Isaac’s Blessing

I.  Nature of Blessing

The Tzaddik’s Role

Blessing and prayer are similar. The tzaddik who blesses or who prays is aware of his own to influence events. He wishes to save someone from tragedy or to bring unanticipated prosperity upon him, but he cannot. Only God can control events. So another’s need has brought him to recognize more keenly, the omnipotence of God. If his prayer is answered or his blessing fulfilled, his recognition of God’s majesty will grow even further, all because of the person who moved him to bless or to pray. Perhaps the needy person was unworthy of the benefit sought for him, but the tzaddik is one whose deeds have earned him heavenly consideration. His goal is to serve God better and, since he now desires help for another, the success of that person will enhance the service of the tzaddik. To be the cause of such enhancement is in itself a source of great merit for the needful person, and it may well be enough to earn him the assistance he desires.

Prayer or blessing cannot directly change the state of a person’s religious belief. One cannot expect a positive response to prayer ‘Give me greater faith in God’. All we can ask for is the conditions of life be made more conducive to the achievement of such faith. In short, no prayer can make someone more pious but it can bring about conditions that will help him along the road to greater piety.

Two Causes

There are two general causes for God to provide a person with material benefits in return for his deeds. The first is His desire to bestow blessings upon the great tzaddik. It’s purpose is to enable him to better serve his Maker. Since his sole desire is to serve God, it is fitting that he be provided with the means to do so. The second general cause is because God decides to reward someone in This World, rather than in the World To Come, for superficial deeds. For example, one goes to church every week but does so out of habit and does it mindlessly. Even though the weekly visit is lacking in meaning, it is still done in a effort to please God. But because the deed is rather shallow the reward will come in the form of benefits in this material world. Nevertheless, this person could have a spark of goodness in him, a meaning to future deeds as a result of that reward. In that case, the reward may be designed to help him improve the quality of his weekly visits.

To one of Isaac’s inner strength, outside assistance was detrimental to his service of God. To the extent that his task was eased, he was denied the opportunity to perfect himself in the face of adversity. True ~ wealth, good health, and friendly surroundings make it easier to serve God; but the person who is strong enough to serve Him just as well amid poverty, illness and hostility reaches a far higher level of spiritual perfection. The Sages teach that Isaac requested suffering, so that he could exercise inner-strength to serve God despite the pain. Jacob, too, asked for strict judgment. To people of such caliber, material blessing is not a gift but a hindrance. In their world-view, blessing is helpful only to the spiritual weakling whose aspirations are good, but who lacks the strength to follow through on them.

II.  Isaac Chooses

His Love for Esau

Isaac knew full well there was a huge difference between Jacob and Esau. He was not at all mistaken in his assessment of Jacob’s greatness. Isaac knew that Jacob was a tzaddik of such rare caliber that blessing held no benefits in terms of his personal striving. Jacob sought no blessing, needed no blessing for himself. And Isaac knew that Esau was far from a tzaddik in those lofty terms.

Did he realize that Esau was wicked? No! And there lies Isaac’s error. He thought that Esau was engaged in a constant, difficult struggle to perfect assistance. Since, in Isaac’s assessment, Esau wished to utilize material success to help him reach his spiritual goal, Isaac constantly sought to help him. That was the reason Isaac loved Esau: it is human nature for a person to love someone whom he helped. Isaac gave of himself to Esau because he saw him as one who fought mightily to better himself. And because he gave, he loved.

Doubt and Decision

Isaac felt reassured when he sensed that wicked people descend from the person who stood before him. Those wicked people whom Isaac thought to be the progeny of Esau were in reality the descendants of Jacob. Isaac recognized that the ancestor of such people should be blessed in order that his sinful offspring could be kept from falling into the abyss. The voice of Jacob troubled him because it was the voice of Torah and prayer, the voice of one who resisted external help which would prevent him from realizing greatness on his own. The realization that this tzaddik, whoever he was, bore within him the seeds of wickedness was what swayed Isaac, for he had long since made peace with the idea that help should be given to an unworthy person in order to help make him worthy.

As Isaac wondered who stood awaiting the blessing, he perceived that traitors would descend from this person. The forefather of such people needed his blessing.

The Inner Self

Whom was he blessing, Esau or Jacob? Truthfully it did not matter. Spiritually exalted Isaac did not think in terms of personalities. He did not consider whether he was blessing the man called Esau or the man called Jacob ~ that was immaterial. In his role as Patriarch, it was now his responsibility to bestow blessings upon the person who possessed the set of spiritual conditions that required those blessings. Isaac loved and respected both his sons, each in a different way. If he wanted Esau to come to him, it was because he was convinced that Esau was the one who needed, deserved, and could utilize the blessings. If, however, he perceived the proper set of conditions in a person whose name happened to be Jacob ~ so be it. Indeed, he now found those conditions ~ he would bless evil-doers whose good was external, but who could become better if they were given help.

The Test

Then came the test. He felt the presence of the Shechinah. He savored the scent of the Garden of Eden, of righteous people who were worthy to be bearers of God’s Presence, not merely its half-hearted or frantic pursuers. It was a signal to him that blessings of heavenly assistance should be given to the righteous, even the very great.

That was Isaac’s great test. Like all tests, the message was not so clear that he could not rationalize it away if he preferred to do so. After all, all the experience of his lifetime of uncompromising, powerful effort at perfection cried out against this vague message. How could Isaac, the embodiment of Gevurah-Strength make peace with the idea that he should bless those who could fight on their own? Had the message been absolutely clear, it would not have been a test. Of course, compliance would have been unpleasant, but the man who laid himself on the altar of the Akeidah could easily do God’s bidding even if he found it incomprehensible. But this test did leave room for doubt if Isaac chose to doubt. Which aspect of his son would he bless ~ only the sinful one or even the righteous one?

God allowed Isaac to be deceived by Esau for over sixty years in order to set the stage for this test. Had he known the truth about Esau, the conditions for this painful test would never have existed.

Now he was tested and he responded. He blessed Jacob, righteous Jacob, the Jacob who brought with him the scent of the Garden of Eden, of God’s Presence, of people so righteous that they could become chariots bearing the Shechinah.

The blessing of Isaac. Isaac, Patriarch of strength and refusal to compromise, bestows his blessing upon all who can benefit from God’s help and because he surmounted his personal challenge, every Jew, whatever his ordeal, can more easily raise himself to heights he thought beyond him!

The Birthright – Esau’s or Jacob’s

I.  The Intended Division

The Brothers

Verse 21:12 tells us only that not all of Isaac’s sons would be of equal status as their heirs of Abraham. But that verse leaves open the question of whether the heir would be Jacob or Esau. Had Esau been awarded the right to succeed Isaac, then Jacob would have been excluded despite his moral excellence. The final decision that Jacob would be the chosen part of Isaac was not proclaimed until Isaac summoned Jacob to instruct him to go to Padden Aram to find his mate from among Abraham’s kindred. At that time Isaac specifically told him that the blessing of Abraham, was his ~ and therefore he was obligated to not marry a Canaanite woman.

Therefore, too, Malachi began his prophecy with God’s word that Esau was Jacob’s equal in every way ~ except that he was unworthy and, because he was, God hated him. Jacob earned Divine love and it was that ~ not his purchase of the birthright or the deception that brought him the first set of blessings ~ which earned him and his offspring the title ‘the offspring of Abraham.’

Isaac’s original decision to bless Esau now assumes awesome proportions. Although there are widely different opinions among the commentators concerning exactly what it was that Isaac wanted to bestow upon Esau and what blessings, if any, he would have left for Jacob, the simplest understanding of the Torah’s narrative makes unmistakably clear that Isaac’s choice was crucial to the future development of the Abrahamitic nation.

This section of the Overview will deal with the following questions:

  • How had Isaac intended to divide the blessings between Esau and Jacob?
  • If the birthright was Esau’s, how did Jacob justify his right to take it away?

As you will see from the study of the commentary, many opinions have been expressed by the commentators. The following is not meant to be definitive; it is an attempt to offer insights that follow generally accepted basic trends.

Complementary Roles

The distinction of being the son who was to carry on the Abrahamitic tradition would in all likelihood have gone to Jacob in recognition of his infinitely superior righteousness. This is indicated by the very text of the Torah for the blessings (27:28-29) granted by Isaac upon the disguised Jacob ~ the son who Isaac took to be Esau ~ makes no mention of ‘the blessing of Abraham’. Only later when Isaac knew he was addressing Jacob (28:3-4) did he specifically bestow the Abrahamitic blessings.

Isaac had planned to bestow upon Esau blessings which were essential to Jacob and which Providence decreed were indeed to go to Jacob, but those blessings were entirely apart from the right to carry on the Patriarchal tradition. Instead, Isaac planned to give Abraham’s blessings to Jacob, but to give Esau a significant degree of superiority over Jacob, for as he said in 27:29 when he thought he was addressing Esau, ‘be a lord to your brother and the children of your mother will prostrate themselves to you.’

Isaac intended to divide the material and spiritual worlds. Esau was to have material wealth, power, and dominance. Jacob was to have spiritual authority. This is implied by the Torah’s description of the youthful Jacob and Esau: one was a man of the tent of Torah study and the other was a man of the field.

Had Esau been worthy, he, too, would have been master of a material world and made it a sounding board for the voice of Jacob’s Torah and prayer. Though not sharing the title of Abraham’s offspring, Esau would have been an essential and exalted complement to the fulfillment of Jacob’s mission.

Voice and Hands

The concept of material dominance is described by the word ‘hands’ for sustenance must be wrung from the material world by the labor of hands. Spirituality is expressed by ‘voice’ for the voice is man’s means of articulating the wisdom of the Torah and the words of prayer. Thus, Isaac described the attributes of his sons as ‘the voice is Jacob’s voice but the hands are Esau’s hands’ (27:23).

The two ~ hands and voice, hard labor, and sacred words ~ would seem to be far apart, but they are not. How does one gain material results with spiritual tools?

Psalms 149:6 ~ Exaltation of God is in their throats and a double-edged sword is in their hands.

