Let him who is convinced that his views are true and right express them . . . at every opportunity . . . without considering how much support or how much opposition he will encounter. Only falsehood is in need of many supporters in order to win the day; falsehood must have the authority of numbers to make up for what it lacks in justification. Truth, by contrast, will always prevail, even if it takes time. Noble, courageous and pure, expressed with all the fiery zeal and conviction and with all clarity of sure awareness, stated again and again at every opportunity, truth will ultimately gain respect and admiration even of those who do not accept it. The only truth that can be lost beyond recall is that truth whose adherents no longer have the courage to speak up candidly on its behalf. Truth has never gone down in defeat as the result of opposition, it has done so only when its friends are too weak to defend it. - R' S.R. Hirsch

Thursday, December 31, 2015

Before Abraham Was

"Abraham saw My day..."

In the book of John (8:56), we read that Jesus was speaking to a group of people at the Temple, and He said to them, "Your father Abraham earnestly desired to see My day; and he saw, and was glad." What did Y'shua mean by this statement?  Was He saying that Abraham had a vague idea about the coming Messiah, and knew some of the things He would do when He came?

If so, why did the people to whom Y'shua was speaking immediately respond, "you are not yet fifty years old, how could you have seen Abraham?" It was clear to them, at least, that Jesus was stating that Abraham literally saw Him, and thus logically it was safe for them to assume that He saw Abraham at the same time. When did this happen? We'll come back to this question.

What is a "Midrash"?

"Midrash" is a word that most often means a legend or a parable. It is a common tool used by the rabbis, and is usually designed to teach moral lessons. Sometimes a midrash is intended to be taken literally, and sometimes it is meant in a more figurative sense. Y'shua employed this technique many times as he taught: He would tell a story about a traveler who was waylaid by bandits, or a widow who needed justice from an evil judge, then explain what the story illustrated in terms of theological truth.

The "Midrash Rabbah" is the name of a series of books written from the 3rd to 6th century CE; it is a collection of legends and parables told by many rabbis of previous centuries, which are mostly about well-known Biblical figures. The stories can inform us about the way that the rabbis viewed these historical characters, and some of the parables may be meant to teach us what the rabbis thought these famous people would say and do if they were ever in a certain situation. Although the midrashim were not recorded until later, the people of Y'shua's day had grown up knowing these stories and the lessons they imparted.

The Midrash Rabbah’s primary goal was the exposition and explanation of Scriptural verses. Many passages of Scripture, which are difficult to understand by themselves, are pondered over by the rabbis of the Midrash Rabbah and connected to other passages which refer back to the same events, in order to make them all clearer. Sometimes, when several passages have been linked together and all of the dots have been connected, a view of "how it must have looked" emerges that we have never seen before, only because we weren't looking closely enough to see it.

These expositions and rabbinic conclusions are collected in the Midrash Rabbah along with the anecdotes and parables, and it is sometimes difficult to know which stories are conclusions based on Bible passages, and which are stories of a more figurative nature. Occasionally, a story may seem to be completely fictional, but if you dig deeply enough, you find that it was logically deduced from the Bible all along.  In this article, we will be referencing some midrashim (the plural of midrash) that are meant only to teach a moral lesson, and other midrashim which may have foundations in the biblical account itself. 

So how did Abraham see Y'shua's day? As we take a close look at Abraham's life, we find that he spoke with G-d and was given visions of various things at certain times. But was he ever given a visual glimpse into the future? Is there anywhere in the Bible which specifically says that Abraham saw something of the future? The answer is yes, but as it turns out, you are only able to see it in the Hebrew text of the Bible, not in any English translation. The account is found in Genesis 22, during G-d's famous test of Abraham (and, as we shall see, His test of Isaac as well).

The Greatest Test

"And it happened after these things that G-d tested Abraham and said to him, 'Abraham,' and he replied, 'Here I am.' And He said, 'Please take your son, your only one, whom you love - Isaac - and go to the land of Moriah; bring him up there as an elevation-offering upon one of the mountains which I shall tell you.' So Abraham woke up early in the morning and saddled his donkey; he took his two young men and Isaac his son; he split the trees for the offering, and rose up and went to the place of which G-d had spoken to him." - Genesis 22:1-3

This test of a father's willingness to give up his only son to obey G-d's command is one of the greatest biblical pictures of Messiah, and is a common teaching topic in Christian circles. However, there may be even more to this Messianic picture than what appears on the surface.

