Under the Altar and Dreaming: Sustaining עקידה in a World of Choice

I have been swamped with work lately and unable to post, leaving me with a backlog of ideas for later. Meanwhile, I was thinking over Shabbat about an essay I wrote about ten years ago when I was taking an undergraduate course in YU called “Genesis and Literature.” Given the time of year we are in, I have decided to offer the full essay here for anyone who might find it of interest.

Under the Altar and Dreaming: Sustaining עקידה in a World of Choice

והנה אברהם אבינו בשעת עקידה אחז במדת היראה, במדת יצחק, ולכן אמר “הנני בני,” שעכשיו אני אוחז במדתך. שעד עכשיו הייתי אוחז במדת החסד, ועתה אני אוחז במדתך. ולכן אמר לו השי”ת … “הרבה ארבה את זרעך,” דהיינו, בזה תגרום חיות לזרעך …
לחם רב (ב:לט) בשם ספר אך פרי תבואה

 If Abraham when he stood upon Mount Moriah had doubted … if God had permitted him to offer [the ram] instead of Isaac – then he would have betaken himself home, everything would have been the same … and yet how changed! For his retreat would have been a flight, his salvation an accident, his reward dishonor, his future perhaps perdition. Then he would have borne witness neither to his faith nor to God’s grace, but would have testified only how dreadful it is to march out to Mount Moriah.
Kierkegaard, Fear and Trembling

As Kierkegaard suggests, stepping off the מזבח and back into reality having been unable to perform the עקידה would have been a destiny-altering experience for the אבות and their descendants. What Kierkegaard fails to recognize is the ensuing impact on a thankful confluence of history even by dint of ה’’s choosing that אברהם not sacrifice his son, a point put powerfully forward by the revered רב of קליינווארדיין in the first source cited above. Kierkegaard, lacking the penetrating, piercing, and all-encompassing vision of חז”ל, fails to recognize that history has been as fundamentally altered by ה’’s eliciting אברהם not to sacrifice his son as much as it would have been by His having commanded him to do so. To חז”ל, on the other hand, the final product of נסיון is less important in determining its overall impact on the Nation as the demonstration of one’s willingness to undergo that act from the outset.

עקידה and the Burgeoning of New Realities [1]

That עקידה so changed the latent spiritual nature of כלל ישראל is the case because whatever its result, ה’’s command and אברהם’s willingness would together represent the loss of pure חסד as the driving force of כלל ישראל’s national existence – a loss particularly hard for אברהם but which was necessary to create a workable paradigm for כלל ישראל’s national history, one which could no longer be sustained on אברהם’s rich abundance of חסד alone. With the loss of חסד came an instant and permanent switch to דין as the new engine pulling the growing Nation. Prior to עקידה, it appeared that אברהם could not have conceived of undergoing a move as drastic as that of sacrificing his own son, but it was the possibility of this very barrenness which הקב”ה saw fit to test.

There were two potential problems at work in the idealistic pre-עקידה theology of אברהם which שטן came to incriminate: 1) אברהם could have seen his possession so much as his own as to be unable to give it back to its original Owner; and 2) He may not have understood the concept of sacrifice, דין in its harshest form, altogether. [2] By showing that he was willing to initiate עקידה, Avraham proved that both of these possibilities did not apply to the צדיק. He showed first that he was willing to return ה’’s object to its true Owner; and he showed afterward, as we have seen, that he now understood the concept of דין which characterized יצחק and which was necessary for the preservation of כלל ישראל as we know it today.

