Our Sages frown upon name calling. Not only do they oppose calling someone by a derogatory name, but consider it a violation to call someone by a nickname (see Shulchan Aruch Choshen Mishpat 228:5). One need not be a Sage to agree with this. Name calling in general and even making an unflattering comparison is unbecoming to mature and intelligent people.

With this in mind, it is difficult to comprehend a Midrashic interpretation of a passage in today’s Torah reading which relates how Avraham was taking his son Yitzchak to bring him up as a offering, accompanied by his two attendants, Yishmael and Eliezer. The Torah conveys that on the third day Avraham raised his eyes and, “Vayar et hamakom meirachok” — “He saw the place from afar” (Bereishit 22:4). Avraham said to his attendants, “Shevu lachem poh im hachamor...” — “Sit here by yourselves together with the donkey while I with the lad will go yonder.” Regarding Avraham’s expression, “shevu lachem poh im hachamor” — “sit here by yourselves together with the donkey” — the Gemara (Yevamot 62a) comments that by associating the two attendants with the donkey, he was alluding that they were “Am hadomeh lachamor” — “Members of a nation who are similar to donkeys.”

Superficially, isn’t it puzzling that Avraham would compare his two attendants to a donkey? If for some reason he did not want to take them along, he could have politely told them to wait here until he returns, why did he speak to them with such indignity?

According to the Midrash (Bereishit Rabbah 56:12) the following dialogue took place. Avraham saw a cloud hovering over the mountain and recognized it as signifying Hashem’s presence. He turned to Yitzchak and asked, “Yitzchak, my son, do you see what I see?” “Yes,” Yitzchak said. Avraham then understood that Yitzchak had the degree of spiritual insight that made him worthy to be an offering. He then turned to the two attendants and asked, “Do you see what I see?” They replied that they could not see anything. Noting this, Avraham put them in the same category as his donkey and said in effect, “The donkey sees nothing; and you see nothing, therefore, stay here with the donkey.”

This interpretation still begs explanation. If Avraham had powerful vision while they were not similarly endowed, why would he belittle them. In fact, it is against Jewish law to poke fun at someone’s handicap, as King Solomon says, “Lo’eig larash cheiref oseihu” — “One who mocks a pauper insults his Maker” (Proverbs 17:5). Why would Avraham violate this and compare them to donkeys because of their poor vision?

The only one who really knew the purpose of this journey was Avraham. One can well imagine the doubts that went through his mind during these three days. On one hand, he realized the greatness of Hashem. It was Hashem who miraculously had given him a son when he and Sarah were old and unable to bear children. On the other hand, his G‑d who promised him, “Ki b’Yitzchak yikarei lecha zara” — “that through Yitzchak will offspring be considered yours” (Bereishit 21:12) now tells him to bring up his son as an offering! How does one comprehend the seemingly paradoxical views and messages of Hashem?

I would venture to say that during the journey the four men were not silent. Avraham being the most venerable and highly respected by them all, opened the conversation and the sole topic was the nature of Hashem. Endeavoring to increase their awareness of G‑dliness he turned the discussion to the topic, “How do you perceive G‑d?” As they delved into the subject, each one expressed various views and philosophies. To the attendants Hashem was something which they thought they understood and comprehended. According to their way of thinking, G‑d created and sustains everything, and were He to do something which their mind could not rationalize, it would definitely not be the doing of Hashem. To Avraham and Yitzchak Hashem was far beyond human comprehension, and as the prophet Isaiah (56:8-9) says in the Name of Hashem, “For My thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways My ways for as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are My ways higher than your ways and My thoughts higher than your thoughts.”

The word “makom” does not only mean “place.” “Makom” is another title of Hashem, as we say in the Haggadah, “Baruch Hamakom” — “blessed is the Omnipresent.” According to the Midrash (Bereishit Rabbah 68:9), Hashem is called “Makom” because, “Hu mekomo shel olam ve’ein olam mekomo” — “He is the One whose holiness permeates the space of the world. The world is contained in Him and not He in the world. He is not limited by space and therefore present everywhere.”

Avraham, the Torah tells us, saw“et haMakom” — he “perceived G‑d” — “meirachok” — “far ahead of him” — and therefore he concluded that G‑d and His doings are above human comprehension and understanding. Though on the surface His action, may perplex and confuse us, we are merely stragglers and way behind. Avraham was very proud of his son Yitzchak who shared an identical perception of Hashem as he does.

Of the donkey the prophet Isaiah says, “An ox knows his owner and a donkey his master’s trough [from which he eats and gets his food]” (1:3). The donkey’s relationship with his master is through the trough. He is his master’s as long as he provides him with what he needs and should he cease, the donkey will go wild and become destructive. Avraham simply was using an analogy to explain the shortcoming of their concept of G‑dliness. People who perceive G‑d merely as the One who is required to provide them with their immediate needs are following “the donkey philosophy.” One must realize that “haMakom meirachok” — “G‑d is far ahead of us” — and His ways are far above our comprehension.

Regardless of the perplexity G‑d is always right, and sooner or later we will actually see it so.