The Hebrew text specifically refers to Isaac as the "only one". In certain passages of the Septuagint the Hebrew word yechid'cha or "only one" is translated as the Greek word monogenes, meaning "only-begotten one".

The greatest difference between the traditional Jewish perspective of the Akeidah and the widely-accepted Western view is the matter of the age of Isaac. According to the Midrash Rabbah, Isaac was not a small child who remained blissfully unaware of his upcoming role in the sacrifice. He was a fully grown man in his 30's who, after discussing the matter with his father, was fully aware that he was going to be the sacrifice. Nonetheless, he submitted himself to the wishes of G-d as expressed through his father, and chose to go willingly to his impending death.

While this image may seem unfamiliar to us because of the various depictions we have seen of the little boy being led to the altar by his frail, aged father, Isaac as a strong, vital grown man is a more biblically sound assumption. Directly after this test of faith, we read about the death of Sarah, the wife of Abraham and mother of Isaac, and at the time of her death, Isaac was 37 years old. Therefore, we can conclude that the binding of Isaac most likely took place shortly before Sarah's death, making Isaac a grown man.

In character with Abraham being an honest, faithful servant of the Truth, we cannot believe that Abraham would intentionally deceive his son into going to his death, unwilling and terrified. In addition, a man of his age would not be difficult to overcome by someone in the prime of his life, fighting to remain alive, as would be Isaac’s natural instinct.

Interestingly, the Hebrew of the Torah states that Abraham “split (divided - bakah) the wood/trees” for the offering.  (In the Bible, the Hebrew word eitz usually translated by English translators as “wood” literally means, "tree".) The unusual use of the plural, atzei leads the rabbis to conclude that there were two trees used in the wood preparation, in prophetic anticipation of Temple service which G-d would introduce one day, in which it was possible for the one bringing the sacrifice to bring at least “two pieces of wood” for their offering in addition to the animal which was being sacrificed.

Certainly, the Holy One (blessed be He) did not include anything superfluous in the text, so the mentioning of the splitting of the trees was deliberate and purposeful. Whether we can say it was from two sources or it consisted of two pieces of wood (1) will be a matter of debate for others.
"AND HE CLEAVED THE TREES FOR THE BURNT-OFFERING. R. Hiyya b. R. Jose said in the name of R. Miasha, and it was also repeated in the name of R. Bannaiah: As a reward for the two cleavings with which our father Abraham cleaved the trees of the elevation-offering, he earned that God should cleave the Sea [into two] before his descendants, as it says, 'And the waters were divided' (Ex. 14:21)" - [Soncino - 'Trees' is in the plural, whence it is deduced that he cut up two logs"] - Genesis Rabbah 55:8

Temptations in the Wilderness

Their destination was Moriah, the future home of the Temple in Jerusalem, the Place where sacrifices would reconcile the Jewish people with their G-d, the mountain upon which Y'shua would also be crucified. It was a three day journey and there was much to consider and to talk about.

According to one midrash, Abraham and Isaac each were tested separately as they traveled on the road toward Moriah.  While this midrashic story possibly was not meant to be taken literally, we can draw a distinct parallel between this “teaching parable” and the literal accounts of the Gospels. According to this legend, they were each tempted as they traveled through the wilderness by none other than ha satan (“the adversary”).

"And while Abraham and Isaac were proceeding along the road, Satan came and appeared to Abraham in the figure of a very aged man, humble and of contrite spirit, and said to him: "Are you silly or foolish, that you go to do this thing to your only son? G-d gave you a son in your latter days, in your old age, and will you go and slaughter him who did not commit any violence, and will you cause the soul of your only son to perish from the earth? Do you not know and understand that this thing cannot be from the L-rd? For the L-rd would not do unto man such evil, to command him, Go and slaughter your son." Abraham, hearing these words, knew that it was Satan, who endeavored to turn him astray from the way of the Lord, and he rebuked him so that he went away..."