That אברהם could now begin the process of integrating דין with his own trusty storehouse of חסד is only the case because the עקידה, like יצחק and רבקה, was itself a mixture of hard and soft דין – for as the גמרא relates, ‘ה never intended the אבות to complete the נסיון in the first place:

לא עלתה על לבי – זה יצחק בן אברהם. – תענית ד
אף על פי שציויתי לו, מעולם לא עלתה על לבי לשחוט את בנו אלא לנסותו. – רש”י שם

            If the harsh דין of עקידה could mix with the soft דין of עקידה’s having never been meant to be, then a powerful reaction could be undergone which would help כלל ישראל face the test of time. This impact can be compared to that of אברהם’s initial willingness to sacrifice his son and later willingness to sacrifice his purity of חסד. Yet the theological repercussions of the brief גמרא cited above are tremendous and far-reaching:

Were אברהם or יצחק aware of the “farcical” nature of the עקידה? If so, at what stage in the process did they gain this awareness?
What would have been the theoretical consequence of אברהם’s completing an act commanded yet unintended?
How is it that the spiritual life-force of a nation can hinge upon an act’s having been uncommitted when it was never intended to have taken place?

Let us attempt to understand עקידה in light of its having been an apparent historical enigma [3] – perhaps a theological impossibility – from the start.

Seeds, Saplings, and Suitcases

In undertaking his own approach to explaining the עקידה story, רמב”ן posits that the function of נסיון is twofold: 1) להוציא הדבר מן הכח אל הפועל, to actualize latent potential; and 2) להיות לו שכר מעשה טוב, לא שכר לב טוב בלבד, to raise the legitimacy of a person’s actions from a lesser to a greater level of performance. רמבן presents to us a difficult paradigm to translate into modern pedagogy. It would be difficult to convince a child that his time or effort have been well spent dragging suitcases upstairs merely to prove to himself that he is a strong (or strong-willed) worker or that he is now the beneficiary of additional reward on account of his efforts having been for naught. Let us try to understand what would be the purpose of ה’’s utilizing such an approach in guiding His selected few.

In our Tefillah, [4] we compare the נסיון of עקידה to two other pivotal moments: the שבועה to אברהם that his descendants would inherit the Land and the renaming of יעקב as ישראל. Perhaps the connection between the events is one of changed spiritual aspirations. Only once אברהם had been guaranteed the success and legitimacy of his descendants could we aspire to live in a most meaningful way and perform the מצוות; once יעקב had been renamed ישראל, our national destiny had been secured by ה’’s personally designating the Nation as His own.

Changed aspirations, perhaps, but not yet; a closer connection between these three events – עקידה, the שבועה to אברהם, and יעקב’s renaming – is the bestowal of latent potential. In fact, in the absence of ה’’s fulfilling our own potential for us, this is the greatest gift of all – that we be supplied the necessary spiritual nutrients to survive on our own in a seductive and alluring world. This is true חינוך – whether of our children or, by Hashem, of his most precious children in the form of עקידה. It emerges that נסיון, in רמבן’s view, is not the start of a hopeless trajectory through time but rather one part of a carefully planned spiritual package complete with self-esteem (ישראל), hope for the future (שבועה), and עקידה – acquisition of the proper character needed to send us forward on our long spiritual journey. Although the effort could have seemed futile at the moment – Hashem never meant for the עקידה to happen anyway – it was עקידה which created the future: now כלל ישראל could sprout forth and grow. That is why, rather than throwing the knife on the ground and jumping and down in frustration, אברהם appears most excited at the surprising opportunity he has had to shape the future of כלל ישראל even though the immediate result of his journey to הר המוריה would otherwise have seemed “for naught.”

Successful חינוך precludes ensuring that the child remain quiet or even that he remain interested. חינוך is simply guidance, the issuance of a carefully planned package of emotional and psychological stability – preparation, the very root of חינוך. To Ramban, נסיון works in much the same way. At the מזבח, Avraham was given an exactingly calculated, tightly-packaged plan for his descendants’ success in מצרים and beyond. The boy we met earlier who hauls suitcases to build character may be gaining more than he realizes if he can be brought to a stage of true recognition of his own ability through his seemingly pointless act. If not, of course, his efforts are truly for naught. And like that child, אברהם, too, would have undergone the process of עקידה for futility had he not been given a vision of his children’s glorious spiritual destiny in exchange for, and as a result of, his being willing to sacrifice his own son.

