At the end of this week’s Torah portion Vayeira, we read about the last of the 10 tests in which G-d tested our forefather Abraham. It is a very moving story, and much commentary has been offered on it.
The story opens with G-d saying to Abraham, “Please take your son, your only one, the one you love, Isaac, and go to the land of Moriah. Take him up there as an ascent-offering, on one of the mountains that I will designate to you.”
When Abraham stretched forth his hand to take the knife, tears streamed down from his eyes, according to the Midrash. Abraham was a genuine father who loved his child dearly and who was filled with compassion for him. This was indeed an act of self-sacrifice. Nevertheless, he did not permit his fatherly instincts and love for his child to prevent him from fulfilling the command of G-d.
However, the primary aspect of this test was not the self-sacrifice it entailed, but the challenge it posed to Abraham’s implicit faith in G-d.
How so? G-d had promised Abraham (at a ripe old age) that Isaac would be born, and that he would be the one to perpetuate his legacy; now G-d was commanding Abraham to sacrifice Isaac, in seeming contradiction to His very own word.
This command made no sense at all. Isaac didn’t yet have children, and G-d’s promise wouldn’t be fulfilled.
Yet Abraham unquestioningly carried out G-d’s command.
This is the reason that G-d says to Abraham, “please take your son.” In other words, G-d is saying to Abraham: I beg you to pass this challenge so that no one will be able to say that the other nine tests were only done for your own honor and glory.
G-d tests us in order to bring our hidden soul-powers to the fore.
In fact, life in general is such a test.
Before it descended into this world, the soul related to G-d within the limits of reason; the soul never experienced a love for Him that transcends reason. But once the soul is encased in a physical body, which is by nature antagonistic to spirituality, it must summon its innermost strength to remain faithful to G-d, despite life’s daily trials and tribulations.
With this newfound strength, the soul comes to understand and appreciate G-d in a much more profound and intimate way than it ever could have before descending into this world.