One doesn’t have to be a connoisseur of European fine art in order to come across the name Rembrandt Harmenszoon Van Rijn. Although he lived in the Dutch Golden Age amongst such famous artists as Pieter Landman, Jan Steen and Paulus Potter, his rich colours, bold but intricate brush strokes and fascinating themes gave him the title as the greatest Dutch painter and etcher in European history. With 600 paintings, 400 etchings and 2000 drawings ranging from portraiture to landscape, from smooth to variegated, the variety of his works were sufficient to capture the appreciation of each and every art lover. From his extensive collection based on the Chumash, the painting of Avraham being addressed by an angel next to the bound Yitschak (1665) is probably the most masterful in interpreting and representing emotion and detail. Yet, with all his iconographical brilliance, variety of tactile paints and complex techniques, he didn’t even come close to drawing the real lessons of the Akeidah that the Torah manages to describe in a few chosen words in this week's parsha.
Becoming the founder of the Jewish religion didn’t come easy to Avraham. Challenges of famine, kidnap, childlessness, and exile were all thrown at him, and yet these usually crippling trials were used by Avraham to build his muscles of faith in Hashem. The Akeidah, though, was in a class of its own. Here, Avraham was commanded to sacrifice his long-awaited and beloved son Yitschak—the link to Jewish continuity—and he went ahead to fulfill this inexplicable will of Hashem with mind boggling enthusiasm and unflinching dedication. One can only imagine the feelings of conflict, control and allegiance Avraham must have been going through standing knife in hand, seconds away from slaughtering the neck of his adored progeny. At that very moment, with the world holding its breath, a message burst from the heavens: “Do not stretch out your hand against the lad nor do anything to him for now I know you are a G-d –fearing man, since you have not withheld your son, your only one from Me.” (Bereishis 22:12) Avraham had passed the audition, and from that earth shattering moment on, the Jewish nation's identity and character was born. With Avraham blessed again by Hashem, the single most dramatic event in the Torah ends in a puzzlingly anti- climatic way: “Avraham returned to his young men, and they stood up and went together to Beer Sheva” (Bereishis 22:19).
What possibly could the Torah wish to teach us with these seemingly irrelevant few words of conclusion? Rabbi Samson Rafael Hirsch answers that not only are these words not redundant, but they in fact teach us the most fundamental message of the entire parsha. Avraham and Yitschak’s last few hours had been pretty hectic: a close encounter with death, a message from an angel, and finally a second announcement from the heavens that announced that from then on Avraham and his offspring will be the chosen nation, unique, multiple and flourishing. This event encompassed the closest encounter with the highest levels of spirituality, yet when it was time to return home, he didn’t keep a lofty distance from his slave and his wayward son; rather, they went together. Yes, he had travelled a billion miles away from their lowly levels of spirituality, but now he was with them physically and there was no room for religious snobbery. He walked with them together! The way the Akeidah was handled teaches us how to reach the highest levels of self-sacrifice, but at the very same time, how do deal with those who don’t have this same appreciation. Certainly every word of Torah is infinite and every mitzvah an immeasurable bond with Hashem, and of course the more we perform these, the greater we become. But by no means should this create a feeling of condescension to those who haven’t been fortunate enough to reach these levels of observance. Avraham taught us that true greatness is all about reaching for the stars while remaining in heart and mind with those around us. This is the true picture of unique Jewish greatness, impossible to capture on canvas! Gut Shabbos!!
Rabbi Sipper is a close friend of ShortVort.com. Further divrei Torah from the Rov can be found on his yeshiva's website at www.ohravraham.com