Having failed to tempt Abraham, Satan proceeds to try to sway Isaac from his willing, resolute decision.  "...And Satan returned and came to Isaac, and he appeared unto him in the figure of a young man, handsome and well-favored, saying unto him: "Do you not know that your silly old father brings you to the slaughter this day for nothing?

Now, my son, do not listen to him, for he is a silly old man, and let not your precious soul and beautiful figure be lost from the earth." And Isaac told these words to his father, but Abraham said to him, "Take heed of him, and do not listen to his words, for he is Satan endeavoring to lead us astray from the commands of our G-d."

And Abraham rebuked Satan again, and Satan went from them, and, seeing he could not prevail over them, he transformed himself into a large brook of water in the road, and when Abraham, Isaac, and the two young men reached that place, they saw a brook large and powerful as the mighty waters. And they entered the brook, trying to pass it, but the further they went, the deeper the brook, so that the water reached up to their necks, and they were all terrified on account of the water.

But Abraham recognized the place, and he knew that there had been no water there before, and he said to his son: "I know this place, on which there was no brook nor water. Now, surely, it is Satan who does all this to us, to draw us aside this day from the commands of G-d." And Abraham rebuked Satan, saying unto him: "The Lord rebuke you, O Satan. Be gone from us, for we go by the command of G-d." And Satan was terrified at the voice of Abraham, and he went away from them, and the place became dry land again as it was at first. And Abraham went with Isaac toward the place that G-d had told him."  - Louis Ginsberg, “Legends of the Jews Vol. 1”

* * *

Let's review the main points of this parable. Abraham and Isaac are traveling through the wilderness, and Satan comes to tempt them three times. Each time he is rebuked by Abraham, and the last time Abraham says, in essence, "Away with you, Satan! For G-d has spoken, saying..." Abraham answers Satan by quoting the words of G-d.
(You probably noticed above that in the parable, Isaac was referred to as one "who did not commit any violence". The author of this midrash was directly linking Isaac to a quote from Isaiah 53:9, "He had done no violence, neither was there any deceit in his mouth." Isaiah was speaking of the coming “servant of Hashem” who would suffer, not for his own deeds, but on behalf of others.

While it may be currently fashionable among skeptics to reason that the “servant of Hashem” in Isaiah refers to the nation of Israel and not to an individual, prior to Rashi (1100’s CE), the rabbis who recorded the ancient oral tradition in the Mishnah and Gemara (100-500 CE) declared unanimously - a rare occurrence - that Isaiah 52 and 53 spoke of none other than the suffering Messiah. (2)

A Willing Sacrifice

"And Abraham took the tree for the offering, and placed it on Isaac his son. He took in his hand the fire and the knife, and the two of them went on together in unity. Then Isaac spoke to Abraham his father and said, 'Father,' and he said, 'Here I am, my son.' And he said, 'Here are the fire and the tree, but where is the lamb for the offering?' And Abraham said, 'G-d will see for Himself a lamb for the offering, my son.' And the two of them went on together in unity." - Genesis 22:6-8

The Midrash Rabbah, commenting on the book of Genesis, says: " ‘And Abraham took the wood for the offering and placed it on Isaac his son’ (Genesis 22:6) - likened unto one who carries his own cross on his shoulder." - Genesis Rabbah 56:3

Remember that according to the rabbis, Isaac was in his 30's at this time, which means that there was no way that Abraham, a 130-year-old man, could have bound Isaac without Isaac's consent. Therefore, the rabbis believe that Isaac asked to be bound, lest his courage fail at the end and he try to struggle against his father who was carrying out G-d's will.

"When Abraham wished to sacrifice his son Isaac, he said to him: ‘Father, I am a young man and am afraid that my body may tremble through fear of the knife and I will grieve you, whereby the slaughter may be rendered unfit and this will not count as a real sacrifice; therefore bind me very firmly.’ Thereupon, "he bound Isaac": can one bind a man thirty-seven years old without his consent?" - Genesis Rabbah 56:8

When the text says that they traveled “together in unity”, the word, yachdav implies a unity of purpose and goal.  True unity is not possible when one man deceives another or intends to do him harm. When a willing sacrifice volunteers, only then can unity of purpose be attained.

The Midrash Rabbah also says that at the same time Isaac was bound and placed upon the “tree”, G-d bound all of the spiritual forces (the principalities and powers) of this world, because of Abraham's willingness even to sacrifice his son, and Isaac's willingness to be the sacrifice.

