From HaGaon Rav Zevadia HaCohen Shlit”a, The Head of the Batei Din in Tel Aviv
(translated by our dear friend Rav Daniel Levy Shlit”a, Leeds UK)
Akedat Yitzchak, Why Was Avraham Only Rewarded After He Offered the Ram and How May we Apply This lesson to Ourselves
This Shabbat we will read the Akedat Yitzchak (Binding of Yitzchak), where Hashem said to Avraham, “Take your son, the only one you love - Yitzchak - and go away to the Moriah area. Bring him as an all-burned offering on one of the mountains that I will designate to you” (Bereishit 22:2).
Indeed, Avraham arose early and arrived at Mt. Moriah, there he bound Yitzchak, he took the knife to slaughter him and then at the critical moment, just prior to him slaughtering Yitzchak, the Angel of Hashem arrived and said to Avraham, “Do not harm the boy. Do not do anything to him. For now I know that you fear Hashem…Avraham then looked up and saw a ram caught by its horns in a thicket. He went and got the ram, sacrificing it as an all-burned offering in his son’s place…Hashem’s Angel called to Avraham from heaven a second time, and said, Hashem declares, I have sworn by My own Essence, that because you performed this act, and did not hold back your only son, I will bless you greatly and increase your offspring like the stars of the sky etc.” (Bereishit 22:12-15).
It begs the question why did the Angel of Hashem only bless him the second time, after he had offered the ram? Why didn’t he bless him at the first revelation, when he had come to slaughter Yitzchak, at the very time that the Angel said, “Do not harm the boy”. Surely it was then appropriate to bless Avraham, after he had shown such self-sacrifice! Was the ram more important than Yitzchak, so that only after he slaughtered the ram, Avraham merited the blessing of his offspring increasing like the stars of the heavens!
To understand this, we will first relate an incident that occurred in Jerusalem more than 70 years ago, during the British Mandate. The story occurred with the righteous Gaon Rav Aryeh Levin z”l (1885-1969) who was known as the prison chaplain. Rav Aryeh went to visit the sick and those imprisoned in the hospitals and prison. He went with the intention to cheer them up during difficult these times.
One night the British made a curfew at night, forbidding any citizen from going out in the streets. Rav Aryeh Levin paid no attention and went to visit the Jews who were imprisoned in “Kishlah”, which at that time was the British police station at Jaffe Gate, Jerusalem.
On his way to Jaffe Gate two British policemen stopped him, one was Jewish and the other a Gentile. The Jewish policeman recognized Rav Aryeh Levin and knew of his kind acts and wanted to allow him to continue on his path. He explained to his Gentile colleague that the elderly rabbi has no sinister intentions against the ruling authority and that his sole intention is simply to cheer up sick people.
However, the Gentile policeman did not concede and demanded that he return home. The rav turned back and then found a breach in a fence and attempted to squeeze through it. However, the same policemen seized him there too, whilst seeing the elderly rav attempting with his weak strength to scale the fence to reach “Kishlah”.
Immediately the Gentile policeman jumped forwards and to the surprise of the Jewish policeman, he said to the rav, “Please, with respect, rabbi! You may pass through as you wish to where you are going!”
The Jewish policeman was surprised and asked his colleague, “What made you change your mind?”
The Gentile policeman replied, “At first, I thought that perhaps the rabbi is doing something for financial gain or some personal benefit, so I wouldn’t allow it. But now I see that he is really making such a self-sacrifice and risk at any cost to visit the prisoners, that I understood that his intentions are noble. Since he could simply have made an excuse that he cannot visit due to the dangerous curfew and therefore beyond his control. But instead, he took risks for another Jew who he doesn’t even know, and so, I allowed him to pass.”
In light of this we may answer our question. Avraham was commanded to sacrifice his son as an all-burned offering and did so. But at the last minute the Angel of Hashem intervened, “Do not harm the boy”. Another person would have simply immediately hurried home with his son, not staying a moment longer on Mt. Moriah lest he be commanded to do something further. Yet Avraham stayed there and rather than saying “baruch shepatrani” (Phew! I got out of that!) he attempted to bring another offering, at least the ram. With this Avraham revealed that he fulfils mitzvot with all his strength and as such, when he is exempt, he doesn’t simply return to his daily routine, but rather despite being exempt from offering Yitzchak, he nevertheless attempts to offer yet another sacrifice.
With this Avraham revealed his desire and love to truly fulfil the will of Hashem, and so only then did he merit the Angel of Hashem’s blessing.
From here we may learn that if a person wishes to determine if they are fulfilling the will of Hashem out of love or pressure, the litmus test is to determine when they are exempt - for example when they are ill or it is beyond their control to fulfil it – are they content and say “baruch shepatrani” (Phew! I got out of that!), or do they feel upset that they are now exempt and that they lost the opportunity to fulfil the mitzvah.