August 19, 2017 |

Vayeira and Chaye Sarah - HaShem as shadchen

Again this year, I try to fathom the mystery of the Akeda. My previous dvarim on this subject lay out part of the answer: Abraham rebelled, tried to prevent Isaac's birth, prompted by horror at G-d's destruction of the people of the Cities of the Plains, and the Akeda test is G-d's response. If that sounds unlikely, all I can say is, please read my other dvarim. What struck me this year, though, was: why does G-d bother? Abraham is more than a century old, he's already begot Isaac, what need to test or redeem Abraham?

If you want to know why someone does something, look at the result. What happens next?

1) "It was told to Abraham" that his brother Nahor had a granddaughter, Rebecca;
2) Sarah dies;
3) Abraham seeks a bride for Isaac.

Look at #1. Who tells Abraham? Well, the last person he talked to was the angel. Perhaps it was the angel again. Note that Abraham later assures his servant that an angel will prompt Rebecca to go with him. How would Abraham know, unless the angel had told him about her? Or maybe Abraham sends a messenger. He clearly wasn't interested for a long time, since Nahor and Milcah had eight children before Abraham ever inquired. Only after the Akeda does it become important to him, or to G-d, that he find out about his birth family. What changed?

Now look at #2. Many learned people have said, Sarah dies of shock because she hears about the Akeda. With all due respect, bosh. If so, Sarah's death would be the very next event after the Akeda. It isn't. No, Sarah is 127 years old, there's no need for a special explanation. She dies because she's old.

Which means that, barring yet another miracle in her favor, she was going to die then even if the Akeda had not happened. Without the Akeda, what effect would her death have had on G-d's plan to create a special bloodline? Remember, when Isaac was an infant, G-d ordered Abraham to obey Sarah in all things regarding Isaac. But once Sarah dies, Abraham resumes his authority as patriarch. And what's the next thing he does about Isaac? Naturally,

3) Abraham looks for a bride for Isaac. Just as he would have done if the Akeda had not happened.

Go back to just before the Akeda: why is Isaac at Abraham's home? Sarah, we find out at the beginning of Chaya Sarah, was living in Hebron. Abraham was living in Beersheba, 25 miles away. They're separated, presumably because of Abraham's rebellion. And yet, when G-d orders Abraham to sacrifice Isaac, Isaac is there in Beersheba. Isaac isn't grown up yet, he's still a youth, Torah says , so why isn't he with his mother? It must be that Isaac is on the verge of manhood, meaning he has only just started living with his father, away from Sarah's watchful eye. Abraham, a very old man who wants descendants (after Sarah dies, he marries Keturah and has more children), will naturally begin to think about marrying Isaac off.

To whom?

After the Akeda, when Abraham tells his servant to find a bride for Isaac, Abraham says something very strange first: "I will adjure you by the Lord, the God of the heaven and the God of the earth, that you will not take a wife for my son from the daughters of the Canaanites, in whose midst I dwell..."

I don't know about you, but when I'm opening up a new topic, I don't start with a negative. When I tell someone to do something, I don't start by saying "Don't do a different thing." The only reason Abraham would phrase it this way, is that he knew his servant had already intended to do what Abraham is now ordering him not to do. And why would his loyal servant have intended to find Isaac a Canaanite bride?

Because he had been ordered to.

This could not have been their first conversation on the subject. Abraham is not giving a new order, he is rescinding an old one. Abraham, pre-Akeda, intended to marry Isaac off to a Canaanite woman. In the light of Abraham's previous rebellion against G-d, this can only have been yet another attempt to sabotage the bloodline prophecy.

No wonder G-d is outraged. No wonder he needs to put Abraham to the test. No wonder the way Abraham passes the test, is to "not withhold your son, your only one, from me."

The Akeda is not a tale of blind faith. G-d's demand is not arbitrary. This is a story about two very strong personalities, G-d and Abraham, battling over the future of the world. Will there be an Israelite people as prophesied, or will there just be a stranger with a funny name marrying into a local Canaanite tribe? The latter is what would have happened, until G-d demands Isaac returned to him, and Abraham's rebellious spirit finally breaks, and he humbles himself by giving up ownership of his son, of the future. Once he has done so, the prophesy is restored, G-d tells him, or he sends to learn, that Nahor has a granddaughter of the right age to marry Isaac, and when Sarah dies, Abraham rescinds his order to his servant, and instead sends him to bring Rebecca home.

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