The Bound One

September 14, 2011
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Yisrael Medad

We should reimagine Avraham as a revolutionary, one who disengages himself from a great but declining civilization whereas despite Yitzhak’s two life’s poles – the Binding and his devotion to the land of Israel – essentially, he is a passive figure, not quite an actor.  Yitzhak does almost nothing on his own initiative.  Everything, it seems, is done to him.  Three examples of this are the Binding, Rivkah being brought to him and the Blessing of the Sons.  His wife is obtained by Eliezer, his father’s slave.  Avraham runs to collect and prepare food for his guests while Yitzhak sits around waiting to be served.  Avraham is a heroic character: from his leaving of Ur Casdim and Haran, his wars with the Kings and in his disputation with God.   Yitzhak is tragic and is referred to as Pachad Yitzhak, the Fear of Yitzhak.

Yitzhak is bound in his youth, married in his maturity and in old age is deceived.  Again, a tragic figure, a tragic life.  But the events in his life are those whose end results repair the beginnings: the pain of the binding, the lack of independence in the arranged marriage and the shame of the blessings.  But the the deepest event for Yitzhak is the Binding.  The fear stems from a father with a slaughterer’s knife in his hand.  And the Biblical text is riveting because we know that the father knows what the son does not know, that Yitzhak is to be bound on an altar and prepared to be a sacrifice.  he does not know just as he does not know who is his wife to be or which son he is blessing.  The conversation between is quite simple but brings tears to our eyes: “and the two go on together”.  And a second time, after a second conversation: “and the two go on together”.

And so, too, does the nation of Israel go with its God throughout its history, with its terrible occurences, in a fearful fashion.  Again and again, we ourselves are tossed on to an altar, our hands tied, as if by divine command even as, by divine intervention, we are saved, even as a remnant.  What rules our consciousness is fear but also the recognition of the eternity of Israel.  Deep within we are fearful while we nevertheless know that we can be confident.  At the times when we are “bound”, when we neither posses the revolutionary action of Avraham nor the activity of Yaakov who struggles, we always pray “remember for us the Binding of Yitzhak”.  It is through Yitzhak that we request mercy.

The tragedy of Yitzhak as, too, our tragic circumstances, is that he is caught up in events.  And he is caught up because, if we follow carefully the text, we realize that indeed, Yitzhak becomes unbound and released from his binding but his substitute is the ram.  Pay attention: it is written that “Avraham lifted up his eyes, and looked, and behold behind him a ram caught in the thicket by his horns. And Avraham went and took the ram, and offered him up for a burnt-offering in the stead of his son”.

The son is unbound, and in his stead the ram is bound.  And instead of the ram caught up in the thicket, Yitzhak, and we Jews in the generations to come, are caught up.  We continue the going together of Avraham and Yitzhak and we are a nation with confidence in our destiny.  Together, always.

(A redacted translation of a chapter from Hegyonot HaMikra, the Torah commentary of Dr. Israel Eldad, authored by Yisrael Medad).

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