Monday, September 21, 2009

the psychological challenge of the akeidah

When Avraham approached the mountain upon which he would perform the akeidah, he told Yishmael and Eliezer “Shvu im ha’chamor”, wait with the donkey. Implicit in Avraham’s words was the message that Yishmael and Eliezer were no more important than the donkey -- they were excluded from this important moment in his life and he made no effort to even put on a pretense of respect for their companionship. This behavior seems inconsistent with the Avraham we imagine as a role model of chessed, the man who went out of his way while in pain to welcome even those who he thought were idol-worshipping wanderers into his tent. How do we reconcile the Avraham who loved all people with this Avraham who is so dismissive of Yishmael and Eliezer?

After the akeidah the Torah tells us "Vayashav Avraham el ne'arav vayakumu va'yeilchu yachdav el Be'er Sheva," that Avraham returned to his two lads, Yismael and Eliezer, who were left at the foot of the mountain, and together they journeyed to Be'er Sheva. What significance is there in the reunion of Avraham with his traveling companions that warranted it being mentioned?

The Tiferes Shlomo explains that these two questions answer each other. Avraham showed love and respect for all people and would certainly not in other circumstances marginalize Yishmael and Eliezer. However, Avraham was commanded to sacrifice “Your son, your singular one, the one you love, Yitzchak;” he was commanded to allow his love for Yitzchak to dominate his emotions. Avraham was denied recourse to the natural psychological defense mechanisms that would mentally and emotionally distance him from Yitzchak in preparation for his sacrifice; to the contrary, Avraham was commanded to deepen his emotional attachment to Yitzchak and express it as he never before done so as to heighten the test which he faced. In response to this command alone, not for any inherent lack of love for them, Eliezer and Yishmael were pushed to the periphery.

Upon the conclusion of the akeidah Avraham returned to Yishmael and Eliezer, meaning his emotional equilibrium was restored and he no longer displayed any favoritism toward Yitzchak. Together, equally, they all continued their journey.

1 comment: