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Why Didn’t Abraham Plead for His Son’s Life?

Why Didn’t Abraham Plead for His Son’s Life?

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Question:

Why did Abraham protest so strongly on behalf of a handful of lowlife Sodomites, and yet submitted silently when commanded to sacrifice his own son?

Answer:

This is a beautiful question. In fact, my daughter asked me this question some years ago. But then, she also told me the answer.

Take a look at the way G‑d speaks to Abraham in both instances. Concerning Sodom, G‑d informs Abraham that “the cry of Sodom and Gomorrah has become great, and their sin has become very grave. I will descend now and see, whether according to the cry which has come to Me they have done; [I will wreak] destruction [upon them]” (Genesis 18:20–21).

Something similar occurs with Moses during the Golden Calf affair, when G‑d tells him, “Now leave Me alone, and My anger will be kindled against them so that I will annihilate them” (Exodus 32:10).

As Rashi puts it, was Moses holding on to G‑d, that G‑d had to say, “Leave me alone”? So Moses understood that it was his job to argue with G‑d, which he did.

Similarly, when G‑d informed Abraham of His impending judgment of Sodom, he understood what G‑d wanted of him—to argue. Otherwise, G‑d had no reason to inform him of His intended action. So argue he did.

Concerning Isaac, G‑d literally pleads with Abraham: “Please take your son . . .” (Genesis 22:2). He then understood that this was not something to argue about.

Really, it’s the same with every Jew. We have a deep relationship with G‑d. We aren’t just robots. There are times—the times of prayer—when we argue with G‑d concerning the way He runs His world. And then there are times when we need to just accept. How do we know which path is appropriate in any given situation? We know, when we are in tune with our neshamah (soul) deep inside—and the neshamah is in tune with G‑d above.

[Additionally, Abraham wanted to avert a punishment intended for the people of Sodom. The Binding of Isaac wasn’t intended as a punishment. Ostensibly it was to be a great privilege for Isaac to be sanctified as a sacrifice to G‑d.]

Rabbi Tzvi Freeman for Chabad.org

Rabbi Tzvi Freeman, a senior editor at Chabad.org, also heads our Ask The Rabbi team. He is the author of Bringing Heaven Down to Earth. To subscribe to regular updates of Rabbi Freeman's writing, visit Freeman Files subscription. FaceBook @RabbiTzviFreeman Periscope @Tzvi_Freeman .
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Tzvi Freeman November 10, 2014

I can see your question, and it's very interesting. I'm a little thrown off, however, by your phrase, "uncharacteristic of Hashem."

This is really the whole point. G-d is not a definable, knowable character whose actions can be predicted. If He were, what would we need Him for? As the Rebbe once said, "If G-d were only a little smarter than me, He wouldn't be my G-d."

That unknowableness is precisely what He was demanding the same from Avraham in this instance—don't allow yourself to be defined.

At any rate, this article was meant to answer a specific question, not to deal with the motive of the Akeida. Please read "The Test", which deals directly with the issues you raise. Your comments will be very welcome there as well. Reply

Anonymous edison, nj November 10, 2014

Although your derasha is beautiful, I remain unconvinced because it still seems so uncharacteristic of Hashem to mislead His servants. I agree that ambiguity (such as "Lech Lecha" go to an unspecified place) and tests (such as "Kach Nah es Bincha" and slaughter your most precious son) are perfectly understandable. I can accept Avraham negotiating with Hashem to spare Sedom because the Torah obstensively recorded Hashem's statement that it would be wrong to hide His intentions from Avraham. However, where else do we find Hashem gives a deliberately misleading command that He expects the recipient to challenge? Reply

ruth housman marshfield hills, ma April 23, 2013

Today I counseled a friend, whose son is being terribly bullied by a teacher, who refuses to see how hard he is working, and also she seems to be taking pleasure in giving him bad grades when others, feel, this is wrong, because he's a stellar student. So I have been thinking about sons, and about power and control, and how children are sacrificed, often, at the hands of others, in ways that do kill their spirit, or attempt to kill their spirit.