When one has in his mouth the praises of God ~ when his throat vibrates with the voice of Torah and prayer ~ then, his hands are armed with a double-edged sword that can overcome the powerful hands that hold the world in their authority. When the voice is Jacob’s voice, the hands of Esau become impotent. There is no other way for Jacob to control the course of material events. The normal way is Esau’s, but Jacob can overpower him by going to the source. So as long as Jacob neglects the exaltation of God which is the ultimate level of power, he is subservient to his might brother, but if he recognizes that his strength is at the source of earth’s existence, he truly becomes invincible.

Isaac’s intention was to forge a harmony between his sons that would place Esau’s world at the service of Jacob’s world. Had Esau been worthy of his calling, such would have happened without cause for alarm or deception. But it could not be because Esau would not allow it to be. Therefore, Rebecca had to find a way for Jacob to gain the blessing that would permit him to turn the material world to the service of his mission.

II. Unending Struggle

Opposites from Conception

A human being lives in two worlds. He lives first in the material world but his ultimate reward will come in the second one – The World To Come. Jacob begged Esau that he sell him his status of first-born, his birthright. (25:31) Esau made it clear by his request of Jacob which world mattered to him. Jacob spoke of going on to a meaningful life and Esau saw only death. If Esau gave up eternity for a stomach full of lentils, he received more than full value, because to him the birthright had no worth at all. The Torah testifies that Esau was not defrauded of his other world while his life hung in the balance, for when he turned and left with his stomach full, there was not a murmur of protest. “Esau despised his birthright” (25:34)

It would seem that Jacob held an independent claim to the birthright, entirely apart from his agreement with Esau. As Rashi comments based on the Midrash, the newborn Jacob held on to Esau’s heel (25:26) as if to insist that the right to be born first belonged to him. As Rashi explains, Jacob was conceived first even though Esau was born first and therefore, he considered himself entitled to the status of first-born. The difficulty of this claim is obvious. The Torah states clearly that the birthright belongs not to the one who is conceived first but to the one who is born first (Exodus 13:2)

In the existence of the Patriarchs, however, there was a further element. Each of them had a particular mission. Abraham represented Chessed-Kindness. Isaac’s mission flowed from Abraham’s; he was to refine and perfect Abraham’s Chessed through his own Gevurah-Strength. His was a continuation of his father’s mission as we have seen. The successor to Isaac, whether it would be Jacob or Esau, would also continue his father’s mission. He would complete the work of Abraham and Isaac by fusing their unique contributions into Tiferes-Splendor, Emes-Truth. Again, he had to be an outgrowth of their missions, not a contradiction or an unrelated one.

Embodiment of Potential

There is a further concept of first-born. Perhaps we may find in this concept the reason for Jacob’s great importance in having been conceived first ~ the capacity or potential of the father. At the instant of conception, when the father’s seed merges with the mother’s egg, he has completed his role in the birth process. The further development of the embryo and its ultimate birth will take place within and from the mother’s body, but conception represents the fulfillment of the father’s role for it is then that he contributes his own potential to the future human being. In the case of the Patriarchs, however, conception had a special meaning. Isaac’s mission grew out of Abraham’s and Jacob’s grew out of Isaac’s. They become Patriarchs of Israel precisely because they embodied the potential of their fathers, a potential which each in turn nurtured and brought to full realization according to his own particular mission.

The conflict between Jacob and Esau was over which would be the successor to Abraham and Isaac. Everything else was secondary. How significant therefore, that Jacob could say that he was conceived first. He was the first of Isaac’s potential, the best representation of his father’s seed, the embodiment of the concluding stage in the growth of the Patriarchal mission.

In this regard, it is instructive that we look at Esau’s progression. As we have seen, Esau had the strength of Isaac, but he was the corruption of Gevurah: instead of using his inherited attribute to purge himself of his lack of moral principals, he used it to subdue the world for the gratification of his lust, to acquire, and dominate for selfish ends. Ishmael, too, was heir to Abraham’s attribute of Chessed-Kindness, but he corrupted the gift ~ instead of using it to benefit others, he became the epitome of self-indulgence. When Esau realized that he had forfeited his birthright and blessings to Jacob, he tried to impress his parents with a new resolve to live up to their standards of behavior. He had failed them by marrying Canaanite women, now he would please them by marrying someone from the family of Abraham. He took Ishmael’s daughter in marriage (28:9).

How striking the contrast between the two brothers! Jacob combined the attributes of kindness and strength ~ of Abraham and Isaac at their best ~ into the splendor of truth. But Esau? He combined his own perversion of Isaac with Ishmael’s perversion of Abraham to produce a lineage that continues to represent unforgiving opposition to good until the End of Days when God will judge the Mountain of Esau and take unto Himself the universally acknowledged reign over a world that will bow to the offspring of Jacob.

Isaac – Game and Sacrifice

  1. Rigorous Evaluation

How could Isaac be deceived by Esau? Surely the Isaac who could uncover spiritual wellsprings beneath the land of the Philistines could perceive the emptiness beneath Esau’s pious exterior. Concerning Isaac’s sympathy toward Esau, the Zohar says “Every type loves the same type.” These are truly astounding words, and they force us to delve into the parallels between Isaac and Esau.

Isaac’s attribute was the inner strength to refine and perfect. Such a quality is particularly relevant when one is faced by the common sort of situation which is a mixture of good and evil depending on how, why, and with what intentions it is done. A slap in the face can be violent and cruel ~ unless it is done to revive a fainting person or prevent someone from an evil deed.

In this sense, we can understand why Jacob was punished for denying Esau the opportunity to marry Dinah. Jacob was justified ~ even obligated ~ to protect his daughter from Esau, but when he hid her, it should have been with a feeling of compassion for a brother who might thereby be losing a final opportunity to repent under the influence of a righteous wife. Instead, Jacob may have felt too much animosity toward Esau who had defiled the sanctity of the Abrahamitic household, deceived his father, sworn to kill his brother, and come after more than thirty-four years with an army of more than four hundred men to murder Jacob and his family. Where was Jacob’s sin? At most it lay in the most delicate assessment of feelings. Such purging of emotions and motives is the function of Gevurah-Strength, the attribute of Isaac.

Isaac and Shechitah

For this reason, Isaac in particular was commanded to be zealous in observing the commandment of shechitah ~ the ritual slaughtering of animals while minimizing pain for the animal and doing it with respect and compassion. When he dispatched Esau to prepare game for him as a prerequisite to receiving the blessing, Isaac cautioned him to sharpen his implements carefully in order to prevent any possibility of improper slaughter. (Bereishis Rabbah 65:8)

Shechitah also gives meaning and holiness to the animal which becomes the vehicle for performance of the commandment. Thus, shechitah is a prime manifestation of the inner strength represented by Isaac. It is the means by which holiness can be extracted from an activity that would otherwise be simply a form of the law of the jungle: The big animal kills the smaller animal and man, the most cunning and powerful animal of all, slaughters whatever it pleases him to serve on his table or make into clothing for his body. In the hands of an ordinary killer of animals, that is all slaughter would be, but shechitah is different ~ it is symbolic of Isaac.

Shedder of Blood

The Talmud teaches (Shabbos 156a) that one who is destined to shed blood has alternatives. He can become a mohel ~ one who performs the Jewish rite of circumcision, bringing infants into the covenant of Abraham or making the flesh of animals permissible as food for the servants of God. Otherwise he would shed blood some other way ~ as a murderer.

Esau was this sort of person and Isaac knew it. Even at birth and before, he had all the symptoms of a violent, sinful person. As an embryo he fought to approach the temple of idols, he was born with the redness that is symbolic of bloodshed. As a youngster he was drawn to the excitement of the hunt. But this was not to say that he was destined to be evil and that there was no way for him to avoid becoming the epitome of violence. King David too had the redness of bloodshed, but he surmounted all obstacles to become the Sweet Singer of Israel. Esau could have become a righteous person. It would have demanded great strength on his part. It would have demanded the Gevurah personality of an Isaac. Indeed, Esau had such strength. The test was whether he would utilize it to direct his impulses toward the good or whether he would use his strength to satisfy his cruel, bloodthirsty nature.

Eating is one of the acts that can be controlled only by inner strength. Of all man’s animal impulses, probably none must be indulged in so often, so publicly, and so lends itself to abuse. An Ordinary meal can be a means of serving God no less than an offering brought to the Temple in Jerusalem. But the elevation of eating to the status of an offering requires a person to assault his own nature no less than the hunt requires a huntsman to trap and attack his game.

Had Esau attempted to achieve such ends, even a partial success would have mattered greatly because he would have been fighting against his nature. He had physical strength and courage to unusual degrees. He fought mighty kings and fierce animals and conquered them all. If that could have been directed inwardly ~ O what he could have become and even if he were not perfect, if he were merely making the struggle ~ then, in his way, he would have been like Isaac in the fields of Philistia, removing the earth from wells of spiritual water. This concept is symbolized by Esau’s occupation ~ the hunter of game. In spiritual terms, a hunter’ is one who seeks to extract holiness from the ‘jungle’ of evil. Isaac perceived in Esau a man who was fighting against his imperfections and who chose to do it by turning his violent nature to refining the bloody instinct of the huntsman through shechitah and self-control.

II.  Isaac’s Altar

Because Isaac dedicated himself to the enormously difficult task of analyzing and perfecting personal behavior, shechitah and the preparation of food takes up a large part of the few chapters devoted to his life.

As Isaac prepared to draw his son into the covenant of Abraham, how could he better bring him nearer to the service of God than by having him bring an offering to God with all the holy connotations contained in such a deed? That is precisely what Isaac did. He asked Esau to bring an offering, prepare it well and slaughter it properly, to place it upon an altar and pour libations (the pouring of a drink as an offering) before God. For Isaac’s food was an offering and his drink was a libation.

Further, Isaac was signaling to him that his work of sanctifying his cruel instinct ~ the task Isaac thought was his ~ should be carried further by bringing nobility, control, purpose and holiness into his life and upon his table.

Jacob Remembers

Sixty-seven years after the blessings were given, Jacob prepared to descend to Egypt with his family. He was afraid of what the future would bring, and before he departed from Ertez Yisrael, he went to Beer Sheba, the place that had been important in the lives of his father and grandfather. There, ‘he slaughtered offerings to be God of his father, Isaac’ (46:1). Commentators find it noteworthy that only Isaac, and not Abraham, is mentioned in connection with Jacob’s offerings. Jacob was embarking on a task that was uniquely suited to his legacy from Isaac. The uniqueness of Isaac was his strength in taking the grain of good from its shell of evil. He had done it in Philistia and had symbolized it by his particular responsibility for the sanctity of shechitah and of eating. Jacob was about to descend to Egypt, the most corrupt, perverted country then on earth. His task and that of the succeeding generations of his children would be to remain pure even in Egypt and to draw out of that accursed place the scattered sparks of holiness that were there. Jacob was about to begin an Isaac-like mission ~ and he brought his offerings to God Who gave Isaac the strength to succeed. Jacob would need the qualities of his father more than of his grandfather to succeed in Egypt.

Sforno there adds the thought that Jacob thought of Isaac at that juncture because Isaac had been forbidden by God from going to Egypt. Jacob sought mercy as what he was about to do was what his father was commanded not to do. Why, indeed, was Jacob able to go? Not because Isaac was inferior to him, but because Isaac had preceded him. Isaac had come upon the stage of history with the mission of perfecting Abraham’s legacy. Abraham’s expansive goodness required Isaac’s introspective strength to perfect and purge it. Isaac had succeeded in uncovering holiness that was buried after Abraham’s death, in bringing sanctity to potential bloodshed and holiness to potential gluttony. By responding to God’s awesome challenge, he had even purged Esau from the seed of Abraham. His mission done, Jacob had within him the combined attributes of Abraham and Isaac. He was suited to descend to Egypt and conquer the evil and impurity of that shameful land because Isaac had prepared the way for him.

Isaac – Strength and Consolidation

Isaac planned to descent to Egypt (when the famine struck Canaan) (26:2). God said to him, ‘Do not descent to Egypt, for you are a perfect burnt offering, and a country outside of Eretz Yisrael is not worthy of you.’ (Bereishis Rabbah 64:3)

I.  Isaac’s Uniqueness

Of the three Patriarchs, Isaac seems to be the least prominent. Several chapters of the Torah deal with Abraham, even more describe Jacob and the development of his family. Virtually throughout, Abraham and Jacob are the prime movers of their respective stories. But to Isaac, few chapters of the Torah are devoted, and even there, he seems generally more passive than active. Eliezer was sent to choose his wife. Jacob and Rebecca matched wits with Esau to secure Isaac’s blessings.’

The obvious conclusion was that Isaac was less majestic than either his father or his son, that he was merely a bridge between the two major pillars of Israel’s genesis. Like many superficially ‘obvious’ assessments of the events and people chronicled in the Torah, this one doesn’t even come close. The three Patriarchs are described by the Sages as equal to one another (Bereishis Rabbah 1:15), as the ‘strong steeds’ who galloped before God (Sanhedrin 96a), as the ‘chariots’ upon whom God rested His Presence on earth. The time will come when the salvation of his descendants will rest with Isaac:

“In time to come, the Holy One, Blessed Be He, will say to Abraham, ‘Your children have sinned.’ Abraham will say before Him, ‘Master of the Universe, let them be wiped out in sanctification of Your Name.’

God will say, ‘Let me tell this to Jacob who endured the suffering of raising children. Perhaps he will pray for mercy upon them.

Jacob will say..’Let them be wiped out in sanctification of Your Name.’

However, Isaac will say, ‘Master of the Universe, are they my children and not Your children? When they said, “We will do” before they said, “We will hear”, You called them “My Firstborn” – now You call them my children and not Yours?…’ Isaac concluded ‘If You endure all the sins, good. If not, let half be upon You and half be upon me ~ I have already offered myself before You at the time of the Akeidah.’ (Shabbors 89b)

Isaac will prevail where neither his father nor his son will make the attempt. Let us look at Isaac’s ways a little more ~ at least to the minuscule extent to which we can comprehend the way of a Patriarch.

A New Path

Abraham and Isaac represented two very different approaches to the service of God. Abraham’s was that of Chessed-Kindness. Isaac’s was that of Gevurah-Strength. Isaac could have adapted Abraham’s philosophy. It would have been logical for him to have followed in the footsteps of his illustrious father. Abraham had found the spark of Godliness in the spiritual debris of the ten failed generations from Noah’s time to his own. He had recognized his Creator and had been rewarded with manifestations of the Shechinah that made even his idolatrous contemporaries regard him as ‘a prince of God.’

Isaac chose to beat a new path. Isaac’s greatness showed through his refusal to choose the easy way of imitation. He had no inner compulsion to rebel against the teachings of Abraham and Sarah. To the contrary, Isaac developed a new way to serve God, the path of Gevurah-Strength. He played an essential role in creating the tripod upon which Judaism eternally rests, because his mode of service was fused with Abraham’s to form the ‘Tiferes-Truth’ ~ the way of Jacob.

More Acceptable

Isaac had to become ‘an original tzaddik despite the fact that he was the son of a tzaddik. To seek independently to find the meaning and significance of thought and deed is a spiritual triumph of majestic proportions.

In summarizing the rise of Abraham and his descendants until Moses received the Torah, Rambam shows the sharp contract between Abraham and Isaac:

On this path (of progressively more serious idolatry) the world went and developed until the birth of the pillar of the universe – our father Abraham….He arose and called out in a great voice to the entire world to inform them that there is a single God … from city to city and from kingdom to kingdom he went … until he gathered to himself thousands and tens of thousands. They are the people of Abraham’s household … He set up Isaac to teach and to exhort. Isaac made this known to Jacob and appointed him to teach … (Hilchos Avodah Zorah 1:2-3)

Abraham was the inspirer and teacher of tens of thousands. Isaac taught Jacob. Why did Isaac not create an army of followers to God and His Torah?

Chessed and Gevurah

The answer lies in a clearer understanding of the ways of Chessed and Gevurah. Though they seem to be widely different, they are truly complimentary. Neither can thrive ~ nor even continue to exist ~ without the other.

The urge to give and grow is a function of Chessed. It is sometimes generous and sometimes self-indulgent, sometimes compassionate and sometimes selfish. The teacher of the Torah may not always be motivated solely by the desire to serve God and Israel. This does not change the essential nature of their activity. Because the activities are directed towards others, they are manifestations of the Chessed impulse to give. Every person faces a challenge: he can turn his motives, attitudes and deed in the direction of Abraham whose kindness had the purpose of perfecting man and drawing him close to God ~ or he can turn his Chessed activities in the path of laziness, gratification of senses, and a deadening of the will to strive for greatness. For Chessed-Kindness can have both effects. Indulgence without discipline, Chessed without Gevurah, will lead to a state of corruption, immortality and sin.

II.  Complement

Complement – a thing that completes or brings to perfection

Verse 25:19: “And these are the offspring of Isaac, son of Abraham.” This verse follows the Talmudic dictum of the word (and these) indicates a continuation of what was said earlier. So the story of Isaac’s life is a continuation ~ but a continuation of what?

We see Isaac’s life from a new perspective. Abraham begot Isaac (25:19). In it’s many layers of meaning, the Torah is giving us more than the fact of genealogy. The philosophy of Abraham begot the philosophy of Isaac. Strength and kindness do not contradict one another; they complement and perfect one another. Not only must the expansiveness of Chessed-Kindness be followed by the consolidation of Gevurah-Strength but also fear and awe of God must flow from love of God. Abraham gave birth to Isaac; love of God brought in its wake an awareness of God’s power and majesty, and awakened an awe and a fear that made God’s servants tremble, lest they overstep the bounds of His Will in their zeal to serve Him better and spread His Name more widely. From such a complementary tension between love and fear, between kindness and strength, is born ~ Tiferes-Splendor and truth ~ the final level of perfection represented by Jacob. Isaac, therefore, is the logical and necessary step in the spiritual process begun by Abraham.

Isaac’s contribution to the unfolding development of God’s mission on earth brought an achievement that had not yet been possible in Abraham’s day. The principal struggle between good and evil is represented by the unforgiving hostility between slicing away the contamination of Esau from the emerging Abrahamitic nation. Chessed was inadequate to cope with Esau; the task required the rigorous application of inner strength and refinement that were Isaac’s contribution to the Patriarchal force. Abraham had his Ishmael who had to be removed from Israel, but there was an essential difference between Ishmael and Esau: Ishmael was not the son of Sarah and he was never considered to be an offspring of Abraham (21:12). Esau, however, was born to a Matriarch as well as to a Patriarch. He was entitled to continue to lineage of Abraham and Isaac. That made the challenge so awesome: Jacob or Esau, which will it be? A choice of that magnitude had to await the coming of Isaac.

Clearly, the life of Isaac could not have the narrative prominence of the life of his father. Abraham was the doer. Isaac’s role was just as important and just as difficult. His stage was not the world but his inner heart. This voice was not the one that carried to tens of thousands of converts but the inner voice that demanded rigorous appraisal and merciless refinement. Abraham’s academy was open to all who would listen; Isaac had one student ~ Jacob. We do know that the single product of Isaac’s academy became the father of a nation, the culmination of God’s purpose in creating heaven and earth.

Eliezer – Blessed Servant

I.  Saintly Servant

It is no small matter that Eliezer is described in such softy spiritual terms. Following the rule that the physical details given by the Torah have spiritual significance as well, the Sages derive that Eliezer was as much in control of his Evil Inclination as was Abraham, that he knew all of Abraham’s teachings and transmitted them to others ~ even that he came to resemble Abraham. The resemblance can be understood only in spiritual terms. On a scale of values where spiritual attainment is paramount, people are envisioned in terms of wisdom, righteousness, and kindness.

Eliezer’s great spiritual stature can be deduced from his very success in gaining Rebecca’s firm insistence that she wished to accompany him to Canaan. Her only conception of the household where she was asked to spend the rest of her days came from Eliezer. She saw his righteousness, delicacy, tact, consideration, gentility, humility. She saw the servant and concluded that if such was the product of Isaac’s home, then she wanted to be part of it. Eliezer was indeed the teacher of Abraham’s Torah ~ not only from lectures, but more importantly, from living example.

In all sixty-seven verses of the narrative of Eliezer’s mission (Chapte 24), he is not once mentioned by name. He addresses himself (24:34) ‘I am a servant of Abraham’. A more accurate translation would be ‘slave’. Like a loyal slave, he was nothing and deserved nothing except as his master wished. In this sense, too, Eliezer was a slave ~ the total and perfect reflection of Abraham’s personality and will. In this manner he proceeded upon his mission.

Although he formulated his plan to test the moral qualifications of Isaac’s future bride, he relied only on prayer for success. He directed his prayer to the God of Abraham and asked that kindness be shown Abraham. Merit did not enter into his thoughts. The prayer was not for his personal success; it was for the fulfillment of Abraham’s need.

Eliezer’s choice of total reliance upon God’s guidance instead of upon his own considerable wisdom and good judgment, and his prayers for God’s kindness in a matter where people of lesser stature generally rely on common sense and keen insight ~ these demonstrate how great was the concentration of the powers of evil to thwart his effort to continue the development of the nation of Israel. The sapling of Israel was indeed fragile at that point: Abraham and Sarah had not had their son until infertility and old age made miraculous intervention necessary, the Akeidah nearly ended Isaac’s life before he had married; it appeared that in all the world, only Rebecca was a suitable match for him; as events later unfolded, even this marriage was infertile until payer and miracle combined to produce Jacob and Esau. It was not the only time in the history of the world when the forces of evil girded in battle against an event of overriding significance for the achievement of God’s ultimate purpose.

II.  Homes of the Patriarchs

Not only is Eliezer’s mission narrated by the Torah in unusually great detail, it is given a second time in Eliezer’s own words as he described his experience to Rebecca’s family.

Eliezer’s behavior, his way of dealing with a complex situation, his response to God’s sign, his treatment of Rebecca, his tactful, carefully shaded dialogue with her family ~ all of these are reflective of the home where he grew and developed.

Eliezer, as Abraham’s devoted servant for many decades, had become a reflection of Abraham. From closely studying chapter 24, we learn not only about his own character and wisdom, but about the Abrahamic home where he became the trusted expositor of his master’s Torah, and great enough an exemplar of goodness to convince Rebecca to commit her life to the building of a home whose nature she could guess only by observing the majestic behavior of its servant.

III. Lessons of Self Interest

Many of the subtle changes which Eliezer inserted in his narrative of the events are explained by the commentary as dictated by his desire to gain approval for the match. Had he related the facts to Bethuel and his family exactly as they occurred, he might have been misunderstood, or they might have been insulted. An extra word here, a deleted phrase there and occasional change in the sequence of events would be needed to avoid a refusal and the failure of his mission. But was Eliezer thereby not practicing deception?

Eliezer, with his implicit faith in God, could rush to bestow valuable gifts upon Rebecca as soon as she demonstrated the selfless generosity he sought in future wife of Isaac. Even before he inquired about her identity, he was confident that she had to be the girl designated by God! But could he tell that to her greedy and idolatrous family? If he had permitted them to doubt his wisdom – according to their code of behavior – he would have been telling the ultimate lie, for they would have refused to accept the absolute truth that God had given them a Rebecca only in order that she would be come Isaac’s wife and a Matriarch of Israel. Eliezer, the teacher of Abraham’s Torah, acted like an accomplished teacher.

So Eliezer carefully considered what he could tell them in order not to mislead them. If they could not understand the saintliness of Abraham and Isaac, there would be no point in praising virtues which they would regard as patronizing or foolish. With this background, we can better understand much of Eliezer’s narrative and gain a deeper appreciation of the stature of one who learned Godliness in the Temple of Abraham and Sarah.

No one is immune from the blinding influence of self-interest, not even Eliezer. In repeating the story to the family, he included an allusion that he had hoped his own daughter could be selected for Isaac’s wife. But the allusion does not appear when Eliezer was speaking directly to Abraham (24:39).

Though Eliezer had a compelling personal reason to wish for the failure of his mission, he rose above all selfish considerations. With loyalty, faith, dedication, and wisdom, he proceeded to prove that Abraham’s trust in him was well placed. Unlike the slave whose honor depends on the rod held over his head, Eliezer went on his mission with uncompromising zeal. In so doing, he completed the transformation of himself from accursed Canaanite to blessed of God. Such is the effect of life in the tent of the Patriarchs. Small wonder the Sages taught that every Jew should set as his constant goal in life the question ~ When will my deeds approach the deeds of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob?

The Matriarchs: Sarah and Rebecca

All the years that Sarah lived, a cloud hung by the entrance of her tent; as soon as she died, the cloud left. But as soon as Rebecca came, that cloud returned. All the years that Sarah lived, the doors were wide open (to welcome all travelers) … a blessing was dispatched to her dough … the lamp would burn from Sabbath eve to the next Sabbath eve … as soon as Rebecca came it (all of the above) returned. As soon as Isaac saw that she did as his mother did … immediately (as the Torah relates): Isaac brought her to the tent. (Bereishis Rabbah 60:16)

I.  Complimentary Function

A Name

“This shall be called woman for from man was she taken.’ (2:23) Woman is called Ishah, because she was fashioned from Ish (man). The Torah gives this as the reason for her name, but it does not tell us why man was called Ish. What is the significance of each of the two names?

Not only man, but all animal life was fashioned from earth. All breathe, eat, sleep, propagate. God’s plan was to give life to a clump of dirt formed from earth, whether the life was human or animal. But human beings have within them a characteristic of another prime element – fire. Fire represents passion and enthusiasm, lust and initiative. It represents the uniquely human traits that give man dominance and enable him to attain wisdom, develop culture and pass them on to his children. The name, Ish, derives from eish ~ the element of fire.

There is a major difference between these two facets of life. Simply to live and vegetate ~ although impossible without God’s gift of life ~ can be managed without Godliness. Animals do it; so do Godless humans.

Only Together

Nowhere is the spirit of God more essential than in the union between man and woman that produces future generations. When His spirit is present from the moment of conception, the future has holiness as an ingredient of its growth from a cell to a finished being whose lustful drives have been tempered by God’s Presence. Man alone cannot bring it; woman alone cannot bring it – only the two of them together can invite holiness to join.

This is implied by the names Ish and Ishah. The Sages teach that man’s name contains the Hebrew letter ~ yud. Woman’s name contains the Hebrew letter ~ he. When a man and woman unite with sincerity and holiness, he contributes his yud and she contributes her heh forming Yah, a Name of God. But if man and woman deny God entry into their lives, he surrenders his yud and she surrenders her he. Remaining is eish – the fire of destruction.

Adam, God’s own handiwork, perceived when the first woman was brought to him that they were to be partners in honoring the fiery instincts within them both. Woman as a creature ultimately formed from the earth needed no particular name – both man and woman are adam. But the function of taming fire and turning it into a Godly force must be carried out jointly with each of the partners taking separate but complementary roles. Adam knew that he needed her as she needed him in order that – together – they could stamp God’s Name on the future of humanity. And so he named her Ishah, assigning to her the second letter of God’s Name.

II.  Sarah’s Temple

Sarah’s home was no ordinary tent. It had extraordinary qualities, miracles, and blessings. These miracles were not of Abraham’s doings ~ they ceased with Sarah’s death.

There is a special significance of these blessings. They paralleled the miracles of the Mishkan in the wilderness and the Temple in Jerusalem. (Mishkan: the tabernacle or temporary Sanctuary in which the Divine Presence dwelled.)

Her home, her tent presented the following:

  • A cloud of holiness ~ the cloud represented God’s Own Presence, the same Presence which rested in the Mishkan. Sarah’s open doors symbolized the Temple which was a place of holiness calling out to every Jew to come and draw closer to God through its activity.
  • A blessing in her dough ~ In the Sanctuary of the Temple, loaves of ‘show-bread’ were put into place every Sabbath. Because it was blessed, it never became stale. The blessing in Sarah’s dough was a spiritual one, a blessing that protected it from the elements and helped all who ate it absorb its holiness within themselves.
  • A Sabbath lamp that remained lit all week long ~ the ‘western lamp’ of the Temple Menorah burned longer than all the others. It was the first lit and the last to go out, its flames burning bright until the moment of the next day’s lighting. This symbolized a principal of spiritual growth ~ yesterday’s greatness need not fade away; it should become the starting point for today’s further development. Sarah’s Sabbath candles ushered in a ‘day of contentment and holiness’ ~ God’s precious gift to Israel. Sarah’s Sabbath lamp, like the western lamp of the Menorah, endured and shed a glow that lit the darkness of the week.

The heavenly cloud that hovered over her tent was God’s testimony to what went on within. Because God’s Presence was in Sarah’s tent, on her table, her Menorah, He set His cloud atop her dwelling.

III. Sarah’s Successor

When Eliezer was dispatched to find a suitable mate for Isaac, he set his priority on her character.

The Brisker Rav points out the revealing process of Isaac’s decision to take Rebecca as his wife. Eliezer came back to Canaan with her and told Isaac all that had happened on his trip (24:66): God’s intervention enabled him to make in a matter of hours a round trip that should have taken him five weeks; Eliezer had prayed that God indicate the proper maiden and the choice had fallen upon Rebecca; Bethuel tried to poison him but was himself killed through an angel’s intervention. Miracle after miracle Eliezer related but still Scripture does not say that Isaac married Rebecca.

He took Rebecca into the tent, Sarah’s tent, and behold! ~ she was Sarah! The tent became a Temple again. There was kindness and blessing in the tent. Visitors felt welcomed and satisfied. Holiness came and remained, and the Shechinah was a welcome guest. Only when Isaac saw Rebecca’s deeds and virtues did he take her for his wife (24:67). Then came love and comfort for the loss of his mother.

A Revealing Comparison

Rebecca comes to us as a model of one who looked for no attention or praise for her kindness. Even when she initiated the tactics which resulted in Esau’s loss of the blessings to Jacob (Chapter 27), she did it quickly, gently, without confronting Isaac with a demand that a son as unworthy as Esau should be banished, not blessed.

Our picture of Sarah, at least as it takes shape from a superficial reading of the Torah’s narrative of her life, is quite different. Scripture tells us of her courage and strength. She followed Abraham from Haran to an unknown future, let herself be abducted by Pharaoh and Abimelech because to do otherwise could have caused Abraham’s death. Seeing herself barren, she surrendered her privileged position by giving her maidservant to Abraham as a wife so that he might have an heir. But when Hagar became arrogant she punished her harshly ~ at least in Hagar’s eyes. When Ishmael presented a danger to her Isaac, Sarah banished him to the heat and thirst of the desert though he was too sick to travel. It was a move that Abraham refused to permit until God instructed him to obey Sarah because she was superior to him in prophecy (21:12). So grievous an act was it in Abraham’s judgment, that it is reckoned by the Sages as one of his ten tests, but for Sarah it was not a test, her conscience was not troubled.

