Midrash Meets the Binding of Isaac

Midrash Tanchuma Vayera 19:1

“And it came to pass after these words that God did prove Abraham” (Gen. 22:1). Scripture states elsewhere in reference to this verse: “Forasmuch as the king’s word hath power; and who may say unto him: “What dost thou?” whoso keepeth the commandment shall know no evil thing” (Eccles. 8:4–5). What is meant by this verse? Whatsoever the Holy One, blessed be He, desires to do, He may do, and none may stay His hand. What then can be the meaning of “And who may say unto Him: “What doest Thou?” whoso keepeth the commandment, etc.”? These words whoso keepeth the commandment allude to the righteous men who perform the commandments of the Holy One, blessed be He. And it is their decree that He fulfills, as it is written: “Thou shalt also decree a thing and it shall be established unto thee, and the light shall shine upon thy ways” (Job 22:28). An example of this is what occurred after they made the golden calf. Though the Holy One, blessed be He, desired to destroy them, our master, Moses, restrained the Holy One, blessed be He, as though that were possible, just as a man restrains his companion. Hence the Holy One, blessed be He, said to him: “And now let Me be” (Exod. 32:10). We learn this as well from the verse: “Let Me alone that I may destroy them” (Deut. 9:14). Therefore Scripture says: “Who may say unto him: “What doest thou?” whoso keepeth the commandment.”

Bereishit Rabbah 55:7

“And He said: Take, please, your son, etc.” (22:2). Said God to him: “Take, I beg you" — please —Your son.” “Which son? I have two sons” he said. “Your only son,” replied He. “This one is the only one of his mother, and this one is the only one of his mother.” “The one you love”“Is there a limit to the affections?” Itzchak said He. And why did God not reveal it to him without delay? In order to make him (Itzchak) even more beloved in his eyes and reward him for each and every word spoken. This agrees with the opinion of Rabbi Yohanan, who said: ““Get out of your country” (Gen. 12:1) means from your province; “And from your kindred” (Gen. 12:1)—from your neighborhood; “And from your father’s house”(Gen. 12:1)—literally your father’s house.” “To the land that I will show you” (Gen. 12:1). Why did He not reveal it to him there and then? In order to make it more beloved in his eyes and to reward him for each and every word said, and for each and every step taken. Rabbi Levi b. Hayata said: “‘Get you’ is written twice, and we do not know which was more precious (in the eyes of God) the first or the second. But when it is written, “And get you to the land of Moriah” (22:2) it follows that the second occasion was more precious than the first.” “And go yourself to the land of Moriah” Rabbi Chiya Raba and Rabbi Yanai (disagree): one says “to the place from which instruction (hora’ah) goes out to the world”, and the other says “to the place from which awe (yirah) goes out to the world”. Similarly regarding the Holy of Holies (devir), Rabbi Chiya and Rabbi Yanai (disagree): one says “from the place from which the commandments (dibra’ot) go out to the world”, and one says “from the place from which speech (dibur) goes out to the world”. Similarly regarding the ark (aron), Rabbi Chiya and Rabbi Yanai (disagree): one says “to the place from which the light (ha’orah) goes out to the world”, and one says “to the place where awe (yirah) goes out to the world”. Rabbi Yehoshua ben Levi said that “from there the Holy One instructs (mor'eh) the nations of the world and brings them down (moridam) to Gehinnom.” Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai said, “to the place which is aligned (ra'ui) with the Holy Temple above. ”Rabbi Yudan said, “to the place where there will be an appearance (mar'eh) to you.” Rabbi Pinchas said, “to the place of the Master (marvatah) of the World.” The Rabbis said, “to the place where the incense is offered – this is what it says “…I will go to the mountain of myrrh and to the hill of frankincense.” (Shir HaShirim 4:6) “And offer Him there as a burnt-offering” (Gen. 22:2).” Rabbi Yudan bar Simon said: “He (Avraham) said to Him: Master of the Universe! Can there be a sacrifice without a priest?” The Holy One of Blessing replied “I have already appointed you to be a priest” as it is written, “You are a priest for ever” (Ps. 110:4). “On one of the mountains which I will tell you of” (Gen. 22:2).” Rabbi Huna said in the name of Rabbi Eliezer the son of Rabbi Yosei HaGelili: “The Holy One of Blessing first places the righteous in doubt and suspense, and then reveals to them the real meaning of the matter, as it is written “the land that I will show you” (Gen. 12:1); “On one of the mountains which I will tell you”; “And make to it the proclamation that I bid you” (Jonah 3:2); similarly, “Arise, go out into the plain and I will there speak with you” (Ezek. 3:22).”

