Parashat Vayera: The Akedah - A Divine Command Versus Human Morality

[Tal Chermon]

The Divine command to sacrifice Yitzchak shattered the moral foundations of Avraham's life. He who had fought uncompromisingly against idolatry and human sacrifice, he who epitomized the loftiest morality and kindness was about to murder his own son! He was thus going to violate the most basic and logically obvious moral dictate that existed, "You shall not murder."
There are three crimes that are so heinous that according to the Halachah one must be willing to die rather than to transgress them. They are idolatry, immorality, and murder. Of the three idolatry and severe immorality are derived from Torah verses, while murder is derived through logic. Even when threatened that unless you murder you will be killed, murder is forbidden. Who says that your blood is redder (= more important) than his (Sanhedrin 74a)!
And yet Avraham was on his way to murder his son! Avraham's "hypocritical" betrayal of the very ideals that he had preached to the world would destroy all his educational achievements. Past, present, and future are about to be obliterated with one blow! These are the morbid thoughts that the evil inclination flashed through Avraham's mind to dissuade him from performing G-d's will (Gra in Kol Eliyahu, Parashat Vayera sect. 12).
The Akedah constitutes the dissolution of man-made morality and its replacement with a Divine command. Avraham had to forgo even his highest and loftiest ideals, thoughts and aspirations and substitute them with one single ideal, G-d's will. This is most a dramatic demonstration of the fact that we do not observe G-d's mitzvot because they are intelligible and pleasant but because they are the word of Hashem. We do not differentiate between the pleasant mitzvah of putting on Tefillin and the less enjoyable mitzvah of wiping out the memory of the Amalek. Both are equally dear to us. We refrain from eating pork not because it is loathsome to us but because thus we have been commanded by Hashem (Sifra Kedoshim 20, also brought by Rashi on Vayikra 20:26). We must obviously try to elevate ourselves to the level that we feel delight in performing the mitzvot and repugnance at the very thought of a sin. Furthermore, it is self-evident that enjoying prayer, disgust at eating pig and repugnance at the very thought of murder and similar emotions are proper and worthy feelings. Man advances and senses what is right and wrong. We must understand, however, that morality is not determined according to what man knows, feels or understands but it is based purely on the Divine word. The Akedah came to uproot an ethical system which emanated from man, and to build in its place a firmly based Divine system of morality.
Naturally, Yitzchak was not sacrificed in the end. The Akedah concludes with the verse, "Do not harm the boy. Do not do anything to him" (Bereshit 22:12). It could not finish any other way since murder is prohibited. What has been achieved is that the precept "You shall not murder" has been converted from a humanly based imperative that can vary and change according to human emotions and understanding to an eternal, immutable and Divine command. Once this understanding is firmly rooted, man is called to raise himself and to feel the pleasure and delight in performing G-d's absolute will.