So Sarah was strong and decisive ~ but was she kind and generous? Rebecca was kind and generous ~ but was she strong and decisive? Isaac took Rebecca not because she was unlike Sarah but because she was like her. And God bore witness to the fact by showing that Sarah’s temple and Rebecca’s temple were one and the same.   To the casual observer, nothing could be more different than a down featherbed and a mosquito netting. In reality though, they are identical in the sense that each is the correct protection against a particular condition. One mother covers her child gently with the featherbed, the other drapes his cradle with netting; both are doing what must be done then and both are equally concerned and caring.

The underlying substance of Sarah and Rebecca was identical: virtue, kindness, humility, and all the traits that are the prerequisites of obedience to the commandments.

The Midrash comments that just as wool and linen are forbidden in combination, so, too, Sarah understood that Isaac and Ishmael could not remain together in the same family. Each had his mission and Isaac’s mission could not be contaminated by the presence of Ishmael.

Was Sarah indeed lacking mercy? God, Himself testified twice that she was not: He ratified her decision by telling Abraham to obey her, and He showed that gracious, selfless Rebecca was Sarah reborn!

Indeed, Sarah embodied the concept of Ish and Ishah which Adam recognized when the first wife in history was brought to him. Together, the two could harness the fiercest human drives by placing them at the service of God. It was a mission neither could perform alone, Man and woman, husband and wife are separate beings, yet they are one. In unison, by complementing one another, they bring holiness to one another, to their posterity, to the universe.

Rebecca, too, did what had to be done in her particular circumstances. Isaac judged correctly when he saw in Rebecca the image of Sarah.

III. God Alone Chooses

The choice of a Matriarch of Israel is not a random task. She must have human qualities of the highest order, accept the principles which God ordains as the foundation stones of His people, and be chosen by His standards of holiness and dedication. For no less than the Patriarch is she the forebear of the nation, the bearer of the measure of Godliness that, combined with her husband’s, result in the Name of God that is stamped upon their offspring from the instant of conception.

The Days of the Perfect

Hashem is aware of the days of the perfect; their inheritance will endure forever (Psalms 37:18). Just as they (the righteous) are perfect, so their years are perfect. When she (Sarah) was twenty, she was just as she was at seven….. (Bereishis Rabbah 58:1)

I.  Two Forms of Perfection

Sarah was perfect. In wisdom, in beauty, in innocence, in accomplishment, in consistency, her life was a tapestry of perfection. She was the first of the Patriarchs and Matriarchs to die, and the Torah chose her to display the standard of all (her years) were equally good.

The word perfect has two connotations, both applicable to Sarah: without blemish, and of complete faith.

Unblemished Time

Just as people, animals, and things can be without blemish; so can time. For time, too, is a creation. Before the existence of heaven and earth, there was no such concept as time. Existence was limited to God alone, and He is beyond time, without either beginning or end. That He included time in the universe means that it is the tool, and therefore also the challenge, of man. Just as man is charged with wisely using his ability, his possessions, and his surroundings, so he is charged with making proper use of the moments allotted him on earth. We may liken a lifetime to a huge needlepoint canvas with millions upon millions of holes to be filled with the threads of achievement. The holes are the countless instants, the fleeting ‘nows’ of life.

As the saying goes, the past is gone, the future is not yet, and the present is like the blink of an eye. True, but the past, however, glorious or inglorious, is the accumulation of those blinks and the future, whatever it may bring, is built upon them. What does ‘everyman’s’ needlepoint of life resemble? For most, it is a series of random patches and blanks. Perhaps not even a recognizable pattern emerges after all the years of effort. For others, there may be only a few scattered, ill-fitting stitches. For still others there may be imperfect but still distinguishable pictures that testify to purposeful weeks and months.

And then there are the Sarahs. Their canvas has no bald spots. It is full, perfect, lush with color, meaning, and accomplishment. Every thread is related to the one before and the one after. If reflects what God knows – that just as they are perfect, so their years are perfect; and had they not been perfect they could never have achieved the perfection of a lifetime without blemish.

In this vein, Chiddushei HaRim explains the meaning of Hillel’s famous exhortation – If not, when? (Avos 1:14) Simply understood, the Mishnah warms that time is not forever. No man know how long he will live nor can he be sure that he will have the ability or opportunity tomorrow or next week to perform the good deed he seeks to postpone today. There is a deeper meaning as well.

Every point in time, has a particular purpose for each human being. Its purpose was ordained by the Creator for every person who shares that particular point in time: For some it is Torah study, for others the performance of a commandment. It may be earning a livelihood, eating, sleeping, relaxing, traveling. Can the obligation of any instant be postponed to a later moment? No – for that later moment has an obligation of its own. To do tomorrow what should have been done today is to deprive tomorrow of its due. “If not now – when?” – Hillel asks! What will become of this ‘now’ if it is not utilized? It will be lost forever!

The Light Of Day

“..and God called to the light – Day!” (Genesis 1:5): It was not the emergence of the morning sun that God entitled Day, nor was the passage of twenty-four hours on a clock. The essence of Day is its – spiritual light. A day that has the glow of spiritual accomplishment is a day, a twenty-four hour period without such meaning may be called a day for the sake of convenience, or for crossing off another number on a calendar – but in the truest sense, it is but the unrealized potential of a day that never was.

God urges us always to bear in mind the commandments, “which I command you today” ~ never are we to think of them as ancient remnants of miraculous days in Egypt and the Wilderness. They are new. Given daily. And our response must be one of anxious anticipation of each day’s store of light-filled moments.

Perfect in Faith

There is a second connotation of the word ~ perfection and wholeheartedness in faith. (See Genesis 17:1 and Deuteronomy 18:13) This, too, relates as much to the days of the righteous as to their deed and attitudes, for man passes through many periods ~ good times and bad ~ during his journey on earth. It is relatively easy to have perfect faith in God while He smiles at Israel. Only the wicked and spiritually corrupt could fail to ‘see’ God’s smiling countenance and ‘feel’ His gentle hand during the golden years of King Solomon. Why should one not wish to join a proven success? Why not join a nation which knew only cloudless days?

But the perfect faith of the righteous remains unimpaired and unblemished even in times of darkness and suffering. Through all periods, the righteous remain perfect in their faith. Such was Sarah’s life. Growing up in the moral filth of Ur Kasdim and Aram or living in the sanctuary of Abraham’s tent; dragged off to the harems of Pharaoh and Abimelech, or playing hostess to angels; giving her maidservant Hagar to Abraham that he might have an heir despite her own barrenness or nursing her own Isaac amid joy and rejuvenation ~ all were the same to Sarah. Whatever external winds might blow, her faith was unimpaired.

  1. Sarah’s Eternal Teaching

Such was the unique lesson of Sarah ~ that in all varieties of time and experience one must maintain faith based on the conviction that all conditions are dictated by God for the fulfillment of His ultimate will. Originally her name had been Sarai (literally, my mistress) for she had been the dominant figure only to Abraham, but then a new dimension was added, both to her name and to her mission. She became Sarah, a name with the connotation that she was the spiritual mistress of all the world. But if Abraham had been elevated to the status of Father of the Multitude of Nations (17:5), and he was subservient to Sarai, then why was it necessary to rename her as well? The answer lies in the different characteristics of Abraham and Sarah. Abraham represented ~ the Attribute of Kindness. In his life all flowed from God’s manifestation of kindness. Abraham was honored wherever he was. Neither his descendants nor the world at large could learn from Abraham how to face dark moments, for he had none. But Sarah knew. She taught how to perfect time and how to recognize that every moment emanated from God in order that we might fill it with faith and service. If only Abraham’s way of life and faith was to serve as the model for all people, then the weak of spirit would not find the strength to cope with adversity. But from Sarah they could learn strength no matter what the odds. That was Sarah’s great role in the development of man.

Hagar Learns It

This lesson was taught Hagar when she fled from Sarah’s chastisement of her. She sat by a well pondering when an angel came to her and asked: Hagar, maidservant of Sarai, where have you come from and where are you going? (16:8) The question was not meant to gather information. The angel knew ~ she had fled from the house of Abram and Sarai and she was going back to Egypt; she was traveling the road from sanctity to profanity. The facts were plain. But were the implications? Hagar! Do you realize what you have left behind? Have you evaluated the fool’s gold for which you trade the precious moments in the service of the righteous? Why are you crestfallen, Hagar, because you have been forced to submit to the domination of Sarai? Is that reason enough to turn your back on the Abrahamitic universe? Remember, Hagar, you are the maidservant of Sarai – from whom can you learn better than from her to have faith even in the blackest moments? Where will you find as holy a place as Sarai’s tent? And how can you forsake such lofty teaching merely to seek comfort? “Return to your mistress and submit to her domination.” (16:9)

Not A Moment Lost

The Midrash states that Sarah died when she was told that Isaac had been slaughtered on the Akeidah. The implication is that her death was accidental, that she would have lived much longer had she only known the truth.

That is not true. Sarah lived out her full years. Indeed, it is unquestionable that a righteous person of Sarah’s caliber fulfills her entire mission on earth ~ her days were perfect days of a perfect person. In the natural world, God decrees that death have the appearance of a natural cause – a heart attack, a stroke, an accident, an earthquake, or a shocking lie – any one may be the ‘natural’ cause through which God carries out His will. But the days of Sarah are complete and perfect in quantity as well as quality.

The Akeidah

I.  Extent of the Trial

The Akeidah was the final and the supreme trial of Abraham. As we have seen, it was necessary to submit Abraham to ten trials in order to elevate him to his spiritual peak. After the Akeidah, he had thirty-eight years to live. But he was not tested again because he had already gained his ultimate height, nothing could be gained by testing him further. The Akeidah has assumed a central role in Jewish liturgy.

