08 July 2015

Who Will Dare To Be An Avraham?

21 Tamuz 5775

There is a distinct advantage to being a woman, in that my words will be judged by the spirit of truth inside each one who reads them and not according to my smichah or my yeshivah or my rav or anything else that typically lends credibility to men's words.

May the words I write below be judged by the spirit of truth alone.

Children and Aliyah

What was the final test which Avraham Avinu had to pass in order to merit being the father of the Holy Nation? Is there a Jew anywhere who does not know the story of Akeidat Yitzchak?
And it came to pass after these things, that God tested Abraham, and He said to him, "Abraham," and he said, "Here I am." And He said, "Please take your son, your only one, whom you love, yea, Isaac, and go away to the land of Moriah and bring him up there for a burnt offering on one of the mountains, of which I will tell you." And Abraham arose early in the morning, and he saddled his donkey, and he took his two young men with him and Isaac his son; and he split wood for a burnt offering, and he arose and went to the place of which God had told him.

On the third day, Abraham lifted up his eyes and saw the place from afar. And Abraham said to his young men, "Stay here with the donkey, and I and the lad will go yonder, and we will prostrate ourselves and return to you." And Abraham took the wood for the burnt offering, and he placed [it] upon his son Isaac, and he took into his hand the fire and the knife, and they both went together. And Isaac spoke to Abraham his father, and he said, "My father!" And he said, "Here I am, my son." And he said, "Here are the fire and the wood, but where is the lamb for the burnt offering?" And Abraham said, "God will provide for Himself the lamb for the burnt offering, my son." And they both went together.
And they came to the place of which God had spoken to him, and Abraham built the altar there and arranged the wood, and he bound Isaac his son and placed him on the altar upon the wood. And Abraham stretched forth his hand and took the knife, to slaughter his son. And an angel of God called to him from heaven and said, "Abraham! Abraham!" And he said, "Here I am." And he said, "Do not stretch forth your hand to the lad, nor do the slightest thing to him, for now I know that you are a God fearing man, and you did not withhold your son, your only one, from Me." (B'reishit 22.1-12)
Did you ever sit and close your eyes and try to imagine yourself in Avraham Avinu's position? Did you ever try to see between the lines to the emotions he must have been experiencing? I think any Jew who has seriously contemplated making aliyah with older children has some small inkling of how he felt.