Now we can return to our first question regarding the enigmatic non-reality of עקידה. Avraham can be safely assumed to have known with some clarity that the strange command had farther-reaching repercussions than the immediate sacrifice of his son. We see this in the הנני בני attitude which characterized אברהם’s willingness to proceed not as a murderer or even as a martyr but as the spiritual godfather of a People. Because the spiritual forces he was to emit into the physical world would have been bigger than the child so precious to him, אברהם was willing to lose one child in the process of saving many more. [5] אברהם’s knowledge stretched farther down the road than one עקידה. And because the act was one not of futility but of the instilment of potential, אברהם’s own destiny was fulfilled as well.

The sacrifice of עקידה, then, becomes one child for the revealed destiny of a People. This answer intentionally disregards whether אברהם also thought he was to undergo child-sacrifice. [6] For even if he did, he would not have been the victim of futility to have trekked all the way to הר המוריה “just” to find out that the spiritual destiny of כלל ישראל would be one of a דין as harsh and impersonal as עקידה. It doesn’t matter whether or not either of the אבות knew, because the “farcical” nature of the עקידה was not even temporary: the two and their descendants were changed instantly and forever. Their knowledge was bigger than one act, even one fully undergone.

That understanding and ensuing willingness represent an additional layer of sacrifice at work within עקידה: that of the temporary comfortableness of oneself (or one’s son) for the eternal betterment of כלל ישראל. This, too, by no coincidence, is a measure of דין applied to our daily striving, credit due to these heroic אבות for bringing it down to us at the הר.

Given all this, it would sound like אברהם’s having “completed” עקידה would have been an equally satisfactory result. Let’s examine the second of our original questions: what if אברהם had done it?

The Martyr’s Death: עקידה Visited

כיון שראתה, אמרה לו, “בני! מה עשה לך אביך?!” אמר לה, “נטלני אבי, והעלני הרים, והורידני בקעות והעלני לראש הר אחד, ובנה מזבח, וסדר המערכה, והעריך את העצים, ועקד אותי על גבי המזבח, ולקח את הסכין לשחטני. ואלולי שאמר לו הקב”ה ‘אל תשלח ידך אל הנער,’ כבר הייתי נשחט!” לא הספיק לגמור את הדבר עד שיצאה נשמתה.
– תנחומא וירא כג

אל ההרים אשא עיני, כהלל ולא כשמאי.
– זמר של שבת “חי ה‘”

In the תנחומא’s revelation of the events surrounding שרה’s death (cited above), we have a brief glimpse at the would-be post-עקידה reality of יצחק’s death, the מדרש making clear that שרה’s fatality occurred at the point of her still believing that יצחק had been killed. [7] אור החיים  asks an interesting question: why is שרה’s death reported so differently from others’ deaths throughout the תורה – either as “ויחי” or as “?אלה שני” He answers that, after the shocking news of her son’s apparent death, שרה’s own death was a “,מיתה משונה” the first death not connected to a sickness or extended hospital stay. [8] שרה is the first to die what to us is a fairly typical death, לא עלינו – one unaccompanied by an extended illness or much fanfare. She could not call her descendants to her bedside or make provisions for her children’s future. שרה was the first car crash.

שרה’s death, the only event to occur in the brief and fleeting world in which יצחק actually did die, is the one indicator to us of what would have occurred had that world been expanded to include the rest of us – had אברהם killed יצחק in our world as he did in שרה’s. Here we see the first and only full application of דין prior to its being melded with the חסד of non-עקידה as Hashem would have it happen so soon after.