Like every trial, the Akeidah forced its subject to make a painful choice that ran counter to his nature and inclination. The test can be understood on many levels and in many dimensions ~ all of them valid. That it was the climatic test of Abraham’s greatness is reason enough for it to have been of such complexity, for it stands to reason that the extent of the reward called for an ordeal of parallel proportions.

Abraham had waited a hundred years for the gift of a son. He had been told by God that his heir must be born from Sarah, but it was a physical impossibility for them to have a child together. God raised him above the stars which are His emissaries to preside over the natural functioning of the universe and told him that the rules of nature do not apply to him and Sarah. As Abram and Sarai, they would not have children, but as Abraham and Sarah, they would (15:5). The couple waited many years after that vision until Isaac was finally born to him. Now they were both old, Abraham was 137 and Sarah was 127. Their rejuvenation had not continued; they had had no other children together. Isaac was thirty-seven, a mature man who had proven himself to be a deserving successor to Abraham’s mantle. Now Abraham was asked to slaughter him. Now in human terms, the task of him was incomprehensible. An only son! There was no chance short of a miracle that another son would be born ~ could another miracle be expected? To bring him to the altar and to inflict the cut with his own hands!

Abraham had built an empire of accomplishments in the service of God. In the sense that the offspring of the righteous are their good deeds, Abraham had armies and armies of children. From the time he was fifty-two he had been teaching the multitudes and leading people under the wings of the Shechinah. Though he lived in an immoral, idolatrous society, even they considered him a ‘Prince of God’ (23:6) and he gained respect wherever he went. Everywhere his teaching was that people must emulate God who abhors cruelty and loves kindness, that human sacrifice is murder, and that idolatry is a denial of the true God.

What would happen to his followers and those who admired him if he slaughtered Isaac and the world learned that Abraham’s teachings had been violated in the grossest manner by the preacher himself? His entire lifetime of achievement would have been nullified. He would have been despised, vilified, and ridiculed. Human nature being what it is, not only his critics, but even his past followers, would probably have embarked on orgies of excess, because the one supreme moral force acting as the conscience of the world would have been irreparably discredited. Human beings can endure many forms of suffering, but none is more difficult than disgrace ~ the fate awaiting Abraham when he returned from Mount Moriah without Isaac at his side. Could he endure all that in order to satisfy the wish of God.

Abraham had been as loyal a servant of God as had ever lived. He had been assured by God that his destiny would be continued through Isaac and none other. Now there would be no Isaac and as a result the work of Abraham himself would not endure. On the other hand, he understood that the greater goal of sanctifying God’s Name would be enhanced by his deed. For the sacrifice asked of him would demonstrate conclusively that Abraham held back nothing from God ~ not his son, not his reputation, not even his lifetime of spiritual fulfillment. In God’s scale of values, that degree of dedication outweighed all the jeers of scoffers and skeptics. It mattered not that Abraham would lose his following or that not a soul would understand the magnitude of his deed. He was alone when he began his work but that did not detract from his greatness; he would be alone when he finished his work and be even greater because he would give up so much. God does not measure value in numbers. What is more his supreme obedience would prove that accomplishment on earth, accomplishment measurable in human terms, had no ultimate value at all if God’s will were otherwise. Because it was the Divine Will, the destruction of his life’s edifice would be his greatest and most genuinely tangible achievement because, and in the Heavenly balance, it would outweigh everything else he had ever done.

Intellectually, Abraham could surely have understood that infinitely better than we could. Could he also feel it is the depths of his soul and with all of his emotions? It was his son, his loss, his sacrifice. Could he feel the same joy in serving God by slaughtering Isaac that he had in raising him?

The character traits of Israel became engraved into the national spiritual ‘genes’ through the acts and particularly the trials of the Patriarchs. We are Abraham’s offspring and the heirs of his submission to God’s will. We are descendants of Abraham, but he was a son of Terach. Therefore, it is impossible for us to fully comprehend the awesome nature of his response to God’s call to slaughter Isaac. To say that we benefit from his legacy is not to imply that we would do equally well ~ far from it. But we cannot divorce ourselves from our heritage; therefore we cannot imagine how sever the trial was for Abraham who had no patriarchal ancestor named Abraham. Suffice to say that Abraham proved himself so well that he attained perfection in the eyes of the Supreme Judge. That there are those who question his uniqueness on the ground that countless Jewish parents throughout the ages have made similar sacrifices is testimony to how well he succeeded. So totally did Abraham channel his personal ambitions and needs to the will of his Master, that the heritage remains strong almost thirty-seven centuries later.

II.  Uniquely Abraham’s

What of Isaac? The Akeidah is counted as one of Abraham’s trials, but surely Isaac was being tested as well. As we see, Isaac’s achievement was awesome and his performance during those fateful three days leading up to his ascent to the altar has remained part of the national heritage as has Abraham’s. They were partners in approaching the Akeidah and they are partners in affecting us today by their accomplishment. Why then is the trial aspect of the Akediah not ascribed equally to Isaac ~ or, since he was the one who volunteered his own life, why is it understood primarily as Abraham’s trial and only secondarily as Isaac’s?

In commenting on this question, Rabbi Yosaif Yoizel Horowitz of Novardok remarked: “It is harder to live like a Jew than to die like a Jew!”

Isaac was ready to offer his life. That done, all would have been over. He was fully prepared to give everything for the sake of God, but he would not have had to deal with the aftermath.

The supreme sacrifice is not to be regarded lightly but such acts of heroism are not uncommon in human experience. People risk their lives for far smaller causes and they are soon forgotten. Great moments evoke great responses even from ordinary people; surely one would not expect less from Isaac. But Abraham would have to go on, facing Sarah, facing the world, rebuilding his shattered life, once more opening his tent to travelers who would now be afraid to accept the hospitality of the ‘barbarous old man’ who had killed his own son, preaching the word of God to people who would call him a hypocrite, wondering if the lack of a future Jewish generation might not be his unforgivable sin for having allowed his fully grown son to remain unmarried for so long. Isaac had to die like a Jew, but Abraham had to bear the infinitely harder burden of carrying on, of continuing to live like a Jew.

Abraham and Isaac had different primary traits in the service of God. Abraham was the person of ‘chesed’ (kindness) whose primary drive was to help others and use his generous nature to draw them close to God. For him, the Akeidah was a trial of awesome proportions both for what he was called upon to do to Isaac and the effect it would have on his relationship to society. But Isaac was the person of ‘gevurah’ (strength). He was inner-directed and self-critical. He sought to perfect himself and remove any hint of imperfection in himself. To Isaac, the call to give up his life was not difficult. If the way to purge his imperfections was to purge his very life, then his nature would dictate that he do so.

For Abraham to commit such an act, however, required that he rise above his own character as a ‘chesed’ person and act contrary to his way of serving God. To do so would be possible only if his faith were so great that he was capable of acting counter to everything he had understood and believed.

Abraham showed that his devotion came above all other considerations. He injected his unconditional faith into the national character so that no matter how encrusted Israel may become with sin, and no matter how much it fell in line with sin’s fleeting pleasures, there remains the spark of Abraham’s holiness within every son and daughter of Israel. Repentance, therefore, is an ever present possibility if, somehow, that spark can be reached and fanned. The basic urge of Abraham’s children is to be righteous.

III. Trial Intensified

So Abraham’s very nature, as opposed to Isaac’s, dictated that the Akeidah was more his test than his son’s. But the trial was intensified further by the way it was presented. Let’s compare the command of the Akeidah with the command to drive Ishmael from his home. There, God commanded Abraham to follow the superior insight of Sarah. He told him to feel no regret at dispatching the boy, and what is more, He promised Abraham that Ishmael would become a nation for, although only Isaac would have the status of Abraham’s true offspring, Ishmael would still be treated graciously as someone born of Abraham’s seed. Combined with the command that Abraham go against his nature by cutting off his kindness to Ishmael and Hagar, was the assurance that no harm would befall them and that Sarah’s insistence was an expression of God’s own wisdom.

What assurance was he given with regard to the slaughter of Isaac? Was he told that Isaac did not deserve the mantle of Patriarch?.. that he had sinned?… that another would take his place?… that he should cease loving him? NO…

Chapter 22:2 ~ ‘Take your son”…. Isaac remains your son ~ his status is undiminished.”

‘Your only son’ …. He remains unique. Ishmael cannot return to take his place. You were promised a son, and Isaac will always remain the fulfillment of that promise even after you slaughter him.

‘Whom you love’… Continue to love him. Do not take the easy way of convincing yourself that your love was misplaced, that Isaac is unworthy either of your love or of carrying on your mission.

When God uttered those words to Abraham, the Patriarch was infused with a new and greater realization of what Isaac was. His son for whom he had waited a lifetime and for whom all the covenants and promises were made … the bearer of Abraham’s mission … the fulfillment of creation. He was Abraham’s only son. He was unique … there was none like him … he had forged a new way to serve God and no one could take his place.

Abraham loved Isaac. God now confirmed that love and when Abraham heard the words ‘whom you love’, he was infused with a greater love for Isaac than he had ever felt before. Abraham was not to ascend to Mount Moriah with the thought that, little though he understood why, he was removing an unworthy outgrowth of himself. No. He was to go with all the love, respect, expectation, and feeling that an Abraham could possibly feel for an Isaac. He was to go with the realization that Isaac was not expendable and replaceable, neither as a son nor as a Patriarch. And still he was to go. Only by attempting feebly to imagine how difficult God made the trial can we hope to understand how great was the aged father who sought no way to delay or reinterpret, who arose early and with a cheerful willingness to make even the exhausting physical preparations himself.

Faith in the Creator need not supply instant gratification. God need not spell out His reasons and campaign for approval. It is for us to understand that we need not understand. What He wills is right even if our every instinct cries out against it; what He inflicts is merciful even if its immediate result is agony; what He desires is exalting even if its immediate result is despair.

Abraham forged on and his steps etched an eternal path in the history of his children. For if Abraham followed God’s command lovingly even when He was distant, then He would maintain His love for Abraham’s children even when they were spiritually distant and treated badly by people in power. Therefore, too, there remains an inextinguishable spark of love in every Jew. There is a piece of Abraham in every one of his children. It was this remnant that God promised to preserve when he told Abraham, ‘I am your shield’ (15:1), and it is for this eternal pledge that we bless God in our daily prayers saying, ‘Blessed are You, Hashem, Shield of Abraham.’ Not merely for the protection He afforded Abraham ages ago do we bless God. We thank Him for protecting the Abraham within us, the Abrahamic spark of love and devotion that no tidal waves of materialism, oppression, and emancipation can ever extinguish.

