Tuesday, December 19, 2006

The Akeida and Drasha

Krum as a bagel
There is a famous Midrash on the Akeida that takes the view that God never in fact commanded Avraham to sacrifice his son:

R. Acha said: Avraham began to question, these things are surely very perplexing. Yesterday You said to me, "For in Yitzchak shall your seed be called," then You said to me, "Take your son," and now You say to me, "Do not send your hand against the youth!"

God said to Avraham: "I shall not break my covenant, nor change that which has issued from My lips" (Ps. 89,35). When I told you to "take your son," I did not say "slaughter him," but only "raise him" ("ha'aleihu") - for cherishing, I told you to raise him up him and you did as I bid. Now take him down. This is what is written, "It never entered My mind" (Jer. 19,5). (56,8)

So was it all a silly misunderstaning? Did Avraham misinterpret God's command? I don't think so. Surely Avraham would not have obeyed such a command were there any ambiguity to it, and surely God would have cleared up any such misunderstanding at the outset. (But see R' Dessler who actually concludes that Araham was mistaken.) I think the Midrash is simply stressing the idea that God's intention was never for Arvaham to sacrifice his son, and that even the words that he used to convey the command to Avraham contained enough ambiguity that nobody should say that God condones the practice. (See here for an interesting discussion of this Midrash.)

However, I think the Midrash does shift the spotlight on to Avraham. Why didn't Avraham seek to "darshan" God's words? Contrast Avraham's conduct to how Chazal darshan pesukim. How would Avraham Avinu have interpreted a pasuk like "ayin tachas ayin"?

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