Why do we give Abraham the credit for passing the test of the binding of Isaac? Isaac was the one who was ready to give his life.
Rabbi Mendel of Horodok explained:
For lofty souls such as Abraham and Isaac, giving their lives to fulfill G‑d’s command was no great test. The great test was for Abraham to refrain from “weighing the ways of G-d".
The Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem M. Schneerson, explained:
Abraham, for many years of his life, built a ladder of reason. He was a skeptic, a man driven by what made sense to him, repelled by the irrational.
The people around him lived in a chaotic world of many gods. They worshipped the sun, the moon, and the stars, as well as many other mythical beings. Abraham applied his mind to understanding these beliefs—and came to reject them all.Abraham, the Midrash says, was like a man who traveled in the forest, found a mansion fully lit, and exclaimed, “Certainly there must be a master to this mansion!”
Abraham, the Midrash says, was like a man who traveled in the forest, found a mansion fully lit, and exclaimed, “Certainly there must be a master to this mansion!”
Where others saw a jungle, he saw an orderly universe, and he realized there must be something that transcends this order, creates this order, and directs it. With his keen, independent intellect, he came to the conclusion that there is a single G‑d who is beyond intellect. And so he fearlessly proclaimed to all the world.
And then G‑d pulled his ladder out from under him. The same G‑d who had promised him that Isaac, his son, would be his heir, that same G‑d commanded him, “Take your son, your only son, the one you love, Isaac, and raise him up for an offering on one of the mountains that I will show you.”
Reason had no place here. If you had asked Abraham at this point, “How does this make sense? How can it be resolved?” he would have no answer. Because there was no answer. There was no ladder that reached to this place.If you had asked Abraham at this point, “How does this make sense? How can it be resolved?” he would have no answer.
And yet Abraham, the skeptic, the independent thinker, the man of reason who had rebelled against an entire civilization because they made no sense to him, kept walking to that place that flew in the face of all logic and reason.
Because it wasn’t about reason. It wasn’t about the ladder. It was about remaining bonded to the One who created all reason. For whom nothing has to be, and anything could be. And so, in that place, there are no contradictions. In that place, all is one.
That is why, when Abraham finally arrived at the vortex of his ultimate challenge, as he thrust out his hand to grasp the cold metal of the slaughtering knife, at that point all this challenge vanished into thin air.
“You have brought him up to this mountain,” G‑d said to him. “That is all I asked. Now take him down.”
Suddenly, there had never been a challenge. Suddenly, the ladder had never fallen. Because, in that place, there are no challenges. There is nothing but the One.A tower built by the mind will always remain precarious. All it takes is one mind cleverer than your own to pull out a beam from here, a girder from there, and soon you’re crashing downward, doubting there is anything beyond, doubting that anything you believed was true.
You too, with your mind, can build a tall ladder. Even a tower. If you’re smart enough, you can build your tower so tall, you can see from up there things that can never be understood. Such as the One who made the mind.
But a tower built by the mind will always remain precarious. All it takes is one mind cleverer than your own to pull out a beam from here, a girder from there, and soon you’re crashing downward, doubting there is anything beyond, doubting that anything you believed was true.
Your tower needs a foundation made by the same One who gave you your mind. Excavate deep inside yourself, uncover your true identity—that place where you unite in an inseparable bond with the One who made you.
Then the supports of your tower will be strong. If someone will question them, you will say, “So, another thing I don’t understand. There are many.”
And you will stay connected Above.
As with Abraham, so too with you. When you will stand firm when nothing seems right, when nothing makes sense, when the G‑d you believe in seems to have disappeared and taken your ladder with Him, and yet you keep on climbing upward—you too will reach to a place where you will look back and say, “What was I thinking? There was no challenge. Everything was in place all along.
By Rabbi Tzvi Freeman