I think, the lessons from The Akeda, today, mean do not let anyone kill, your spirit, the joy and passion for learning, for being, the very soul that is unique and yours, and I believe, these stories are lessons in life. I do not for a moment think, G_d needed to take this boy but that G_d in thinking forward, as in a different kind of time, could see we would dialogue, continue to converse, and parse this out. It's in the fires of dialogue, and in wrestling with ethical issues, that we recreate that Divine, Moses fire. Reply

Anonymous April 23, 2013

you said that the reason g-d told Abraham about his plans of destroying sedom was purely because he wanted Abraham to argue with hime. I qoute: "Otherwise, G‑d had no reason to inform him of His intended action." But many mefarshim say that the reason Abraham was informed was because the land was promised to him, and therefor felt that he should include Abraham in his plans. Did g-d want Abraham to argue or was he simply including him in the process? After all, it wasn't necessary for him to argue with Abraham at all. He knew what he would say, and what the outcome woul be. So why bother?
' Reply

Odelia Miriam Drugu Potsdam October 30, 2012

Rabbi, in addition. The text says Avraham and his son were joined by servants. Avraham tells them to stay at the edge of the mountain because him and his son will go up, give an offering , and return (plural). Also, when Yitz7ak asks him where is the ram, Avraham replies that G-d will take care of that. Could it be that Avraham was the one trusting G-d not just G-d trusting Avraham? Maybe this is faith, to know that though it may seem so sometimes, G-d could never hurt us for real. Avraham believed in his heart until the last moment that G-d will stop him and they would return together at the foot of the mountain. Judaism is a two way relationship:) Reply

ruth housman marshfield hills, ma December 6, 2011

I turn back often, to look down the years, down the threads of story, that do deeply connect us, and I think about all threads, and also about sewing and sowing, as seeds are sown. I know that if one throws out enough seeds, some do sprout, especially when nourished, by water, by sun and soil. And I am thinking that those among us who toss those seeds or pearls of wisdom, about LOVE itself, cannot fail, at some or any level, to achieve what "stems" from this, namely beauty, the rose itself, as a rose by any other name, is still, a rose.

I think of the beautiful purple rose cabbages this season in this respect. For me, also roses. And all that is whorled tightly, and spirals. I think within life, there is everywhere that spiral and what spirals out, has got to be, a message. Make it a spell. Make it spell LOVE.

Lately a shape known as the TORUS is getting some play. And I say, doesn't that word itself, resemble our word, Torah?

Thank You Bonnie, and Anonymous as always Reply

Anonymous December 6, 2011

And thank you C for your reminder. Believe it or not all these posts are making valuable points, especially on how to think versus what to think. Sometimes we lose sight of this precious gift, how to think, when we get caught up in preaching what to think.

Your post is a reminder to have an open mind versus a closed mind, to try to be inclusive rather than ' woodenly ' ( wow at that descriptor ) exclusive. Reply

Bonnie December 6, 2011

Demands that are cruel and unconsicionable are not unusual. Sometimes, you wonder if any other kind does exist.

Take your stand and do not budge. Do as you know to be right and good. Do not turn back. That is what they are really after...to make you turn back. Reply

Bonnie December 6, 2011

I have no problem with questions. I am full of them and probably always will be.

But the fewer the words...the better.

There are those about you who do all they can to turn you back.
I have found that questions can be an opportunity for some to use as a tool ... or mis-direction against the person. They can lead one into foolishness.

Only trust the L-rd. Not even those with whom you broke bread are to be trusted.
Listen to David. He's been there. Reply

Anonymous December 5, 2011

How did Sarah die ?

Isaac was 37 years old at the Akeda.

Sarah did not know about the Akeda ahead of time. When she caught wind of it after and thought that Isaac was sacrificed, she had a heart attack. That's the connection as i understand it. Reply

Anonymous December 5, 2011

Bonnie, where did you get the idea that Hashem acts instantly on your spirit. i don't believe in such a G-d. For starters, for you to presume to know how Hashem acts is ill informed. Nobody knows how G-d thinks or acts, spiritually or materially.

The preachy nature of your idea seems to be to pay blind obedience to save your soul. To me it is a turn off. Again, i would not trust in such a G-d. I will walk humbly with G-d, but not out of fear for my soul.. Not fear on the lower level, nor fear at the higher level. I cannot accept a G-d who says " Fear me or else ! " We are always allowed to ask literally, " Why Hakodesh Borachu, why ? " That's the Hashem i believe in. If that right is taken away, then there is no reason for G-d having granted us Free Will.

You and i walk with the One Creator in different ways. You are comfortable with your notion and all the kudos to you. But do not expect me to agree with you.

Maybe you can give it some more thought. Reply

Channah Eibenshutz Garland, Texas December 5, 2011

Your position is very compelling and casts a reasonable doubt on Abraham ever having told Sarah. But, as someone on this thread reminded us earlier, Sarah was a prophetess. She could have known what Abraham was going to do without necessarily having been told directly. All the more reason to examine your argument that Sarah's death was in no way connected to the Akeidah. As a prophetess, she could have had the gift of knowing not just what was about to happen, but the outcome, too. I guess the real point here is that one would risk missing an important Torah lesson if one woodenly sticks to only personal favorites in the possibilities to the exclusion of the other(s). Thanks for the reminder. Reply

ruth housman marshfield hills, ma December 5, 2011


I think it's all right to question G_d. I think we are meant to do this. That is my perspective in life. Only by questioning do we arrive at answers and then we open more doors. It's an endless quest and that is part of the mystery and its joys.