R. Hanina b. Isaac said: Even as Abraham bound his son Isaac below, so the Holy One, blessed be He, bound the Princes of the heathens above. [Soncino: Every nation was thought to possess a ‘Prince’ - a guardian angel and patron...] (See Daniel 10:20, 21) - Genesis Rabbah 56:5

Imagine this scene playing out in your mind. You see a man in the prime of his life, placing two pieces of wood upon his shoulder and climbing up Mount Moriah, in a manner which is compared by the Jewish sages to a man carrying his own cross. He does this solely out of obedience to his father, and does not resist against his impending death, though he certainly has the power to do so. As he is bound and placed upon the tree, spiritual principalities and powers are utterly shaken and deprived of power. What picture comes to your mind as you read this? The parallels from this passage to Y'shua's execution are staggering.  But what does all this have to do with Abraham seeing Y'shua's day?

A Ram "Behind Him"

"Abraham lifted his eyes and behold, a ram [behind him?] held in a thicket by its horns." - Genesis 22:13

Usually, this verse is translated to read that the ram was "behind him". However, the Hebrew word which has been translated "behind him" is achar. Achar does not mean "behind" directionally, but "that which comes afterwards, later, that which follows" - in other words, a direction in time. The well-known Hebrew phrase acharit hayamim means "the latter days" or "the end of days".

(In this sense, the word can have two understandings when two people are traveling, and one is behind the other. If the word achar is used to describe this situation, one observer might say, "Thus we can see that achar means 'behind', one person is behind the other." But another observer might say, "No, it still doesn't have anything to do with direction; achar means that where the one person traveled, the other person followed ‘later’." In English, when an unpleasant event has passed, we say that it is “behind us”. In Hebrew when an event is achar, it is yet to come, at a later time.)

So the correct translation of this verse would be: "... Behold, a ram, afterwards [later on], held in a thicket by its horns."  Now, what is a "thicket"? In Hebrew, the word savakh, can be translated "a dense plant which is interwoven, plaited" and implies a woven and interlaced hedge, strong enough to keep the ram from wriggling free.

In the Greek passages which describe Jesus' crucifixion, the place of his execution was called Gulgol’ta in Hebrew, and was translated into Greek as the "place of the skull" (Mark 15:22, John 19:17). The word for "skull" in Greek is kranion, which comes from the root word keras. Many Greek words are borrowed from Hebrew, and this case is no exception: Keras is related to the Hebrew word keren, and it literally means "horn".

Could it be that Abraham not only saw a literal ram standing there, but he also saw something else? "He lifted his eyes and behold ... a ram, in a later time, held fast, with something interwoven in his horns / skull.” (The word hinei - "behold" always means that something unexpected has appeared.)
What future sacrifice of a ram, taking place on Mount Moriah (Jerusalem), with something woven around its head, could Abraham have seen? "Your father Abraham earnestly desired to see My day; and he saw, and was glad." (John 8:56) In one of Paul's letters, he says that G-d "announced the good news ahead of time unto Abraham" (Galatians 3:8).

According to tradition, this ram had been designated and prepared for this sacrifice since the creation of the world, and had waited until now for its purpose to be fulfilled. Truly, Y'shua's sacrifice had been prepared from the foundations of the world.

The Death and Resurrection of Isaac?

Many people do well to see the picture of Isaac being put upon the altar as a parallel to Y'shua's crucifixion, but most of them believe that the picture stops when the ram is offered in Isaac's place. While the death of the ram in place of Isaac does indeed parallel Y'shua's death in our place, Isaac may not be finished yet as a shadow and picture of the Messiah.

According to the rabbinic tradition, even though Abraham was stopped from performing the deed, Isaac actually did die on that altar. In fact, there is an oft-mentioned wish expressed in the writings of the rabbis and also in the daily prayers for every Jewish man, pleading that G-d would look upon the offering of Isaac and in his merit because of his sacrifice, bring us help and rescue us from danger. But if Isaac died as our tradition states, how was it that he then went back down the mountain with his father?

