"Abraham arose early in the morning and saddled his donkey..." (Gen. 22:3)
The Hebrew word for "saddled", "yachvosh", can mean "to take hold of", or "rein in". "His donkey" (in Hebrew, "chamoro") has the numerical value of 248 - the number of limbs that the sages ascribe to the human body (chet-8, mem-40, reish-200, = 248) - and hints to Abraham's physical body. (248 is also the number of positive commandments in the Torah.)
Abraham dedicated himself totally, in body and in spirit to fulfill the mitzvah of binding his son, Isaac. Even his name, Abraham, has the numerical value of 248! G‑d requested from Abraham the greatest thing he ever asked for, and Abraham replied without a second thought, "Hineni", I am prepared for whatever you ask of me. G‑d wanted no less than all the love Abraham possessed. Isaac represented that which Abraham loved the most, his son. All that love is what G‑d wanted. "Take your son, your only son, the one you love - Isaac". (Gen. 22:2) This corresponds to the verse, "And you shall love the G‑d your G‑d with all your heart, with all your soul and with all your might (wealth)." (Deut. 6:5) There is nothing which is stronger in one's heart than the love for one's children…
"Your son" corresponds to "with all your heart", for there is nothing which is stronger in one's heart than the love for one's children. "Your only son" corresponds to, "with all your soul", since if one had another child his soul would be divided with love for both of them. "The one you love", corresponds to, "with all your might" since due to one's love for his children, there is no expense that one would spare to insure the child's health or well being.
At the moment when Abraham heard the words "the one you love", his love for Isaac was invested with all the love in the world that parents feel for their children. At that moment G‑d said, "Take Isaac! This is how much I want from you!" Abraham passed the test and gave all of his love over to G‑d.
Rabbi Akiva was over a hundred years old when he met a martyr's death at the bloody hands of the Romans. He was led out of his prison cell at the time to read the morning Shema. Even as the Romans combed off his flesh with iron combs he was saying the Shema and taking upon himself the yoke of the Kingdom of Heaven. His disciples questioned him, incredulous how he could be saying the Shema at this moment when he was being tortured to death. "All my life", he answered, "I have been bothered by the verse 'You shall love the Lord your G‑d with...all your soul...' which means one must even give up one's life for the love of G‑d and His Torah. I didn't know if I would ever have a chance to fulfill this mitzvah! Now that opportunity is at hand, shall I not seize the moment!?" (Brachot 61b)
"Ahava", the Hebrew word for "love" is found numerous times in the Torah. Jews are enjoined to love one another: "...love your neighbor as yourself…" (Lev. 19:18) One must love one's wife/husband: "...she [Rebecca] became his wife, and he [Isaac] loved her..." (Gen. 24:67) and, "...Jacob loved Rachel..." (Gen. 29:18) One must also love one's children: "...take your son, your only son, the one you love - Isaac..." (Gen. 22:2) Finally, one is commanded to love G‑d, "And you shall love the G‑d your G‑d with all your heart, with all your soul with all your might (wealth)". (Deut. 6:5) One is constantly called upon to develop and increase one's capacity to love...
Throughout the course of one's life, one is constantly called upon to develop and increase one's capacity to love. One begins by learning to respect and love family, and friends. Then one marries and learns to love another on a deeper level. When husband and wife live together in harmony and love, even the Divine Presence dwells together with them. When children come, ones capacity to love is expanded as never before, and the more one devotes oneself to caring for and guiding one's children the more one is able to love.
At some point each of us will be tested with a personal "Binding" ("Akeida"). Abraham and Rebbe Akiva were tested with their Akeida at an advanced age, when their capacity to love was already highly developed. That is why they succeeded in such dramatic ways and became our role models. They elicited their entire capacity to love and surrendered it all to G‑d. We might do well in the course of our lives to prepare for that profound moment when our Akeida comes, when, in some way, G‑d will want to know how much we really love Him.
[First published in B'Ohel Hatzadikim, Vayera 5762)