In שרה’s death, which occurred in the enigmatic double world of יצחק’s having been killed and yet not killed, there is a singular application of both worlds: she lives out her years, [9] and yet they are not lived out; for as they end in turmoil and despair, she is forced to die the first death of an unfinished life, standing on her feet – and with her remarkable beauty sustained – until the end. [10] What more gruesome death could there be for an old lady than dying with her beauty retained, having been unable until the end to know her death was imminent by those typical wrinkles and creases, and thereby unable to kiss her loved-ones goodbye? Hers was the first and only death of full spontaneity; for, although she lived a complete life, had יצחק not been killed (in her world) she could have lived so much longer. In the warp of יצחק’s murder, his דין prevented what invariably became a full life from proceeding from its logical end to an even greater future.

שרה faced יצחק’s murder, עקידה completed – the only possibility of דין in its harshest form applied in an earthly way – with the death of the ultimate martyr. She is the old woman frightfully unable to end her life saying goodbye to her singularly beloved child she sees atop an Altar. יצחק’s role in this scenario, however, is harder to understand. The way the מדרש is written, it is hard to escape the notion that, on some esoteric level, יצחק has not gone far enough in preventing his mother’s death. His lines are hard to read: is there fright here (“He wanted to kill me!”) or is this a case of a child “pointing fingers” at one parent to another (“Know what Dad wanted to do to me?!”)? Either way, it appears legitimate to say that it is יצחק’s extra measure of דין which was most detrimental to his mother’s otherwise pristine bill of health. It is not the עקידה which affects her, nor even יצחק’s account of it; her tragic undoing is her inability to reach the end of the story.

שרה remains inexorably trapped in a world in which יצחק’s soon-to-be-outmoded דינא קשיא was able to execute itself almost haphazardly [11] – on his very mother – because it has not yet had the chance to be tempered by the temporary דינא רפיא of the עקידה’s non-completion and, soon after, the permanent דינא רפיא of his marriage to רבקה. In this we see the would-be results of אברהם’s fully realizing the mission on which he has been sent: the דינא קשיא of an עקידה-to-be would then not have mixed with the דינא רפיא of an עקידה which only happened in the brief world of שרה’s vision. In the brief moment in which עקידה was completed, שרה’s life reached an end with an unprecedented level of spontaneity and yet one which, however paradoxically, could not have been prepared for had she lived a lifetime longer; שרה had never aged anyway. Had עקידה happened in our world as well – had אברהם not stopped when he did, had דין been unleashed to us all in similar measure – we would similarly have been trapped in דינא קשיא’s indiscriminating fury just as time would have lost all value but held us forever captive. It took prevention of the עקידה to prevent a world of דינא קשיא, a world in which a ישוב עולם could be fried by the eyes of רבי אלעזר but never healed by רבי שמעון afterward. [12]

What a tremendous ברכה to all mankind that, even with his loyalty to Hashem on the line – דברי הרב ודברי התלמיד, מי שומעין? – Avraham nevertheless stopped short upon recognizing the dire effect that completion of the mission would have had and already had had on the world. This realization parallels his discovery that the world would need a synthesis of חסד and דין to sustain כלל ישראל; that neither one alone would do. Ironically, neither lesson would have been learned by אברהם’s killing his son. Half a mission proved loyalty; the full mission was a recipe for disaster. Apparently, some נסיונות are better left unfulfilled.

We turn at last to our final and very pivotal question: how could our national destiny hinge upon the non-fulfillment of a half-commanded action?

עקידה: The Self-Fulfilling Prophecy

וזכר לנו, ה’ אלוקינו, את הברית ואת החסד ואת השבועה אשר נשבעת לאברהם אבינו בהר המוריה ותראה לפניך עקדה שעקד אברהם אבינו את יצחק בנו על גבי המזבח וכבש רחמיו לעשות רצונך בלבב שלם כן יכבשו רחמיך את כעסך מעלינו …
– מוסף דראש השנה

אפילו שם חדש שעתיד הקב”ה לחדש לירושלים ידע אברהם. וזהו שנאמר ושם העיר מיום ה’ שמה.
– בעל הטורים כב:יד בשם ב”ר

As a legacy for his descendants, אברהם’s loyalty to us shines brilliantly forth. He displayed his willingness to sacrifice his son; he exercised flexibility in holding still at the moment of contact; he recognized the need to synthesize מדת יצחק with his own. Because of his sacrifice there, אברהם became Father to a Nation whose תורה, one of sacrifice – and whose עבודה, also one requiring sacrifice – would be realized at that same mountain.