I believe we are allowed to do this. This is not being a bad person. I feel we are meant to think, to expend much ink in dialogue with each other about these matters. For some, they matter, and for others, these issues are immaterial and a waste of time.

Years ago I attended the JCC in Newton for an event, to discuss the significance of a Biblical passage to our own lives. I thought this made no sense, in this day and age, and walked out, feeling rather superior. Such a waste of my time. It's humbling to be witness to my own change of heart. It seems G_d brought me full circle on a story that involves my life, and when I think back it seems all part of an ongoing journey towards something profound. It's humbling to look back down the road. Reply

Bonnie December 5, 2011

As usual I have give your words some thought.
It is not always what is supreme in dealing with the Supreme, especially when plain old practical will do.
In the spirit there is no delay of justice or consquences. It's pretty much instant.
So consider the results when one decides to defy the L-rd. You will find out results immediately. A few times of that and one does get the cure or hopefully wisdom. Reply

Anonymous December 5, 2011

Ruth, if you find Bonnie's post is constructive for you to learn something, then great.

If you find her post is critical of you, you should know to ignore it.

IMHO i think that you are both right. Each of you is approaching " unreasonable " at different levels of interpretation. IMHO it is an excellent example of how different contexts may be used to make their point and both be right. Reply

Sarah Yarbrough Canton, GA December 5, 2011

Why would one assume that Sarah’s death and the Sacrifice of Isaac are in any way connected? They are probably not even remotely connected. Men at that time didn’t “discuss” difficult decisions with their wives. Isaac was probably just into manhood (speculation) Sarah died at 127 Isaac would have been well over 30 if she was 90 when he was born. He was allowed to go with his father to Sacrifice. Only he and his father knew what happened. No one else was present. It was an act between Abraham, G—and Isaac. Isaac, for a lesson in faith KNEW he had been saved. G-- created a faith Isaac would TRULY pass on to his sons as well as a lesson in obedience to the commands of G--. Sarah probably never knew anything about it. Abraham knew his own pain he surely would not have burdened Sarah with this nightmare. Remember when God revealed that she would have Isaac…she was eavesdropping. She wasn’t TOLD. Reply

Bonnie December 5, 2011

Unreasonable is not unusual. Actually, there is a great deal of it.
Much more can be known about an individual by using unreasonable, than can ever be found out otherwise. It is one of the favorite ploys of the journey, so never be surprised when you find yourself besiged on all sides. Just like David.
This 'theme' of unreasonable esculates throughout the Scriptures. There is a purpose.
Remember the L-rd in all your ways.The goal is to achieve the ability to walk at ease. It is hard won but worth it.
Unreasonable plays a part as it cuts to the core swiftly. Reply

Anonymous December 5, 2011

As usual, great perspective. Beautiful.

Thanks. Reply

ruth housman marshfield hills, ma December 4, 2011

I read what people are writing about this and I think the test itself, as always, has everything to do with what is unreasonable in terms of request, and that request seems to me, to put G_d in a very "down" position. But the over riding story for me, has to do, with how we refuse, even those above us, when the request really makes no sense at all, and in this case, it's cruel. What kind of test IS this?

So the test, the high test, has to do with what is Supreme in dealing with the Supreme, and that is, even G_d can be questioned, can be defied, and in so doing, we're really not doing wrong, but rather the right thing. Even G_d can make unreasonable requests to teach us, to not follow blindly our superiors wherever and whenever they make demands that are cruel and unconscionable.

G_d took a long time to grant Sarah a child, so does this story make any sense at all, except to view the morality of the demand itself. Reply

Channah Eibenshutz Garland, Texas December 4, 2011

What a great point. The concept of test is plainly stated. However, initially, only the Torah reader knows this and not Abraham. Instead, Abraham hears words which appeal to his emotions – PLEASE take your son, the one you LOVE, and offer him up. This is no follow-these-certain-steps type mitzvah. There is a major emotional appeal going on. Abraham, however, in his enthusiasm to do as G-d asked, misses these nuances and, succumbs to the technicality of performance and therefore the test.
We know that Isaac was not sacrificed. So, did G-d change His mind about the test? When was the last time you showed up for a final exam and the professor says, without you actually completing the exam, that you passed the test – and with flying colors? G-d did not change His mind about the test. The proper interpretation of G-d’s words simply became clear to Abraham after he had already passed the test of being prepared to even sacrifice his son who he most loved for the G-d he loved more. Reply