Parshat Vayera

Akeidat Yitzchak

“He said: Please take your son, your only one, whom you love, Yitzchak, and go away to the land of Moriah and bring him up there for a burnt offering on one of the mountains, where I will tell you. Avraham got up early in the morning and he saddled his donkey…” (Parshat Lech Lecha, 22: 2 – 3).

How was Avraham, who dedicated his whole life to spreading the name of G-d and who begged for a child for so long, completely willing to sacrifice his only son and his sole means of a personal legacy?

There is a Jewish idea in called vinitzricha l’dorot – everything written in the Torah is needed for future generations. Clearly, we are meant to learn something from Avraham’s actions in this gripping story. Rav Chaim of Volozhin, the most famous student of the Vilna Gaon, teaches that we can learn the true meaning of a Jew’s ability to have complete emunah and mesirat nefesh in Hashem. Avraham was able to throw himself in a fiery furnace, and then was willing to sacrifice the son he loved, rather then deny or even question Hashem.

In the late 1800’s, thousands of Jews made Aliya from all over Europe and the Middle East. Where did these Jews get that courage and passionate dedication to risk many things – life, loved ones, livelihood – for Eretz Yisrael? Rav Chaim Volozhiner says they inherited this attribute from Avraham who was able to forsake everything and leave his home behind to move to Eretz Yisrael. By virtue of their direct connection to Avraham, the traits of mesirat nefesh and complete emunah were ingrained in them.

We can also learn emunat chachamim, belief in our rabbis and Torah scholars, from the story of the Akeida. The Chatam Sofer attributes this lesson to Yitzchak Avinu. Yitzchak did not hear the command to sacrifice himself straight from Hashem. All he had was his father’s word, yet he accepted the mission without question; his father was his chacham.

This aspect of emunat chachamim is a vital element that characterizes the Jewish people. We live by the oral Torah and the Mesorah passed down by our rabbis and chachamim. We have this respect and reverence for our chachamim because of the emunah Yitzchak showed for his father and rebbe, Avraham.

There is a famous story of Moreinu Harav Ya’akov Yisroel Kanievski, the Steipler Gaon, who was drafted into the Russian army when he was a teenager. One Friday night the Steipler had guard watch. Winters in Moscow were agonizing at 40 degrees below zero, and the soldiers with night guard duty were given special coats to protect them from the frigid air. When the Steipler showed up to his post, he was so engrossed in a sugya of Gemara that the soldier on duty before him left his coat on the tree for the Steipler to take. After the Steipler resolved his sugya, he realized that the cold could be life threatening, and that the coat was on the tree, where it was forbidden for him to remove on Shabbos. He reasoned that he probably would be able to take the coat because of pikuach nefesh, but instead he decided to go for five minutes without the coat. After five minutes waited another five minutes…then another five minutes and another five minutes until, after two hours of this, his relief came and he was able to do his job without being mechalel Shabbos.

The Steipler’s tremendous mesirat nefesh, evident in this story, was a trait he had because he was a descendant of Avraham Avinu. We should all be zoche to have the emunah of Avraham and Yitzchak Avinu, so clearly depicted in this week’s parsha.

Student studying in Yeshivat Lev HaTorah