The מדרש cited by the בעל הטורים above speaks of אברהם as the knower par excellence – he knew all of תורה שבכתב, תורה שבעל פה, and even the future name of הר המוריה. The surprise inherent in the מדרש is interesting. Is the מדרש speaking to the startling extent of אברהם’s knowledge, or to the uniqueness of his knowing this particular name? And what is it about this mountain which made it destined to be the מקום אשר יבחר from the time of אדם הראשון?

A פסוק in Divrei Hayamim [13] relates that, when an angel came to destroy ירושלים, he was stopped by Hashem at the point that “.ראה ה’ וינחם” Commenting on this פסוק, the Gemara [14] seeks to discover what it is which Hashem saw which stopped the imminent destruction of ירושלים. A four-way מחלוקת has it that one of four things halted the destruction – כסף יום הכפורים, אפרו של יעקב, Yaakov himself, or the presence of ירושלים. The apparent connection is that each provided atonement for the sins of the Nation. Yet אפרו של יצחק stands out in this list. It is the only item which atoned for sins as yet uncommitted – for יצחק did nothing to “deserve” the עקידה nor אברהם to bring it about. Here is כפרה of a different sort.

עקידה stood in for בני ישראל at a clutch moment not only because it represents the Nation’s eternal willingness to sacrifice all to live for its Creator but because it demonstrates the selflessness of the אבות to sacrifice their own to save their unborn children from an unknown list of as-yet uncommitted sins. Yet because the אבות displayed their readiness to sacrifice for us, our own reliance on this original act of sacrifice depends not upon its completion but upon its element of sacrifice – the will which would have brought it about had Hashem so desired. Moreover, it could not depend on completion; for had it been completed, it would be of little use to us, as the positive notion of אברהם’s being willing to sacrifice would then have been tainted by the negative aspect of his actually doing so.

The difference between would-be sacrifice and actual sacrifice is tremendous – the former, אברהם acting for his children, displays selflessness; the latter, אברהם acting to promote his own image, displays selfishness. What emerges from this גמרא is startling: אברהם did not sacrifice just to pass off another נסיון and become even more beloved in ה’’s eyes. Even the tacit agreement to ה’’s command was not the only thing which drove him. What moved אברהם, a true אב, was the opportunity to sacrifice his most beloved belonging to save generations unborn from being spared a premature loss of the בית המקדש at that very spot.

This may be what the מדרש means in its statement that אברהם “knew” the future name of הר המוריה. Avrham knew the future destiny of this place and the connection between that destiny, those people, and his act of true sacrifice. He knew that his present act was not merely one of personal sacrifice but that, in a much larger sense, he was already sacrificing for the people who would need an act of sacrifice to have happened at that place in order to be spared the immediate agony of גלות before they were ready to undergo such an ordeal. All this, while he was at the same time shedding his beloved חסד for the burgeoning quality of דין, also for the good of the nascent Nation. [15]

That הר served as the site of another similar spectacle. It was there that בני ישראל would take אברהם’s cue in declaring נעשה ונשמע prior to accepting the תורה. Such a declaration should be of little value for it remains disconnected from any concrete positive result. Yet בני ישראל understood the value of will disconnected from action. That commitment is most powerful. It shows such faith in the presumption that the action to come will be of such ultimate value that those involved need not even know the action when making the declaration. אברהם underwent עקידה in a similar fashion, unsure why he was being asked to sacrifice his son. What he found out was startlingly positive news: because of that blind faith, he was to father a nation on the trait he had brought down to earth; similarly, because of their blind faith, בני ישראל were not disappointed in the תורה which would nourish them. Each display of commitment and sacrifice channeled similar spiritual energies because each represented a similar form of blind faith in the eventual will of the Creator to be bestowed in its due time. [16]

The כח of that spot, as the מדרש says, is one of sacrifice – not intrinsically so, but because אברהם underwent one sacrifice to allow many more in its wake. It was he who commissioned the site to be one of sacrifice, and the many which were brought in the thousands of years thereafter lay tribute to his own.