There are two traditions which give specific answers to this question.  The first tradition has to do with the process of the sacrificial system itself. When a offering for sin was being brought in the Temple, it was not simply a matter of G-d accepting an animal's death instead of the death of the sinner, as if to say that His justice was satisfied since at least something was dying. Before an animal was sacrificed, the person bringing the offering leaned his hands upon the head of the offering and confessed his sins.

With this procedure, an identity switch occurred. The animal took on the complete identity of the sinner who had brought him, and the man took on the blameless innocence of the animal. In this way, the one who bore the identity of "sinner" died on the altar, and the one who bore the identity of "innocent" walked away alive.

This transfer of identity is the basis for the tradition that Isaac did (in a symbolic and figurative way, at least) die on the altar. The ashes of the ram are cited as proof of Isaac’s death. (3)  “And Abraham sprinkled the blood of the ram upon the altar, and he exclaimed, and said, 'This is instead of my son, and may this be considered as the blood of my son before the Lord.' And whatsoever Abraham did by the altar, he exclaimed, and said, 'This is instead of my son, and may it be considered before the Lord in place of my son.' And G-d accepted the sacrifice of the ram, and it was accounted as though it had been Isaac.” - Louis Ginsberg, “Legends of the Jews Vol. 1”

* * *

”Abraham took [the ram] and offered it as a burnt-offering instead of his son; as it says, ‘And he took the ram, and offered him up for a burnt-offering…’ Does more need to be said? What then is the purpose of the additional words, ‘…in the place of his son’?

Abraham said: ‘Sovereign of the universe! Regard the act as though the blood of Isaac were being sprinkled before You!’  He took the ram and flayed it, saying: 'O consider the act as though I had flayed the skin of Isaac before You!’ He took the ram and dried its blood with salt, saying: ‘O consider the act as though Isaac's blood were being dried before You!' He burnt the ram and said: 'O consider the act as though Isaac's ashes were being heaped up upon the altar!'

Another exposition: What is the implication of the phrase ubc ,j, - “takhat beno” - "’In the place’ of his son"? The Holy One, blessed be He, said to him: ’By your life! I do regard it as though your son had been offered first! This ram represents him!’ - B'midbar Rabbah 17:2

This last possibility mentioned in the above paragraph suggests that G-d reckoned it to Abraham as if he had indeed first offered Isaac and put him to death, and then afterward offered the ram which was provided. It uses the Hebrew word, takhat, translating it to mean that the ram was offered after Isaac died, in the same way that when a king dies, his son reigns “in his place” takhat, i.e. following his death, not instead of him or displacing him while he is alive. (1 Kings 11:43)

* * *

Is there a Biblical source which mentions Isaac dying on the altar? Actually, yes. The second noteworthy tradition of our rabbis which speaks of Isaac's death is mentioned by an unlikely source: the book of Hebrews.  ”In faith Abraham offered up Isaac, being tested, and the only begotten son was being offered up by the one who received the promises, (to whom it had been said, 'In Isaac shall your seed be called'); concluding that G-d is able even to raise people up out of the dead, from which he also - in a parable - recovered him." - Hebrews 11:19

Many translators have translated this passage to mean that Abraham received Isaac from the dead "in a figurative sense", that is, since Isaac was so close to death, and Abraham had already given him up for lost, it was as if he received him back from the dead. But the Greek of the passage is quite specific. It says Isaac was recovered from the dead in para’boley ... which means "parable".
Now to what parable is the writer referring, a parable with which his readers must surely have been familiar? Since he was a Hebrew speaker, writing to the Hebrews, he would at least have been thinking in Hebrew concepts, even if he didn't actually write the letter in the Hebrew language. So what is a common Hebrew word for a parable? That's right... it's midrash.

In the Midrash Rabbah and in other rabbinic writings, there is in fact a parable about Isaac which states that in the terror of the moment, as he felt the knife at his throat, he actually died there on the altar, momentarily. The parable then relates that G-d then raised him from the dead.

