by Rabbi Chanan Morrison
“On the third day Abraham lifted his eyes, and saw the place from afar.” (Gen. 22:4)
For three days Abraham traveled, following God’s command, towards Mount Moriah. What happened during this long journey, the prelude to the Akeidah? What was Abraham — a loving father, soon to offer up his only son to God — thinking about? What were his feelings and emotions?
In general, the Torah’s style is terse. The text focuses on actions, rarely describing inner thoughts and emotions. Still, a careful reading reveals much about how Abraham undertook this trial.
The Greatest Challenge of the Akeidah
God did not initially tell Abraham where the Akeidah would take place. The Divine command was deliberately vague. “Bring him there for an offering, on one of the mountains that I will tell you” (Gen. 22:2). According to Rav Kook, hidden in this small detail is the most challenging and most remarkable aspect of the test.
It would not be sufficient for Abraham merely to carry out the technical aspects of the Akeidah. If Abraham had gone through the outward motions of preparing the wood and the knife, bringing the fire and his son, and yet was troubled by inner fears and doubts — he would have failed the test.
Abraham needed to be prepared to receive an additional prophecy. Only after three days would the exact location of the Akeidah be revealed to him. And that was the catch. Only one who is at peace with himself, filled with joy and happiness, is a fitting vessel for prophecy. In order to complete the test, Abraham would require incredible reserves of courage and spiritual fortitude so that he would be receptive to that future prophecy. If Abraham was disturbed by misgivings and doubts, if his faith and equilibrium were shaken, he would not merit receiving God’s instructions as to where to offer up Isaac. Without rock-solid faith and sublime joy in his mission, Abraham would never make it to Mount Moriah.
Energetic Yet Serene
In fact, the text hints at Abraham’s remarkable strength and calm determination as he readied himself to fulfill God’s command.
“Abraham woke up early in the morning.” Abraham had been called to sacrifice his beloved son — how could he sleep? A man of lesser faith would doubtlessly have been unable to sleep, disturbed and troubled over what was expected of him. But no feelings of depression or anxiety disturbed the sleep of this amazing tzaddik. He awoke at his usual hour, eager to perform God’s will with the swiftness of a deer and the strength of a lion.
“He saddled his donkey.” Abraham’s every move was deliberate and precise. His first priority was to arrange the fastest and most assured transportation to fulfill his mission. Only afterwards did he attend to other, less essential preparations for the journey.
“He split wood for the offering.” Abraham could have waited until later to find wood. Or he could have brought the wood, and only later split it into smaller pieces. But a profound love of God, beyond ordinary human measure, burned so fiercely in his heart that he made sure to prepare every detail.
“And he rose” — not bowed and beaten, but proud and tall, full of strength and energy — “and went to the place that God had told him.” All of Abraham’s actions were focused on reaching the desired destination and fulfilling God’s word. Everything else, whether of a personal or societal nature, became inconsequential compared to his soul’s intense yearning to carry out the Divine command.
“On the third day….” What happened during those three days? The Torah does not tell us. The experiences of that spiritual journey cannot be expressed in words. They transcend the limits of human language.
“Abraham lifted his eyes and saw the place from afar.” What was to be an oral prophecy — “on one of the mountains that I will tell you” — was in fact a prophetic vision. Abraham’s soul experienced a spiritual elevation so great that his senses became united. Speech and sight, together with his faculties of prophetic insight, were combined as one. “Abraham lifted his eyes.” His physical eyes became receptors for prophetic vision.
Abraham had passed the most extraordinary aspect of the trial. He had reached Mount Moriah, where the Akeidah would take place.
(Adapted from Olat Re’iyah vol. I, pp. 86-87)
Copyright © 2006 by Chanan Morrison