We see from the account of the people's reaction to the spies' report on the Land of Israel that this was high on their list of worries as well.
The entire community raised their voices and shouted, and the people wept on that night. All the children of Israel complained against Moses and Aaron, and the entire congregation said, "If only we had died in the land of Egypt, or if only we had died in this desert. Why does the Lord bring us to this land to fall by the sword; our wives and children will be as spoils. Is it not better for us to return to Egypt?" They said to each other, "Let us appoint a leader and return to Egypt!" (Bamidbar 14.1-4)
The meraglim/spies had done their work well. The entire nation, even members of the Sanhedrin, the High Court, became convinced that the advance to Eretz Yisrael was doomed and that Moses had misled them by taking them out of Egypt. So convinced were they that they would be doomed if they ventured into Eretz Yisrael that they wanted to replace Moses with a leader who would guide them back to the land of their enslavement. The Sages teach that this "leader" would have been an idol (Sanhedrin 107a), a telling indication that the sin of the spies involved a lack of faith in God.
The tragedy of their delusion had far-reaching consequences, for when the people wept that night, God declared, "They indulged in weeping without a cause; I will establish [this night] for them [as a time of] weeping throughout the generations." That night was Tishah b'Av [the Ninth of Av], the date when both Temples were destroyed and many other tragedies took place throughout Jewish history (Rashi to Psalms 106:27) - Commentary to the Stone Edition Chumash
...Hashem said to Moses, "how long will this people provoke Me, and how long will they not have faith in Me,.... (Bamidbar 14.11)
We have to be able to trust Hashem even with our children and their futures. We must hold absolutely nothing back from surrendering to Hashem and to His will - even our beloved children.
...your young children [under age twenty] of whom you said they will be taken captive, I shall bring them; they shall know the Land that you have despised. But your carcasses shall drop in this Wilderness. your children will roam in the Wilderness for forty years and bear your guilt, until the last of your carcasses in the Wilderness. (Bamidbar 14.31-33)
Here, it bears looking again at who these spies were and what was their motivation for giving an evil report about the Land of Israel, because they are with us in every generation.
One of the most difficult narratives in the Torah to understand is the incident of the meraglim, spies. They went to Eretz Yisrael on an ill-fated mission, to slander the land, Moshe Rabbeinu and even Hashem. The Yalkut Shimoni refers to these meraglim as "kesilim," fools. They were actually the nesiim of their respective tribes, men who were gedolim, great leaders, whose reputation until that moment had remained untarnished. What happended? What transpired that suddenly changed a tzaddik into a "kesil"?
Chazal cite the pasuk in Mishlei 10, "One who slanders /spreads lashon hora is a fool." They say that although when they left they were gedolim, the meraglim transformed themselves into fools. Chazal reveal to us that they were not actually foolish, but rather, they acted foolish. They made themselves into fools. How does a wise man, someone who has seichel, common sense, suddenly become a fool? Horav Shmuel Truvitz, Shlita, suggests that the answer lies in Moshe's rebuke to Bnei Yisrael. In Sefer Devarim 1:26,27, Moshe recounts Bnei Yisrael's transgressions throughout their journey in the wilderness. He addresses the times that they "tested" Hashem, when they displayed a certain lack of trust or a deficiency in faith. In regard to the sin of the spies, Moshe Rabbeinu says, "But you did not wish to ascend, and you rebelled against the word of Hashem, your G-d. You slandered in your tents and said, 'Because of Hashem's hatred for us did He take us out of the land of Egypt, to deliver us into the hand of the Emori to destroy us.'" The word, "vateiragnu," "(and) you slandered," implied a different form of slander. Rabbeinu Yona interprets this verb to describe the behavior of one who constantly finds fault, who is always complaining. He grumbles about everything and everyone. He blames others for his plight. Even if his circumstances are not negative, he perceives them as bad
...The Yismach Yisrael cites his father, who posits that the meraglim were aware of the superiority of Eretz Yisrael. They felt the kedushah, holiness, everywhere they travelled. The kedushah permeated the air. The spies conceded that the "land was very good." It would be much easier to reach a sublime level of spirituality in such a land.
The spies' refusal to enter Eretz Yisrael was not a product of their fear for their material/physical well-being. They said, "Efes ki az ha'am." "But the people that dwells in the land is powerful and strong." This is a reference to the unusually powerful forces of tumah, spiritual impurity, which exist there. A commensurate measure of tumah is necessary in order to combat the unequaled forces of kedushah. They feared that, while they had the opportunity to attain the summit of kedushah, they were also vulnerable to descending to the nadir of tumah if they erred. They conjectured that, in the long run, it would be more beneficial for their spiritual well-being to remain in the desert and defer the opportunity for growth rather than risk ultimate failure. In the midbar, wilderness, they might not have become such great tzaddikim, but they also would not risk turning into reshaim. (Source)
And these are the same reasons currently being given today by some recognized leaders of the klal. Are they justified?
Were the meraglim really inappropriate? Do we not have precedent from Yaakov Avinu, who feared the effects of his previous "sin"? Indeed, even after Hashem assuaged his anxiety with His assurance of protection, Yaakov still expressed the fear that receiving Hashem's kindness might have diminished his own merit. If Yaakov's fear was not viewed as transgression, why were the meraglim faulted for their anxiety?