”As the sword touched Isaac's throat, his spirit fled away; as he heard the Voice from between the two cherubim saying, 'Do not send forth your hand against the young man,' the soul returned to his body and he lived, and he stood on his feet. Then Isaac understood that the resurrection of the dead would take place, in the same way as he had been resurrected... and he said, 'Blessed are You, O L-RD, Who resurrects the dead.' "  Pirkei d'Rabbi Eliezer 31

In this midrashic parable, Isaac was not only resurrected by G-d’s power, but he was also seen as the prototype for all future resurrections to come. In 1 Corinthians 15:20, we are told that Y'shua became the “first fruits” of all those who had died and would be resurrected. This does not mean that nobody had been raised from the dead before Him, but was a reference to a sacrificial requirement of offering up the first fruits of the harvest at the Temple before any other harvest could be gathered in. His was the first fruits offering which would allow all others to be resurrected in the end of days.

The Horns of the Ram

According to tradition, the horns of Isaac's ram were to be used in great events later on in history. The first horn was blown on Mount Sinai, at the time of the giving of the Torah. The other horn, which is the larger of the two and is called the "great shofar" will be blown at the time of the Resurrection, and will signal the ingathering of the exiles and the coming of the Messiah.

”The two horns of the ram are shofars (horns for blowing). The left one the Holy One - Blessed be He - sounded on Mount Sinai, as it is said, 'The sound of the shofar (ram's horn) grew louder and louder.' The right one is greater than the left, and it is destined to be sounded at the Time to Come, when the gathering of the exiles takes place, as it is said [in Isaiah 27:13], And in that day, a great shofar (ram's horn) will be blown, and the straying ones in the land of Assyria and the expelled ones in the land of Egypt will come to worship the L-RD on the holy mountain, in Jerusalem.' " - Pirkei d'Rabbi Eliezer 31

Source Notes:

Me'ila 19b - For our Rabbis taught: If a man said, I take upon myself to present wood to the Temple, he may not offer less than two logs.

Yoma 22a - …He who obtained the task of clearing the altar of the ashes thereby also obtained the ordering of the pile of wood on the altar, and of the two pieces of

Yoma 26b - It was taught: R. Simeon b. Yohai said: Whence do we know that at the continual offering of dusk, two logs of wood were to be brought up by two priests?  Because it is said: "And they [the sons of Aaron the priest] shall lay wood in order upon the fire." (Leviticus 1:7)

2.  "I may remark then, that our Rabbis with one voice accept and affirm the opinion that the prophet is speaking of the King Messiah, and we ourselves shall adhere to the same view." - Rabbi Moshe Alshech regarding Yeshayahu 53 in the Tanakh - [Following is a partial list:]

• Talmud b. Sanhedrin 98b • Midrash Rabbah Ruth 6 • Maimonides - R' Moshe Ben Maimon • R' Moshe Ben Nachman • R' Yitzchak Abarbanel • Sifrei • Targum of Isaiah 52:13 - 53:12 • B'reishis Rabbah of R' Moshe Ha-Darshan • Midrash Tanchuma - Yelammedenu 6:14 • The Yalkut • Yalkut Reubeni • Yalkut Chadash • R' Yephet Ben 'Ali LII.13 • Mysteries of R' Shimon Ben Yochai • Lekach Tov on Num. 24:7 • R' Moshe Kohen ibn Crispin v. 13 • R' Shlomo Astruc LII • R' Sh'muel Lanyado • R' Shlomo De Marini • R' Naftali ben Asher Altschuler LII • R' Eliyyah de Vidas

3.  Berachot 62a - "And as he was about to destroy, the Lord beheld, and He relented." (1 Chron. 21:15) What did He behold? ... Samuel said: He beheld the ashes of Isaac, as it says, "God will see for Himself the lamb." (Genesis 22:8)

Ta'anit 16a - “And why does everyone else put ashes on his head? With regard to this there is a difference of opinion between R. Levi b. Hama and R. Hanina. One says: [To signify thereby], We are merely like ashes before You; and the other says: That [God] may remember for our sake the ashes of Isaac.”

Zevachim 62a - “As for the Temple, it is well, for its outline was distinguishable;* but how did they know [the site of] the altar? — Said R. Eleazar: They saw [in a vision] the altar built, and Michael the great prince standing and offering upon it. While R. Isaac Nappaha said: They saw Isaac's ashes lying in that place.”

Soncino ***[“They could easily ascertain, from a study of the ruins, what had been sanctified for each part of the Temple.”]

Soncino ***[“According to legend Isaac was bound, and the substitute ram sacrificed, on the very site of the altar, and the ashes were still there.”]