Midrash Tanchuma Shmini, Siman 2:1

(Lev. 9:1) “And it came to pass on the eighth day….” This text is related (to Ps. 75:5), “I say to the merrymakers, ‘Do not make merry….’” What is the meaning of (the words), “I say to the merrymakers (rt.: hll), ‘do not make merry (rt.: hll)?’”4 (The verse refers) to whoever sings in a mahanaim dance (mahol),5 and so it says (in Jud. 21:21), “to dance (lehol) in the dances.” (Because no happiness endures for a mortal) (Ps. 75:5), “I say to the merrymakers, ‘Do not make merry (rt.: hll).’” Why? The one who is happy today shall not be happy tomorrow; and the one who is depressed today shall not be depressed tomorrow. And so it says (in Eccl. 2:2), “Of laughter I said, ‘It is mad (rt.: hll)….’”6 Are you willing to understand? As behold, even the happiness of the Holy One, blessed be He, did not endure. When? When the Holy One, blessed be He, created His world. He was very happy, as stated (in Ps. 104:31), “the Lord shall be happy in His works.” It also says (in Gen. 1:31), “Then God saw everything which He had made; and behold, it was very good.” (These verses are) to teach you that the Holy One, blessed be He, found pleasure in and took pride in His works. Then He gave the first Adam an easy commandment, but he did not fulfill it. Immediately He rendered him a verdict7 (of death), as stated (in Gen. 3:19), “for dust you are, and unto dust you shall return.” So He, as it were, did not remain in His happiness but said, “I created everything only for the human, and now he dies. What pleasure is there for Me?” (Now surely if the Holy One, blessed be He,) did not remain (happy), how much the less shall people (remain happy!) It is therefore stated (in Ps. 75:5), “I say to the merrymakers, ‘do not make merry.’” How happy Abraham was! He was blessed in the world, magnified, slew some kings and handed over heaven and earth to the Holy One, blessed be He. Also when the Holy One, blessed be He, gave him a son at age one hundred, he circumcised him and reared him. Then finally he was told (in Gen. 22:2), “Please take your son, your only son…, and go unto the land of Moriah, and offer him there as a burnt offering.” So he made a three-day journey, as stated (in Gen. 22:4), “On the third day….” When he returned from Mount Moriah, he buried Sarah. He did not find a place to bury her until he bought one for four hundred silver shekels. Then after that, old age came upon him. Now surely if such was the case with Abraham the righteous, how much the more is it the case with the wicked! Isaac did not remain in his happiness: He escaped from the sword and from the men of Gerar. And God informed them about who he was, so that they came to him. Thus it is stated (in ), “Then Abimelech came unto him from Gerar” and they said, “We have clearly seen that the Lord is with you. But he did not remain in his happiness. Rather (according to Gen. 27:1), “Now it came to pass, that when Isaac was old and his eyes were too weak to see.” So just as (this loss of happiness) happened in the case of Isaac the burnt offering of the Holy One, blessed be He, (according to Gen. 22:2), how much the more does it happen in the case of the wicked! Jacob was the first-born of the Holy One, blessed be He, as stated (in Exod. 4:22), “Israel is My first-born son.” How happy he was! He saw a ladder, and (according to Gen. 28:12-13) “the angels of god were ascending and descending (….) And behold, the Lord stood upon it and said, I am the Lord….” Then he went to Laban, fled from Esau, became Laban's servant for twenty years and in the end became wealthy, sired children and returned in peace. He also met Esau and was saved from him, and paid his vow. But in the end he did not remain in his happiness. Instead (according to Gen. 34:1), “Now Dinah (the daughter whom Leah had borne to Jacob) went out…,” and was raped. There also came upon him the trouble over Joseph. Now surely if Jacob the righteous – one to whom the Holy One, blessed be He, had said, “In whom I will be glorified,” as stated (in Is. 49:3), “Israel, in whom I will be glorified” – did not remain in his happiness, how much the less will the wicked (so remain! It is therefore stated (in Ps. 75:5), “I say to the merrymakers, ‘Do not make merry.’”) How happy Joshua was! He slew thirty-one kings, gave Israel the land to possess, and distributed it. In addition all Israel gave him a (helping) hand and said (in Josh. 1:18), “Anyone who disobeys your command… (shall be put to death. Such an honor was)” something of which (even) Moses our master did not merit. Still he (i.e., Joshua) did not remain in his happiness, but rather died childless. It is therefore stated (in Ps. 75:5), “I say to the merrymakers, ‘Do not make merry.’” How happy Eli was, when he was king, chief justice, and high priest! It is so stated (in I Sam. 1:9), “now Eli (the priest) was sitting on the throne by the doorpost of the Temple of the Lord.” “Now Eli the priest was sitting on the throne,” because he was king. (He was) “by the doorpost of the Temple of the Lord,” because he was chief justice. Still he did not remain in his happiness. Instead (according to I Sam. 4:18), “And it came to pass that when he (i.e., a messenger) mentioned the ark of God, he (i.e., Eli) fell backward from off the throne….” Moreover, his two sons, Hophni and Phinehas died. So just as this (shift in fortune) happened with Eli the righteous, how much the more (does it happen with) the wicked! You find neither man nor woman who saw joys like Elisheba bat Amminadab, (the wife of Aaron, as stated (in Exod. 6:23), “And Aaron took for a wife Elisheba bat Amminadab”).8 She saw her husband become high priest serving in the high priesthood and (as a) prophet. In addition, Moses, her husband's brother, was king and prophet. Moreover, her sons were deputies (to the high priest) in the priesthood, and her brother Nahshon was head of all of the princes of Israel.9 Still she did not remain in her happiness. Rather, when two of her sons went in to offer a sacrifice, (according to Lev. 10:2,) “Fire came forth from before the Lord and consumed them, so that they died before the Lord.” It is therefore stated (in Ps. 75:5), “I say to the merrymakers, ‘Do not make merry.’” And so Solomon said (in Eccl. 2:2), “Of laughter I said, ‘It is mad.’” There is a story about one of the great Babylonian (scholars), who married off his son,10 and made a great banquet for the sages. He said to his son, “Go up and bring us a jar of such and such a wine from the attic.” He went up to the attic. (There) a snake (from) among the jars bit him, and he died. His father remained with those who were reclining (at his table). So he delayed and did not come. (Finally,) his father said, “Let me go up and see what my son is doing.” His father went up (and) found him cast down dead among the jars. What did that saint do? He waited by himself until the guests had eaten and drunk sufficiently. When they had finished, he said, “You came to say a bridegrooms' blessing over my son. (But instead) say a mourners' blessing over him. You came to bring my son to the wedding canopy. (Instead) bring him to (his) grave.” They said about R. Zakkay of Kabul and they opened about him (in the words of Eccl. 2:2), “Of laughter I said, ‘It is mad; and what does joy do?’””

