What a parsha! This parsha contains two of the most dramatic stories in the Torah: Hagar’s banishment into the wilderness and Abraham’s near sacrifice of Isaac. These are such powerful stories that they are read on Rosh Hashanah.
The first thing that happens in the parsha is that Sarah has a baby. This is a pretty good trick, since she’s in her eighties or older! No wonder she laughs! “Who would have said to Abraham that Sarah would nurse children,” she says. She and Abraham are so thrilled to have Isaac that Abraham holds a big feast when Isaac is weaned.
But Sarah looks at Ishmael and she is not happy. “Cast out that slave woman and her son,” she says. She doesn’t want Isaac to have to share his inheritance with Ishmael.
So Abraham sends Hagar, with Ishmael, out into the wilderness. Hagar wanders around, uses up all her water, and starts crying. An angel calls down to her from Heaven: “What troubles you, Hagar? Fear not. I will make a great nation of Hagar.” And God does.
Now we come to the story of the Binding of Isaac.
God tells Abraham “Take your son, your favored son, Isaac and offer him as a burnt offering.” Now God knows (and therefore so do we) that this is a test. We know because it says at the very beginning of the story that “God put Abraham to the test.”
But Abraham doesn’t know that.
He sets off on a three-day journey to the place God tells him. Imagine what his thoughts must have been during that journey!
When they get to where they’re going, Abraham leaves behind his servants and gives the firewood for the offering to Isaac.
Now Isaac is no dummy. “Where is the sheep for the burnt offering?” he asks. “God will see to the sheep,” answers Abraham.
When they get to the place for the sacrifice, Abraham ties Isaac up and puts him on top of the wood. He’s just about to stab Isaac with his knife when an angel calls from heaven “Abraham! Abraham!” Do not raise your hand against the boy. For now I know that you fear God.”
Abraham looks up, sees a ram caught in some bushes, and sacrifices the ram instead of Isaac.
Food for Thought
Does Abraham say “God will see to the sheep” because he’s just trying to quiet Isaac, or does he have an inkling that this is only a test and God would not let Isaac die?
Does Isaac know what’s going on? Does he allow himself to be tied up and put on the altar or does Abraham have to struggle with him?
What is the continuing effect of these stories? Do people think God is testing us today?