B'reishit Rabbah 94:5 - “R. Berekiah made two observations: The Holy One, blessed be He, never unites His name with a living person* save with those who are experiencing suffering, and Isaac indeed did experience suffering.** The Rabbis said: We look upon him as though his ashes were heaped in a pile on the altar.***

Soncino ***[“To say, I am the God, of e.g., Abraham, Isaac, while they are in life.”]

Soncino ***[“This is quite irrelevant here, since Isaac was in fact dead by now. But in Gen. 28:13, God's name is united with Isaac while he was yet alive, and R. Berekiah answers that Isaac was a sufferer, being blind; cf. supra, LXV, 9.”]

Soncino ***[“Thus the reference to Isaac here is understood as meaning that Jacob invoked the memory of Isaac's sacrifice.”]

Vayikra Rabbah 36:5 - "’Then I will remember My covenant with Jacob; and also My covenant with Isaac; and also My covenant with Abraham I will remember, and I will remember the land.’ (Leviticus 26:42) Why was the expression ‘remembering’ mentioned in connection with Jacob and Abraham but not in connection with Isaac? R. Berekiah and our Rabbis offer different explanations. R. Berekiah says that it was because he was a child of suffering,* and our Rabbis say it was because He saw Isaac's ashes, as it were, heaped up upon the altar.”

Soncino ***[“He was blind. Suffering purified him and made him like the angels, so that he was always, as it were, in God's mind and did not need a special act of remembrance; (M.K.).”]


  1. Consistent with your deductions about Isaac's age is the fact that "Abraham took the wood of the burnt offering and laid it on Isaac his son" (Gen. 22:6). Even if it was only the two logs in the midrash (and it may well have been more; it's hard to imagine a couple of logs being sufficient to do the job), lugging that load up the mountain would have been impossible for a small child. There was quite a walk involved, and it was uphill: Isaac bore that load from the time "Abraham saw the place from afar" (v4).

    I have always pictured him as a late teen. Isaac is at least 2 or 3 at the beginning of Genesis 21 because he was weaned (v8). After that "Abraham sojourned many days in the land of the Philistines" (v34). The story of Isaac's near-sacrifice takes place "after these things" (meaning the sojourn among the Philistines) (22:1).

    On the basis of all of that, it seems clear that the picture of Isaac as a small child tricked into being a sacrifice against his will is wildly off base. Thirty-something is the upper limit permitted by your calculations, but it seems to me a teen might serve as a better type (with respect to the quality of innocence) than would a grown man.

    That's not a hill I would die on, though. (Sorry.)

    Abraham was called a "friend of God" (James 2:23). It would not surprise me that God, who would one day sacrifice his own Beloved for us, might have allowed Abraham to come as close as possible to living the same impossible emotions in order to share with him his own experience, yet mercifully keep his friend from going through those final, awful moments.

    And as you point out, it would also be absolutely critical that the son chosen to depict the Beloved Son be a willing victim, not a mere dupe.

  2. As always well done.

    My investigation of scripture is being enriched because of your work. This venture into midrash is enhancing my understanding of the concept and solidifying it was a legitimate tool for exegetics. Thank you.

  3. Yes indeed Abraham did see the Lord face to face when he came down to earth. When the Lord came down to visit Abraham with two angels, he told Abraham that he and Sarah would have a child. She laughed and did not believe, and was rebuked by the Lord.

    Then Abraham did the famous negotiation regarding finding of 10 good men in Sodom and Gomorrah after being informed that the Lord was going to destroy both cities for their depravity.

    Notes in my Bible say that Abraham did indeed see Jesus face to face. In fact, a close observation of capitalization of the word Angel/angel would seem to also indicate that when the word Angel appeared, that was indeed Jesus. Because angels were not ranked high enough to be capitalized. Only Jesus would have been.

    All the years I have enjoyed reading the Old Testament, and it was only about 7 years ago that my attention was drawn to that fact.

  4. In fact, the piece was so good, I'm afraid the good R'B had decided it's impossible to top it, and has retired. :(

  5. That's very kind of you Tom. Actually, I hope to post again soon. I have been busy gearing up for the CPA exam scheduled for the end of February. No early retirement yet. Please stay tuned.