Abraham’s ordeal is not done. Satan said to Abraham, ‘Tomorrow God will call you a murderer!’ Abraham replied, ‘Even so, I will do His will’. (Midrash)

Abraham did not even pray for God’s mercy upon Isaac. For the sake of the perversely wicked people of Sodom, Abraham had made a forceful protest to God, but for his own righteous son, he said not a word.

Abraham prayed for Sodom because his chesed character could not endure the destruction of the cities with their people. His prayer was not a personal one, he did not specifically ask for salvation of Lot, his nephew. He begged for heavenly mercy upon the Sodomite sinners because his perception of God was derived from and based upon mercy.

But for Isaac he could not pray just as he did not pray for Lot. To do so would have meant to pray for a selfish interest. No matter how much he might purify his motives and remove all sense of self from his prayer, no matter how much he would base his plea upon the righteousness of Isaac and the destiny of Israel, he was human and his prayer might well be colored ever so slightly with a selfish plea for Isaac, his own son. To whatever extent that were true, it would not be outer-directed chesed designed only to fulfill God’s wish. It would be a plea for himself. Who more than Abraham had a ‘right’ to make such a plea? That he did not make it demonstrates more than anything else the greatness of the Patriarch and the reason God never removes the memory of the Akeidah from the balance where the fate of Israel is measured.

IV.  Ashes and Life

  • Leviticus 26:44: “And I shall remember My covenant with Jacob, and also my covenant with Isaac, and also my covenant with Abraham shall I remember.” Why does it not specify remembrance in connection with Isaac? Because (God says) the ashes of Isaac are visible before Me gathered together atop the altar.
  • How did they (the Men of the Great Assembly) know where to build the altar (of the Second Temple?…’They saw the ashes of Isaac laying on that place’. (Zevachim 62a)

Isaac’s ashes lay before God. They identify the altar because the Sages knew that the altar of the Temple was built upon the site of Abraham’s altar on Mount Moriah. But how can the Sages speak of Isaac’s ashes when Isaac was never sacrificed and burned. There can be no ashes if Isaac who never became an actual sacrifice, yet the legally specified placement of the altar was determined by the ‘ashes of Isaac.’ A strange paradox! Isaac lived, but his ashes mark the pace of his sacrifice.

Both Abraham and Isaac came with all their hearts to complete the offering. There was no hesitation, no attempt to seek a reprieve. In every sense, except the physical, Abraham did slaughter Isaac and burn his remains as an offering.

No human being had ever done as Isaac did. He truly became Abraham’s offering. He mounted the altar and the knife was at his throat. It took a Divine Command to gain his release. When he descended the altar, he was no less an offering than he was when he ascended it. The ram was his substitute in an even more tangible way than even the purest sacrifice that would ever be brought in fulfillment of God’s command, because it took Isaac’s place on the altar. The ashes of the ram were on the altar in the place of Isaac’s. Thus, the ashes of the ram were Isaac’s in a very real sense.

We must remember that there are two very different worlds: the spiritual world and the physical world. In a higher world, Isaac surely can be seen as ashes. His willingness to become a sacrifice never left God’s cognizance. The spiritual effect of his deed remained imprinted on the top of Mount Moriah.

People attuned to spirituality see things that others don’t see. When Abraham and Isaac approached the mountain, they knew without being told that they had found the place. The saw a beautiful mountain covered by a pillar of smoke – the Shechinah. Their two attendants looked at the same mountain and saw only deserts. Were all four in the same place? Geographically, yes. But in the truest sense they were worlds apart. Abraham and Isaac were at the mountain of God and Ishamael and Eliezer were in the Canaanite desert. From that perspective, the participation of Abraham and Isaac at the Akeidah created his ashes, for he was truly sacrificed in every world but the material one. And in the material world, the ram took his place.

God promised to remember the covenant with Abraham and Jacob, but there was no need to bring the covenant of Isaac back from the past. Isaac’s ashes were before Him always, a living reminder of Isaac’s covenant – because an ascent to such spiritual heights as the Akeidah never dies.

Therefore, too, Isaac’s life after the Akeidah was of a different order than any other. He was a living sacrifice, sanctified and spiritual. For that reason, he was forbidden to leave the Land. Abraham had gone to Egypt and Jacob was to go to Charan and Egypt. But when famine struck in Isaac’s time, God ordered him not to leave Eretz Yisrael; he was a holy offering ~ and offerings may not leave the holy soil.

When the Akeidah was over, Abraham sent Isaac to the Academy of Shem to study Torah, for he said, ‘Whatever I have attained is only because of the Torah, therefore I want it to remain with my children forever.’ (Midrash)

Indeed, Isaac’s life after the Akeidah was different in more than a symbolic way:

  • “When the sword reached Isaac’s neck, his soul left him. When God’s voice came from between the two cherubim telling Abraham not to harm him, his soul returned to his body … Isaac experienced the resuscitation of the dead and said ‘Blessed are You, Hashem, Who makes the dead live!’” (Pesikta d’Rabbi Eliezer 31)

As the Zohar says, the letters of ‘Isaac’ form the words ‘the end of life’. Isaac’s earthly life had truly come to an end. Only the word of God brought his soul back to him. He blessed God for having given him the gift of life anew. His new life was a gift of God; his mortal life had truly ended. Thus, the intention of Abraham and Isaac to offer everything to God was fulfilled. The Isaac who walked away from the Akeidah was not the same one who had come to it. He was even greater than he had been earlier for he had given his life as a gift to God. That earlier life, the earthly one before Isaac became a sacrifice, merged with the ashes of the ram, ashes that never leave the notice of God.

Strangely, the name chosen for that climactic even hardly seems to symbolize its true essence, Akeidah Yitzchock, the binding of Isaac. True, upon placing himself upon the altar, Isaac asked his father to bind him tight lest he interfere with the knife-stroke by inadvertently moving, thereby rendering the sacrifice unfit, but that is so minor an aspect of the incident that it hardly seems appropriate to base the title of the event upon it. Sacrifice of Isaac! Slaughter of Isaac! Gift of Isaac! Selflessness of Isaac! Why ‘binding of Isaac’?

However, the name was well chosen indeed, for the very triviality it expressed reveals the greatness of Isaac.

Abraham and Isaac walked together for three days. We can imagine the turbulence in the heart of Abraham who knew why they were going, and the serenity of Isaac who thought that he would join with his father in offering an animal on the holy mountain of the future Temple. How different their feelings must have been! But the Torah testifies that ‘the two of them went together’ (22.6). Together they went, equal in resolve ~ equal in serenity ~ one to bind and the other to be bound; one to slaughter and the other to be slaughtered (Midrash). Neither thought of tragedy, only of the Creator Whose will they were going to perform.

Then Isaac learned of his destiny. ‘You are the ‘sheep’ my son!’ And again (22:8) ‘the two of them went together’. Now it was Isaac who should have been broken and depressed, but it wasn’t. The mood remained the same. The only thing that mattered was God’s will ~ whatever form it’s fulfillment would take.

It was enough of Isaac that he volunteer himself as a sacrifice. Surely he could not have had the presence of mind to worry about details. Few are the people who can maintain their calm in trying circumstances. The true test is not how one reacts when the trial comes, for a person is not himself when he is struck by tragedy. The test is how well he has lived his life in order to be prepared for the crisis. It is too late when the awful moment comes to make preparations or develop the personality to cope with it. Abraham’s response, Isaac’s response, were not born on Mount Moriah. Their reaction had been nurtured within them for years. The trial was no more than the means to reveal what had been present within them.

The measure of Isaac’s greatness was that he was conscious even of the danger that a reflex moment might ruin the slaughter. Of all the things to think of! It was a vital detail, but surely not a noticeable major aspect of the panorama of the trial. How could he be as calm? But he did think of that and he was calm.

Did his life mean so little to him? No, his life was exceedingly important to him because it was the tool with which to serve God, and without his life his service would be over. Life is so precious!! Isaac’s life was precious beyond value, but only because it was the tool with which to serve God. The greatest indication of his greatness is that, in the last moments of his worldly life, he thought not of his last will and testament, of the future generations he would not produce, or of the aged parents whom his loss would bereave. He thought of a reflex action, a sudden movement, a misplace stroke of the knife, a life that might be squandered if it were not returned to its Maker through a proper slaughter.

“Bind me tight lest I move due to fear of the knife and I cause you anguish. And perhaps the slaughter would be unfit and the offering would not be credited to you. Bind me well, very well.”

At such a time, Isaac thought of small things. People can rise up to great occasions and often do ~ even little people! But only the greatest people rise to the smallest needs.


When the Jewish nation was crossing the Wilderness on its way to Eretz Yisrael, it was instructed that it must not allow the Seven Nations of Canaan to remain in the Land. Israel was warned that the Land would spew forth its sinful inhabitants.

But there was another element in Eretz Yisrael, one even more wicked than the Seven Nations; a culture even more corrupt than Canaan – Sodom. Despite the abominations that were so intolerable to the very essence of the Land, the Canaanite Nations were permitted to remain there for four hundred and seventy years after Abraham first received title to it at the Covenant Between the Parts. At that time he was told that a four hundred year exile would intervene – one that began with the Birth of Isaac thirty years later. Even thereafter his descendants spent another forty years in the wilderness, before the Canaanite and Amorite quota of sin was reached (Genesis 15:16), but Sodom and its tributary cities were wiped from the earth is an unprecedented manner after only fifty-two years of settlement. The generation of the Flood was wiped out, but the world was rebuilt on its remains. The Generation of the Dispersion was banished and scattered, but it lived to populate and develop the earth. Sodom, on the other hand, was overturned; it’s people were killed, it’s possessions totally destroyed, and its very locale – the rich, grassy plain which had enticed Lot to leave his mentor and protector (13:10-11) – was transformed into the salty, sulphuric wilderness that to this day is called the Dead Sea.

What was it about Sodom?

