What thoughts passed through Abraham’s mind as he walked towards the
mountaintop with his son Isaac? Childless until the age of one hundred,
Abraham and Sarah had finally been blessed with a son, and now, Hashem had
commanded Abraham to bind his beloved son on the altar and sacrifice him.
In this, the supreme test of his loyalty and devotion, Abraham did not
hesitate for a moment, and we his descendants still reap the benefits to
this very day.
But let us consider for a moment Abraham’s state of mind on that fateful
day. Was his heart gripped by the icy fingers of dread? Did he cringe at
the thought of touching the sharp blade to the tender skin of his son’s
throat? Did he despair at the thought of a lonely future with no fitting
heir to take his place?
Not at all. As Abraham and Isaac set out for the mountain, the Torah tells
us, “Vayeilchu shneihem yachdav. The two of them went together.” What does
this mean? Our Sages see this as a metaphor for the feelings in their
hearts, which beat together as one. Abraham fully shared the joyous
anticipation experienced by Isaac, who was as yet oblivious to the true
purpose of the journey. The enormity of what he was about to do did not
becloud Abraham’s mind and heart. On the contrary, it exhilarated him.
Abraham had attained the highest levels of faith. He had so completely
subordinated his own desires to the divine will that nothing existed for
him but Hashem’s command. Therefore, in his understanding, how could an
action that fulfilled the will of Hashem inspire anything but perfect joy?
And how about Isaac? What was the level of his faith? We need look just a
little further in the parashah to find the answer. As they travel towards
the mountaintop, Isaac questions his father about the whereabouts of the
sacrificial lamb. From Abraham’s response, it becomes apparent that Isaac
himself is to fill that role. And again the Torah tells us, “Vayeilchu
shneihem yachdav. The two of them went together.” Their hearts still beat
together as one. Isaac not only accepts his divinely ordained fate, he
faces it with joy equal to that of his father.
But perhaps the most startling insight into the character of the
patriarchs comes at the very end of this astonishing episode. The angel
has stopped Abraham’s hand even as it already held the slaughtering knife.
Hashem has acknowledged Abraham’s supreme faith and showered eternal
blessings upon him and his offspring. We can well imagine the transcendent
ecstasy that gripped Abraham and Isaac in the aftermath of this incredible
spiritual experience. And yet, when they return to the young attendants
waiting with the donkeys in the distance, the Torah again tells
us, “Vayeilchu yachdav. They went together.” Together in spirit as in
body, the commentators observe.
Abraham and Isaac did not feel themselves suddenly vastly superior because
of the miracles they had witnessed and the promises they received. They
took no personal credit for their stellar achievements and considered
themselves no more or less precious than any of the Hashem’s other
A man once visited a great sage. “I have finished the entire Talmud,” he
“Indeed?” said the sage. “Apparently, it has taught you nothing.”
“What do you mean?” the startled man stammered.
“When a man discovers the vast ocean of the Talmud,” replied the
sage, “when it dawns on him that in an entire lifetime he can expect to do
no more than scratch the surface, he is immediately overwhelmed by the
extent of his own ignorance. But you seem quite pleased with yourself.
Where is your humility? Where is your awe? I don’t think you have the
faintest idea of what the Talmud is all about!”
The outstanding spiritual achievements of the patriarchs and their extreme
humility present no paradox. Quite the contrary. As they became more and
more aware of the awesome and infinite Presence of the Almighty, their own
sense of self diminished proportionately, and consequently, their humility
was a direct result of their spiritual growth.
In our own lives, we can use our own humility as a measure of our
spiritual growth. As long we fell smug and self-satisfied by the good
deeds we accumulate and the advances in our level of learning, we can be
sure that our growth is essentially superficial. But when we begin to feel
dazzled and dwarfed by the spiritual vistas that open before us, when our
new understanding and experiences make us shrink inside with a sudden
sense of inadequacy, then and only then do we know that we are on the path
of true spiritual growth.