provided for Himself a lamb for the sacrifice, one that still delivers us from death forever.
Rabbi Jeffrey Adler is president of the Board of HaShomer and also Rabbi of Sha’arey Yeshua in Indianapolis, IN.