Rav Yeivi’s Allegorical Akeidah

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August 31, 2011
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Yisrael Medad

The following adapted translation drasha on the Akedah, greatly shortened, is authored by R. Yaakov-Yosef ben Yehuda, known as Rav Yaybi, the acronym for his initialed name and the name of his major work. He was a pupil of the Great Maggid Dov-Ber of Mezherich and a leading representative of the first generation of Hassidism. He lived in Ostrog, a town in Volhynia, on the northern bank of the Viliia River. He was born in 1738, his grandfather coming from Brody. In his youth, he was in the presence of the Besht. He refused to establish a court but became a Darshan. He died during Succot in 1790. Rav Yaybi takes great license with the Torah text, seeking an interpretation characterized by extreme allegory in that the axct of binding is part of the procedure of the soul controlling the body it inhabits.

The soul is called Avraham and as we know, it is shown while still in the Heavens the best of the World-to-Come and the worse of Gehenom before being sent to This World. This mission, being sent to This World, is known as a test, as it says in Genesis 22:1, “God tested Avraham”. In This World, the soul’s task is to serve God with the body it inhabits, to make corporeality the best it can be. As the Zohar indicates (I, 140A), test in Hebrew is “nisayon” and a similar term is “nes”, in the sense of a banner, (see Isaiah 62:10), to be held high despite the pain it suffers having been removed from the Heavens and lowered to This World. God is talking to Avraham (the soul) and sending it to be tested. It takes a body, the ‘son’, for in Hebrew, “ben” is the same root for “to build” and the task for the soul is to build itself spiritually so it can return in perfectness to the Heavens and also save the body. Yitzhak is a term for the body because it will be happy, in the future tense, if the soul accomplishes its task. The Land of Moriah is a term for This World, based on the Hebrew root for learning, for that is what is done here, on this level. “Raising him on to the altar” indicates that the soul must engage in many deeds successfully so that it can lift up the body, from spiritual level to a higher level. The two servants that accompany Avraham and Yityzhak are the Evil and the Positive Inclinations. If the soul does well, it builds an altar of good deeds and good thoughts and these are represented by the wood that needs to be arranged properly. Yitzhak is bound which indicates that the soul controls the body even against its will. Yitzhak being placed upon the wood, above them, symbolizes the victory of the soul in doing good in line with the Good Inclination. The almost-sacrifice which is symbolized by the taking of the slaughter’s knife is actually the souls method of forcing the body to accept the proper path. Indeed, the Tzadik tortures himself for the benefit of the people of Israel.

And when the voice instructs Avraham not to send his hand to the youth, we know that the Hebrew term, “na’ar”, is similar to ‘na’arut’ which is an undignified act. Thus, the soul is being told not to cause the body too much discomfort and that the test is enough. Indeed, the body has been so weakened that it requires assistance and even a substitute to carry on the task that the soul demands of it. And what is present is the Evil One himself, caught up in the thicket. The new strength is taken from him who has failed for the Hebrew for ram is “eyal” and that is the same root as strength as employed in “ayalei eretz” (see II Kings, 24:15). And Avraham is blessed for the soul has successfully accomplished its task.

This redacted version was composed by Yisrael Medad.

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