The cruelties of Sodom have entered the language as the epitome of selfishness, callousness and depravity. But there was a method, a rationale, behind their perverse behavior. Not unless we find the pattern behind their excesses can we understand the extent of their evil and the revulsion God felt for them.

The region of Sodom was rich and fertile. Of all the Land lying before him, Lot chose only Sodom in which to settle and make his fortune. We can well imagine that if it held such a powerful attraction for someone like Lot who, for all his deficiencies, had still been raised by Abraham and Sarah and who was a relatively righteous person as well as a wealthy one, then it must have been even more attractive for thousands of others.

The Sodomites knew this too. And they were the first to devise policies to close their gates to the unwelcome ordinary people who threatened to dilute the economic base and mar the prosperity of the limited, but comfortable population of the region. In effect, Sodom was the originator of anti-immigration laws.

They did more than take down the welcome signs. They made it a terrifying experience for a stranger to even visit Sodom. A traveler would find no door open to him. Not a crust of bread or a drop of water would be offered to him. If he dared to seek lodging, he would be violently tormented, even maimed! The traveler by foot in Sodom would be subject to perverse sexual abuse. The Sodomite who dared violate the social and legal restraints against hospitality would be treated as an enemy of the people and would be subject to abuse even worse than that handed out to the unsuspecting visitor – for, after all, the unwelcome migrant was but an unwitting and relatively harmless annoyance, but the citizen who broke the Sodomite tradition was a corrupting influence and a danger to the social and economic order.

Seeds of Sodom

The Mishnah (Avos 5:10), in describing attitudes toward follow humans, says: “The one who says ‘What is mine is mine and what is yours is yours’ (i.e., he wishes neither to give to nor to receive from others) – this is the manner of ordinary people. Some say it is the manner of Sodom.”

The Sages have given us an insight into the source of Sodomite iniquity and at the same time a sobering lesson in the evaluation of our own behavior. We are not surprised to read that ‘the manner of ordinary people’ calls for one neither to give nor to receive. ‘Neither lender nor borrower be’ has come into the language as a well-accepted maxim of conduct. This runs counter to the Torah’s teaching that a Jew is required to lend and to give – nevertheless, it is hardly a code of conduct that can be described as wicked. Therefore, the first opinion cited by the Mishnah describes it as the code of ordinary people: it shows little sensitivity to the needs of others, but one would prefer it to the grasping, selfish attitude that has been the cause of suffering and misery throughout history.

The second opinion sees it differently. In itself, the code is not evil, but what seeds of wickedness it contains. Sodom, too, began as a society that said ‘what is mine is mine and what is yours is yours’. Sodom was not an aggressive, warrior nation that plundered its neighbors. To the contrary, the one time in Scripture where we find Sodom engaged in battle, they were humiliated in defeat (14:10-11). But Sodom was concerned in protecting what it had and in not sharing it with others. To do so, it erected a new social code, one that did not stop with ‘charity begins at home’, but which erected barriers against the unfortunate, terror against the helpless, that pronounced a sentence of a slow and painful death upon a girl whose only crime was that she secretly gave a crust of bread to a hungry stranger. People can go to frightening lengths to protect ‘legitimate interests.’ The person or nation whose eyes turn inward in selfish concern for the protection of only his own concerns, should search long and hard lest he become a Sodomite.

Unforgivable Sin

In the eyes of God, the greatest abomination of all is a social contract founded on selfishness, descending to cruelty, resulting in perversion of decency. Licentiousness is a grievous sin because of it the nations of Canaan were vomited out of the Land, and Israel was warned against it in the harshest terms. But it is understandable that human beings, possessed of animal passions, may fail to control them. Even a selfish unwillingness to help others is understandable. But to erect a society with a social and legal code in defense of selfishness and in opposition to kindness – that is an abomination which both in God’s eyes and in Jewish tradition is described with the contemptuous epithet – ‘the manner of Sodom.’ That behavior, God will not tolerate. It resulted in the total upheaval that left no trace of the period’s wealthiest city.

Indeed, the people of Sodom, unanimously and brazenly, acted to oppose the elementary dictates of decency, for that reason they could not be endured nor permitted to survive. The property of Canaan was neither destroyed nor forbidden: the property of Sodom was removed from the face of the earth, so grievous was their sin.

Would the same thing have happened if Sodom had been in Africa, Europe or America? Most assuredly not. The sin would have been grievous, and it would have been punished somehow and at some time. But the Sodomites committed their blight in Eretz Yisrael, the Land of holiness, the land which cannot abide sin. A sin there is worse. In the words of Ramban:

  • “Know that the judgment of Sodom was due to the spiritual elevation of Eretz Yisrael, for it is the inheritance of God and it does not tolerate abominable people. Just as it would later vomit out the entire nation (of Canaan) because of their abomination, it preceded and vomited out this nation (Sodom) which was the worst of all, to heaven and to humans, and rained desolation upon it from heaven and earth, and ravaged the land beyond cure forever. For they were haughty because of their prosperity, and God saw that it (the total destruction of the selfish society) would be an omen for rebellious people, for Israel which was destined to inherit it (the Land) ….. For there are among the nations very wicked and sinful people, but He did not (utterly destroy) them. But (He did so to Sodom) because of the spiritual elevation of Eretz Yisrael for it is the Temple of Hashem (Genesis 19:5).”

Genesis 17:1-2 The Importance of Blood Covenant

Understanding the importance of covenant will revolutionize your fellowship with the Father and create a foundation of trust in Him and the authority of His WORD. Understanding the reality and absolute bedrock of your covenant with Almighty God will cause your faith to grow by leaps and bounds to new dimensions of strength and confidence.

Ancient people knew the significance and power of covenant. Webster’s Ninth New Collegiate Dictionary defines covenant as a “usually formal, solemn, and binding agreement or promise usually under seal between two or more parties, especially for the performance of some action.” This sounds like our modern word contract, but many of today’s agreements are easily broken and often not worth the ink with which they are written.

A true blood covenant, like those understood and entered into by tribal societies, was a finding agreement: “until death do us part.” Even then, the commitment could last up to eight generations. But in Deuteronomy 7:9 God promised to keep His covenant and mercy with those who love Him and keep His commandments to a thousand generations. Through the eternal power of the blood of Jesus, our new covenant, based on better promises is forever sealed!

After Adam’s treason, God’s intense and unconditional love (Hebrew: hesed; Greek: agape) went into action with the eternal plan of redemption that was in the mind of God from the foundation of the world (Revelation 13:8; 1 Peter 1:18-20). He put into motion His plan to rescue man from his illegitimate stepfather, satan, to whom Adam had bowed his knee and yielded his God-given authority through disobedience (Luke 4:6; John 8:34;, Romans 6:16). In Genesis 17 we see God’s reaching out to a man named Abram and receiving permission to enter into a binding agreement with him.

God promised Abram to be a God to him and his seed and to bless and multiply him exceedingly (Genesis 17:2). He promised Abram land and that his barren ninety-year-old wife would have a son, through whose seed all the nations of the earth would be blessed (Genesis 18:18). He then bound Himself to Abram through the power of a blood covenant.

In a covenant, promises are made on both sides, names are exchanged, and the whole transaction is sealed in blood. Abram shed his blood through circumcision – the seal of his covenant with God. Since God is a Spirit (John 4:24), He had Abram shed the blood of animals to ratify His part of the covenant (Genesis 15:9-10). Then, according to true covenant rules, He gave Abram a new name – a covenant name. He called him Abraham, “the father of nations”, inserting a letter from His own Name (‘h’ Hebrew ‘hey’ from YHWH) into the middle of Abraham’s name. He did the same with Abraham’s wife’s name, Sarai, who then became Sarah: “mother of nations.” God then swore by Himself (Hebrews 6:13-17) to uphold the covenant, since there is none greater than He.

After Isaac, the son of promise, was miraculously conceived and born to a ninety-year-old woman and a one-hundred-year-old man, God asked Abraham to sacrifice Isaac, through whom Abraham had been told his descendants would be as the sand of the seashore and the stars of the sky in multitude. Abraham obeyed: “He reasoned that God was able to raise him up, even from the dead; from which he indeed received him in a figurative sense” (Hebrews 11:19). Abraham was fully persuaded his covenant Partner would uphold His end of the covenant (Romans 4:20-21). He told the young men who accompanied them to the site, “Stay here with the donkey. The boy and I will go over there and worship and then return to you” (Genesis 22:5). Because of Abraham’s covenant with God and his faith and willingness to sacrifice his son, the way was paved for God, his covenant Partner, to sacrifice His Son. The way made for Jesus, the spotless, eternal covenant sacrifice, to legally come into the earth to redeem mankind.

When you receive revelation of the absolute, final authority of God’s covenant WORD, sealed in the eternal blood of Jesus, a new and unshakable confidence rises up in your heart that God’s unchanging WORD stands rock-solid, forever. Psalm 119:89 says, “Forever, O Lord, Your word is established in heaven.” It is guaranteed in heaven’s eternal integrity.

Jesus, the Lamb of God, the WORD made flesh, said, “Heaven and earth will pass away but My Words will never pass away” (Matthew 24:35; Mark 13:31; Luke 21:33). And Hebrews 6:17-19, further revealing the steadfastness and unchangeableness of God’s Word, says, “So God, wanting to show more abundantly the immutability (Unchangeableness) of His counsel to the heirs of promise, confirmed it by an oath. So that by two immutable things, in which it was impossible for God to lie, we who have fled for refuse might have strong encouragement to hold fast to the hope set before us. We have this hope as a sure and steadfast anchor of the soul, which enters the inner Place behind the veil.”

Unlike the old covenant that depended on His people’s ability to keep it, the new covenant, now between God the Father and Jesus (Galatians 3:16-20), can never be broken. You are in Christ Jesus by the new birth, made a joint heir with Him – forever bound, by faith, into this unchangeable and eternal covenant. When you believe and rely on the steadfastness and integrity of God’s unchanging WORD to you, nothing can stop the fulfillment of His promises. The believer who knows and stands on his covenant with the living God, like Abraham, can confidently stake his life on the integrity of his covenant Partner’s WORD, knowing that Almighty God has sworn by Himself in the blood of His own Son. The words of this eternal covenant are activated by faith, so if you’ll believe it, receive it, and act on it, it will surely come to pass!

This is from an article written in the Kenneth Copeland Study Bible.