Life is a series of choices. Most of the time when we are presented with choices, we are only allowed one option. We weigh the benefits of the potential decisions. How will what I do today affect me now and further down the road? Robert Frost opened in his famous poem “The Road Not Taken” like this. Two roads diverged in a yellow wood, and sorry I could not travel both. Frost uses the next three paragraphs to deliberate and in the end takes the one less traveled by. His final line resonates his decision making, for good or for worse. I took the one less traveled by, and that has made all the difference.
I bring up choices, Frost and “The Road Not Taken” because this week we read parsha Vayeira which contains the Akedah (the binding of Isaac). God has instructed Abraham to sacrifice Isaac on Mount Moriah. To this point Abraham has had an interesting relationship with God. Abraham has been told to leave his home for a land he is not familiar with, he creates a covenant with God which calls for circumcision and argued with God to save Sodom and Gomorrah. God has looked out for him thus far but is now asking for him to slay his “only” son. Why did God need to test Abraham’s faith in such a dramatic fashion? Why did Abraham heed God’s instruction to sacrifice Isaac without offering any resistance? Our Torah Commentary does not even reference a single emotion from Abraham as he is leading his son to death by his hands. Danish philosopher Soren Kierkegaard referred to the Akedah with the emotions of “fear and trembling”. God commands Abraham to slay his son and true to order his command is revoked at the last possible second. The point has been made, none the less, that, in Kierkegaard’s terminology, there can be, so far as ‘the knight of faith’ is concerned, a ‘teleological suspension of the ethical’. As ‘ethical man’ as well as ‘knight of faith’, Abraham goes in ‘fear and trembling’ but the ultimate for him is not the ethical norm but his individual relationship to his God. According to biblical scholar Phyllis Trible, the Akedah, first and foremost, tests Abraham’s willingness to detach from his son so as to be able to turn to God: To attach is to practice idolatry. In adoring Isaac, Abraham turns from God. The test, then, is an opportunity for understanding and healing. To relinquish attachment is to discover freedom. To give up human anxiety is to receive divine assurance. To disavow idolatry is to find God.
We are left to think what would our story be if Abraham decided that God was asking too much of him? Would Abraham’s love for his son be enough of a message to God to still receive the blessing on his decedents? Or to turn the tables completely, was Abraham testing God? Did he believe that God would allow him to go through with this horrific act and was playing a biblical game of chicken? When asking these questions one of our sages referred to the angel that stops Abraham from committing the act of murder a representation of God’s failure. It is an interesting take that even God is fallible. We strive to make the wisest decisions in our lives and hope that a higher being would be able to provide guidance without flaw however under this presumption it is very possible that nothing is perfect. It is my hope considering the state of things around us that we can make decisions that will allow us to lead the most fulfilled lives. I hope that the road you choose “will make all the difference”.