R' Rafi Ostroff - Shabbat Bi-habbato
The event of the sacrifice in this week’s Torah portion is commonly known as the Binding of Yitzchak. However, Midrash Tanchuma has another expression to describe this event: “Avraham sacrificed himself.” This description of a sacrifice could be applied to two different actions that Avraham performed, either the fact that he circumcised himself at an advanced age or the Binding.
The Rebbe of Husiatyn followed the lead of the book “Pri Ha’aretz” by Rebbe Menachem Mendel of Vitebsk in order to explain just how Avraham “sacrificed himself.” If the Master of the World would come to each and every one of us and give us a direct command to perform a specific mitzva, we would not hesitate – we would run to obey the command. However, if the command would have been to sacrifice our own son, perhaps we might not have passed the test. On the other hand, at the spiritual level of the Patriarchs perhaps this was not such a difficult test.
Sacrificing the Evil Inclination
What then was Avraham’s sacrifice? He sacrificed “himself,” because his very essence consists of the thoughts questioning the actions of the Holy One, Blessed be He. Not only was Avraham ready to sacrifice his own son, he sacrificed his own ideas and logic before the Holy One, Blessed be He. Here is a conversation that appears in the Talmud Yerushalmi (Taanit):
Rabbi Bibi Abba said in the name of Rabbi Yochanan: Avraham said to the Holy One, Blessed be He: “Master of the World, it is clear to you that at the moment You told me to bring my son Yitzchak as a sacrifice I could have argued with you. I could have said: Yesterday You said, ‘Yitzchak will be the one called your seed’ [Bereishit 21:12], and now you say to me, ‘Bring him up there as an Olah Sacrifice’ [22:2]. But, heaven forbid, I did not do this, rather I conquered my inclination and did Your will. Let it be your will, my G-d, that when the children of my son Yitzchak are in trouble and do not have anybody to defend them You will act in their defense.”
Avraham’s sacrifice was to slaughter his evil inclination which wanted him to doubt the actions of the Holy One, Blessed be He. As the Rebbe of Husiatyn said:
When Avraham “sacrificed” himself before G-d he sacrificed the inclination which a man thinks represents his own self. That is, he sacrificed the evil spirit within him that created doubts and questions, and he performed the command of G-d with simple faith. This was his great trial.
The Inclination and Self-Identity
In the Talmud (Tamid), we are told that Alexander the Great asked the elders of the Negev, “What should a man do in order to live?” And they replied, “He should kill himself.” What does this mean? One explanation is that the person should kill off his evil inclination, because otherwise he might suppose that the evil inclination is in reality his own identity. Only after a long and truthful analysis are we able to come to the conclusion that the “inclination” and our identity are two different things.
And this gives us a hint of the power of the evil inclination’s intrigue, and how wary we must be to avoid it. When it incites a person to transgress a sin it becomes so strong that the person has a feeling that he is acting on his own. When a person is drawn to do a sin, heaven forbid, his eyes are blind to the source of the advice he receives, he feels that he is always acting according to his own desires.
A person must continuously carry out a sharp self-reckoning. Do the things to which he is drawn stem from his own identity, or are they the advice of the evil inclination?
This is what the Rebbe from Husiatyn said about the era in which he lived (the final years of the Holocaust):
And this will explain the words of the mother who watched her children die for the sanctity of G-d’s name: “My sons, go and tell your father Avraham: You sacrificed one son on an altar, and I brought seven sacrifices.” She didn’t sacrifice her own sons, but this is a hint of the sacrifice of the inclination which weakens the faith with its doubts and thoughts. Millions of sacrifices took place in recent years during the evil rule of the Nazis. The trial was not the way our brethren fell as victims of the guns and the gas chambers, since they had no way to escape. Rather, the great trial and the sacrifice can be found in the melody “Ani Ma’amin – I believe” and in their dancing in the dark moments.
The victims in the Holocaust did not have any choice, since they had no way to escape to freedom. But the way they went to their deaths, singing Ani Ma’amin and accepting death in order to sanctify the holy name, was their own expression of the Binding of Yitzchak.