Avraham Aveinu, and the Akeida story have much to teach us about the important interplay between sight and self-examination. In fact, the word “ירא” – to see – is repeated throughout the Akeida story.
In Bereishit chapter 22 verse 4, the Torah says
וַיִּשָּׂא אַבְרָהָם אֶת־עֵינָיו וַיַּרְא אֶת־הַמָּקוֹם מֵֽרָחֹֽק
Avraham raised his eyes and saw the place from afar”.
Avraham is described as a man who is able to see into the distance. His level of perception was so keen, that Chazal explain that he was able to “see” God, as it were. The word Hamakom in the above-cited verse, commonly translated as “the place,” is also one of God’s many names (typically invoked in the house a mourner), and therefore the verse would read that Avraham raised his eyes and saw God from afar.
But Avraham’s level of perception is also lacking. Although he can see great distances, he is short sighted in other respects – he was unable to see that which was right before his eyes. The Talmud (Brachot 13a) describes Avraham as the father to the whole world. Not the father of Isaac. Avraham is the embodiment of hachnasat orchim (welcoming guests) – he knows exactly how to see to the needs of others – and yet, he leaves family quarrels to his wife to rectify, not being able to perceive the problems in his very own household.
It is, however, through the experience of the Akeidah that Avraham is able to correct his vision. As Avraham and Yitzchak embark on their journey up the mountain, Yitzchak asks, Abba, where is the lamb for the offering? Avraham answers, אֱלֹקים יִרְאֶה־לּוֹ הַשֶּׂה לְעֹלָה בְּנִי God will seek out for Himself the lamb for the offering, my son.”
Avraham can no longer answer with the abilities of one who sees God. Thus he states in effect: “God can see clearly, elokim yireh. But for the first time, I cannot truly see God’s plan.” Avraham is undergoing a change. He is losing his abilities to see past great distances, but he is gaining the ability to see the detail that surrounds him.
Suddenly, the man who could see God, must learn to perceive that which is right before him. Right after the Angel stays Avraham’s hand, the Torah tells us again: “וַיִּשָּׂא אַבְרָהָם אֶת־עֵינָיו וַיַּרְא Abraham raised his eyes and saw”—not into the distance, like before. But right in front of him, he suddenly saw a ram—וְהִנֵּה־אַיִל. It is possible, that the ram was there all along. But only after he was able to truly see his son, did the God allow him to see the korban.
Avraham began to see that what was close to him, thereby introducing him to a new level of leadership, one where he is focused not only on others, but on the building of his own family. Therefore, the Akeida story must conclude with the genealogy that leads to birth of Rebecca, because it is through Rebecca and Isaac, Avrahams’ inner family that the story continues. Now Avraham and Yitzchak can “walk together וַיֵּֽלְכוּ יַחְדָּו,” as a cohesive family unit, bound together forever by the experience that they shared. Avraham, the father of the world, can now settle down and direct his servant to find a wife for his son.
The Akedia represented for Avraham a transformation from one who could only perceive lofty ideals, to one who finally understood that which was most important: the family that had surrounded him all along. Yes, Avraham is the farther of monotheism; he had to be concerned with universal truths. But the message of the Akieda is that looking outward, in the distance is not enough. It is imperative that we are able to see that which is right before our eyes.
Avraham names the site of the Akeidah “Hashem Yireh—the place where God will be seen.” A place where people will be blessed with the ability to see, to perceive God’s love through seeing the blessing that are right before our eyes.
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