“And it came to pass, after all these things, that G-d tested Avraham… And He said to him, ‘Please take your son, your unique one whom you have loved, Yitzchak, and go forward to the land of Moriah, and bring him up as a sacrifice there, on one of the mountains which I will indicate.” [22:1-2]
After all the other trials which Avraham had undergone — including offering his own life against idolatry at Ur Kasdim, and removing himself from his homeland to follow G-d — he was now asked to offer what was for him truly the ultimate sacrifice.
After 100 years without a child with his wife Sarah, Avraham was given Yitzchak — and G-d promised Avraham that through Yitzchak, not Yishmael, he would become a great nation. Throughout his life, Avraham taught belief in the One G-d — and he also taught that G-d abhorred human sacrifice, though it was a common idolatrous practice. And Avraham acquired an excellent reputation as a teacher, leader and generous Man of G-d. And with Yitzchak learning to follow his ways, the Jewish people surely had a bright future.
And now Avraham was asked to throw it all away. No son. No reputation. From respected leader to childless laughingstock. And his response? “Hineni, I am here!” “And Avraham rose early in the morning to saddle his donkey…” [22:3] Though he had servants, he ran to perform G-d’s will himself.
The greatness of human beings lies in our ability to do things which violate our instincts, to rise above the animal within. To use a term coined by the Chassidic Rebbe / Psychiatrist Abraham Twersky, MD, a human being is not merely “homo sapiens,” but “homo spiritus” – one capable of spiritual dominance over animal instinct.
Perhaps it could even be said that the biggest practical difference between the religious person and the athiest isn’t belief in G-d — but belief in ourselves. The athiest says that we are creatures of instinct, higher animals who still do all our actions to answer to one or another of our desires. Even charity is done because we cannot stand the sight of other people suffering, or because we want to feel great, important and beneficent. The Jew recognizes that it is his or her responsibility to do a Mitzvah, “like it or not.”
You do not have to get angry. You can rise above that anger. And you can give to others even when your entire self begs to be left alone. Try it! It’s not as hard as it may seem…
Rabbi Yaakov Menken
Text Copyright © 2003 Rabbi Yaakov Menken and Torah.org.