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The Akeidah: Setting the Stage for the Akeidah

Excerpted from The Akeidah: The Epic Confrontation of Din and Rachamim by Michael Kaiser; co-published by OU Press and Ktav Publishing House

Setting the Stage for the Akeidah

וַיְהִי אַחַר הַדְּבָרִים הָאֵלֶּה וְהָאֱלקִֹים נִסָּה אֶת אַבְרָהָם וַיּאֹמֶר אֵלָיו אַבְרָהָם וַיֹּאמֶר הִנֵּנִי (בראשית כב:א)

In a nutshell, the Akeidah is the dialectical tension between the majestic forces of Din and Rachamim. This tension originates in the very first three words of the Torah – בראשית ברא אלקים – as Rashi there explains:

.(ברא אלקים – ולא נאמר י״י, שבתחלה עלה במחשבה לבראותו במדת הדין, ראה שאין יכול להתקיים, הקדים מדת רחמים ושתפה למדת הדין. היינו דכתיב: ביום עשות י״י אלקים ארץ ושמים (בראשית ב׳:ד׳

To encompass the colossal and far-reaching implications of this “partnership” between Din and Rachamim, the Torah coined a once-in-a-lifetime, never-to-be-used-again expression: וַיעֲַּקֹד. Neither the word ויַעֲַּקדֹ nor any derivation of it appears ever again in Tanach, which confirms its significance. The simple translation of עקד – bound – fails to capture its full import.

After establishing that the opening backdrop to the Akeidah story is Middas HaDin, we can resolve one of our first questions in this book: Rashi (21:33 ד״ה ויקרא) states that at every meal Avraham hosted, he strived to promote the idea of the Creator to his guests. Yet Rashi (22:1 ד״ה אחר) quotes the Satan’s accusation that Avraham ignored God’s presence by neglecting to make a sacrificial offering whenever he partook of a meal. How can we reconcile these two conflicting viewpoints stated by Rashi?

The solution to this problem lies in understanding the difference between perek 21 and perek 22, between Avraham who reached the pinnacle of Chesed and Avraham who now faced a final test at the height of Din. The end of perek 21 finds Avraham at the successful completion of nine nisyonos, ensconced at the apex of the Chesed pyramid. He is an undoubtedly a superstar in the realm of Chesed. But the Middas HaDin, in its realm, is unimpressed. The Middas HaDin contends that generosity with one’s possessions presents no challenge for some individuals. He demands that God intensely ratchet up the stakes to test Avraham’s faith; thus, the Satan’s charge: כל הנסיונות שנסית לאברהם היו בממונו. נסהו בגופו, יקריב לפניך בנו.

In Chapter 21, Rashi is discussing Avraham’s achievements in the realm of Chesed, represented by serving his guests and introducing them to the true Source of Chesed. But the Satan was after something else. And so begins the grand finale, the Akeidah, where Avraham must transform himself yet again, now under the auspices of Middas HaDin, to pass the tenth nisayon and finally prove his mettle.