Fulfilling עקידה was never meant to be as important as אברהם’s being willing to do so in the first place. Not only could an uncompleted עקידה stand the test of time, but only a non-completed עקידה could do so – for it is only one of this sort which displays true selflessness and an eye to the future.

In עקידה we see the building blocks of a Nation, one which would be built and build the world around it upon the foundations of potential, will, sacrifice, and דין – the exercise of justice and judgment on earth as challengingly applied from ה’’s own work. To conclude our discussion, then, a few closing parallels.

The Best Laid Plans

In our תפילות on ראש השנה we speak of our coming before ה’ as “,בני מרון” lined up as sheep before a watchful shepherd. The metaphor is apt on many levels – helplessness, dependency, innocence, purity – and another, indicated to us by חז”ל. The גמרא describes the presentation of sheep before the מזבח before the קרבן פסח. Every ten would be counted and marked; if any more or less than ten were counted together, or if some doubt was raised as to the validity of the count, the selection need be redone. Our arrival before Hashem at the ימי הדין works in no less particular a way: each person is considered with absolute precision and with true singularity. The usual notion of “sheep to the slaughter” is not to be found here. Even within the herd of the Jewish People, each sheep retains a startling level of individuality and wholeness of purpose.

עקידה, the prescient first sacrifice, similarly displayed individuality even within its impersonal and apparently ambiguous nature. Here was an act so unambiguous as to define a כלל ישראל but which emerged out of an act which appeared the height of randomness. Here was an act which appeared to strangle progress yet which allowed all the nascent potential the Nation would ever need to progress both in its everyday life (דין) and in its overall mission (עבודה – sacrifice). Here was a command which appeared to make completion the defining element of centrality but which would teach that will and intention, as much as finite action, are vital in charting our progress in Avodat Hashem. Here was a mission which appeared to be one of finality but was truly the beginning of something much greater.

Here, at last, was an ending which reversed every given and questioned every truth. At the height of its significance, עקידה appeared definitely constructed on one basis but was truly designed to teach the opposite: that the givens we construct, the assumptions we make, the notions we pre-conceive in defining our Avodat Hashem are as important to Him as the plans of a silhouetted ant found neatly beneath our soles. עקידה was the ultimate enigma, its greatest lesson to us that not only are מעשה אבות סימן לבנים but their inhibitions and preclusions, too, which define the gold standard for their children’s term in exile and beyond. Our mission before them, the אבות could step down from the מזבח reborn in the image of a Nation great and glorious to come.

To be a תלמיד חכם you need a head. To be a ירא שמים you need a heart … But to be a leader – you need a חוט השדרה, a spine, a backbone.
– Rabbi Dr. Norman Lamm, “There is a Prophet in Israel”

It would appear then that the purpose of sacrifices … was to actively proclaim, by the act of surrendering something to Him, that all things are G-d’s. The sacrifice was merely a sign of gratitude to G-d Who permitted man to use all things of creation which, in themselves, as the property of G-d, are vested with a certain degree of sanctity … not because He has need of them but to ensure that the needy and those who are dedicated to His service may also benefit from His possessions.
– Rabbi Dr. Samuel Belkin, In His Image

[1] Many of the ideas throughout this opening section are based on Patterns in Time: Rosh Hashanah (Feldheim), particularly Chapters 4-5. Additionally, the central question forming the backbone of this essay (but not its further discussion) is based on a point made by Weinberg in that book (cf. 6.3, “The Day that Never Was”). Otherwise, the ideas are my own, even if the style is (at best) marginally reflective of his.

