As Isaac and Abraham walk into the hills to the appointed place, the obedient Isaac carries a bundle of wood for the sacrifice. He asks, “Look, the fire and the wood, but where is the lamb for a burnt offering?” Abraham says, “My son, G-d will provide for Himself the lamb for a burnt offering” (Gen. 22:7-8). If Isaac has any misgivings, he obediently keeps them to himself. Abraham builds the altar and puts the wood on it, then binds Isaac and puts him on the altar, stretches out his hand, and takes his knife to slay his son. “But the Angel of the LORD called down to him from heaven” and says Abraham should not do anything to Isaac—“for now I know that you fear G-d, since you have not withheld your son, your only son, from Me” (Gen. 22:11-12).
Abraham looks up and sees a ram caught in a thicket. In the biblical story, this becomes the burnt offering instead of Isaac. Because Abraham withholds nothing from G-d—not even his only son, the Angel of the Lord tells him he will be blessed and his descendants will be blessed (Gen. 22: 16-19).
The story of the near-sacrifice of Isaac by his father is a powerful, terrifying story of faith and obedience, of G-d testing his faithful follower Abraham to the limit and of Isaac obediently following his father’s commands.
But beneath this straightforward message of tested faith and rewarded obedience lie several other interpretations, one of which I felt inspired to tell. Abraham was asked to sacrifice that which mattered the most to him in the world, that which he held most dear—perhaps even dearer than G-d. The only way to know was to put him to the test. It came to me that the “something” to be sacrificed was not Isaac but something else he held most dear: false pride, ego, material stuff, attachment…. It is these things, written on pieces of paper, that I have placed on the sacrificial fire.
Questions occur: What is it that keeps you from drawing closer to G-d? What do you hold dearer than your relationship with the Divine? What do you dread sacrificing—but you know you must if you want to deepen your relationship to G-d? Where does blind obedience lead us? When has your faith been tested?