There is, however, a significant distinction between Yaakov Avinu's fear and the meraglim's anxiety: their response to their individual concerns. Yaakov Avinu, despite his overriding concern, continued. He did not halt in his path, refusing to pray, reluctant to continue to Eretz Yisrael. He prepared for the eventuality of war. He sought a peaceful reconciliation with Eisav. Above all, he prayed. He entreated Hashem to grant him life, to give him a future - despite his past transgression. He did not concede to his fear.
The meraglim's reaction is well-known. Not only did they react hysterically, denying Hashem's "ability" to bring them into Eretz Yisrael, they also cultivated distress in the hearts and minds of Bnei Yisrael. Because they feared their later spiritual decline as a result of the increased opportunity and demands in Eretz Yisrael, they were willing to sin now. They thought that by sinning now they would preserve their subsequent spirituality. They erred in thinking the end justifies the means. Not going to Eretz Yisrael was apparently clearly wrong, whereas the possibility of not being able to succeed in Eretz Yisrael was ambiguous. Why would they defer to a dubious situation? We do not sin today just because we might sin tomorrow! (Source)
Some people like to talk about "risks" as if any place in the world for Jews is without a "risk". Even those which seem to be materially safe have become a spiritual disaster. But, are we really supposed to seek the less-risk life in this world? What about Avraham Avinu? What kind of risks was he prepared to assume when he decided to follow God, take leave of his native land and go to a place that Hashem chose not even to reveal to him at that moment - "a land which I will show you." And those risks brought out his mesirut nefesh - his willingness to sacrifice his child no less than himself. It was revealed to us that it was all a test, a painful experience which ended in very great reward. 
Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik, among others, greatly emphasized the idea that the Akeida evoked the ultimate feeling of sacrifice and suffering that accompanies the religious experience:
I recoil from all talk that goes round and round a single topic: that the observance of mitzvot is beneficial for digestion, for sound sleep, for family harmony, and for social position.
The religious act is fundamentally an experience of suffering. When man meets God, God demands self-sacrifice, which expresses itself in struggle with his primitive passions, in breaking his will, in accepting a transcendental "burden," in giving up exaggerated carnal desire, in occasional withdrawal from the sweet and pleasant, in dedication to the strangely bitter, in clash with secular rule, and in his yearning for a paradoxical world that is incomprehensible to others. Offer your sacrifice! This is the fundamental command given to the man of religion. The chosen of the nation, from the moment that they revealed God, occupied themselves in a continual act of sacrifice.
God says to Avraham: "Take now your son, your only one, whom you love, Isaac, etc." That is to say, I demand of you the greatest sacrifice. I want your son who is your only son, and also the one whom you love. Do not fool yourself to think that after you obey Me and bring your son up for a burnt-offering, I will give you another son in place of Yitzchak. When Yitzchak will be slaughtered on the altar – you will remain alone and childless. You will not have another child. You will live your life in incomparable solitude. I want your only son who is irreplaceable. Neither should you think that you will succeed to forget Yitzchak and remove him from your mind. All your life you will think about him. I am interested in your son whom you love and whom you will love forever. You will spend your nights awake, picking at your emotional wounds. Out of your sleep you will call for Yitzchak, and when you wake up you will find your tent desolate and forsaken. Your life will turn into a long chain of emotional suffering. And nevertheless, I demand this sacrifice.
Clearly the experience, which was rooted in dread and suffering, ended in ceaseless joy. When Avraham removed his son from the altar at the angel's command, his suffering turned into everlasting gladness, his dread into perpetual happiness. The religious act begins with the sacrifice of one's self, and ends with the finding of that self. But man cannot find himself without sacrificing himself prior to the finding. (Rabbi Soloveitchik, Divrei Hashkafa, pp. 254-255)
While Rabbi Soloveitchik emphasizes the joy that awaits a person at the end of his spiritual journey, he insists that we not blur the beginning of that trek, which constitutes the primary message: the sacrifice that is demanded of him who serves God. According to Rabbi Soloveitchik, Avraham, in essence, already offered his sacrifice when he bound his son and was ready to slaughter him. This may be the reason that we too refer to this event as the "Akeida": the very binding of Yitzchak was already a sacrifice. (Source)
What about you? Will you dare to be an Avraham?

One more thing... If you want to know what the swimming conditions are like, don't depend on what people on the shore tell you. Ask those who are already in the water.  What do they say?


  1. "The water is fine!" A mountain of a post, Devash! Even mixing more metaphors in will not do it justice. I expect a lot of inspired people will respond...maybe?

  2. I have been here now for two weeks. What a beautiful country and for the first time I can say about such a place, it’s mine. I don’t need to be Irish or Swiss. I don’t need to lament how I am not an Italian. I have my own wonderful country. I am a Jew and I have a country.

    1. Amazing isn't it? :-) I'm doing something as mundane as walking to the grocery store and I can look across the Jordan Valley towards Mount Nebo and realize that this is the same landscape Moshe Rabeinu and Yehoshua ben Nun saw.

  3. What a great post. I had a recent Akeida experience, in which I really felt like Avraham. Won't go into the details. Now would love to experience the other side of the coin!!

    Thank you

  4. What a powerful post, Devash. The truth of it really resonates.