[2] That יצחק likewise went too far in his understood of this aspect of דין is demonstrated by his relationship with רבקה and their mixture of דינא קשיא and דינא רפיא. See end of section “The Martyr’s Death,” below.

[3] For one of the numerous מאמרי חז”ל illustrating יצחק’s having indeed been killed, see “The Martyr’s Death: עקידה Visited” (below). See also זבחים סב., an important מקור which I will not get to here.

[4] תפילות לפני התפילה, אחר העקידה. We express a similar idea in our תפילות of ראש השנה (see quote at start of “The Self-Fulfilling Prophecy”).

[5] See דברי הימים א כא:טו, ברכות סב, and the beginning of “The Self-Fulfilling Prophecy” (below).

[6] Technically, only if אברהם had known would the ordeal truly have been farcical. Knowing he was not to have to commit the act would have left us unaware why he truly left home – whether to fulfill an arbitrary but fairly simplistic command or to shape the destiny of the Nation. Yet without his heart wholeheartedly directed to the coming sacrifice, he could not demonstrate any willingness to complete a נסיון not to be fulfilled. But, as we will develop, completion is not even a small part of the story.

[7] The concept presented throughout this section that two realities surround יצחק’s death, שרה’s and ours, is not meant to be any more Kabbalistic than the imagery of a man who died ten minutes before John F. Kennedy was shot – to the fullest extent of that man’s reality, Kennedy was never shot! Similarly, the 80% of the Jews who were blind to the belief in their eventual salvation from Egyptian bondage had this reality confirmed for them as they died during the ninth of the ten plagues, חושך.

[8] The “ליקויטי הערות על אור החיים” is helpful here. In a novel approach, he explains אור החיים as pinning the צער which led to שרה’s death squarely on the shoulders of her not dying in a hospital bed even while, as the פסוק makes abundantly clear, she did live out her years.

We could perhaps have understood the מדרש to imply that it was the צער of her son’s apparent death which led to שרה’s own. In fact, that approach in understanding the מדרש would have been difficult: would the then coincidence that she also lived out her years have needed to be made so clear by the פסוק? More important would have been the connection to her son, but this is not found in these פסוקים. In the revised approach, however, her death occurred at the right time but in a most unusual way – on her feet. The connection to her son is now closer to a “coincidence,” but, as the פסוק makes no mention of his death here, this approach appears more appropriate. It is on the basis of this explanation that we will base our forthcoming comments.

[9] רש”י et al, בראשית כג:א.

[10] Compare this with the difficult idea of שרה’s וסת returning at an atypically old age. Apparently, שרה truly retained until the end of her life every sign of youth and vigor which she had had when she was three years old! She was probably the youngest and oldest to ever have her וסת intact. Yet her candle truly burned at both ends for, as we are developing, she was likewise unable to end her life with the grace of an old lady soliciting farewells with each new wrinkle. But I’ve never been an old lady, maybe this way was better.

[11] Note that, after burying שרה, אברהם immediately initiates the search for יצחק’s wife, the woman who would temper his דינא קשיא. Apparently אברהם understood the importance of tempering יצחק’s temper before its temporary effects would tamper more things!

[12] See שבת לג.. For a discussion of the synthesis as paralleling the integration of the harsher and softer sides of דין, see Rav Weinberg, p. 87.

[13] דברי הימים א כא:טו

[14] ברכות סב:

[15] The importance of the people’s עבודה, when mixed with the sacrifice of the אבות, is a powerful force. See the quote by Rav Belkin which closes this paper.

[16] See שבת פח.. Like אברהם’s commitment, בני ישראל’s did not come immediately, came with great effort, and was considerably more complicated than displayed in the פסוקים.

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