Midrash Tanchuma Buber Vayera 46:9

Another interpretation (of Gen. 22:6, cont.): “SO BOTH OF THEM WENT OFF TOGETHER”. R. Abbin Berabbi the Levite said: “While they were walking, Satan came to Isaac on his right hand and said: “Alas, wretched son of a wretched woman, how many fasts did your mother fast until you came? 172 Now the old man has gone mad in his old age, and here he is going to slaughter you.” Isaac turned back and said to his father: “Look at what this one is saying to me!” He said to him: “He has come to confuse you, but the Holy One shall not confuse us”, as stated (in Gen. 22:8): “GOD WILL SEE TO THE LAMB FOR A BURNT OFFERING”. So nevertheless (according to Gen. 22:6): “SO BOTH OF THEM WENT OFF TOGETHER”. How old was Isaac? He was thirty-seven years old.173”

Bereishit Rabbah 56:4

“And Itzchak spoke to Avraham his father, and said: My father” (Gen. 22:7). Samael went to the our father Avraham and said: “Old man, old man! Have you lost your mind (lit. have you lost your heart)? You are going to slay a son given to you at the age of a hundred!” “Even this I do,” replied he. (Samael said:) “And if He sets you an even greater test, can you stand it?!” (as it is written) “If a thing be put to you as a trial, will you be wearied” (Job 4:2)? “Even more than this,” he replied. (Samael said:) “Tomorrow He will say to you, “You are guilty of murder, you murdered your son!”” He replied: “Still I go”. Seeing that he could achieve nothing with him, he approached Itzchak and said: “Son of an unhappy mother! He is going to slay you!” He replied: “Still I go”. Samael said: “If so, all those fine tunics which your mother made be a legacy for Ishmael, the hated of her house, and you don't care (lit. don't let it enter your heart)?” If a word is not completely effective, it may yet be effective in part, that’s why it is written, “And Itzchak spoke to Avraham his father, and said: My father”: why (his) father, (my) father twice? So that he should be filled with compassion for him. “And he said: Behold, the fire and the wood.” Avraham said to him: “May that man who has thus seduced him be drowned! Any way, “God will provide himself the lamb, my son”; and if not you are “the lamb for the burnt-offering my son.”” So “"they went both of them together"” (Gen. 22:8) — one to slaughter and the other to be slaughtered.

Bereishit Rabbah 56:8

Another explanation: Rabbi Itzchak said, “At the time that Avraham sought to bind Itzchak, his son, (the latter) said to him, “Father, I am a young man and I am concerned lest my body shake from fear of the knife and I will trouble you, and lest the slaughtering will be invalid and it will not be considered a sacrifice for you. Rather, tie me very well.” Immediately, “and he bound Itzchak.” Could he really tie up a man of thirty-seven (a different version: of twenty six years)? Rather, it was with his agreement. Immediately. “And Avraham sent his hand.” He sends his hand to take the knife and his eyes brings down tears and the tears fall onto the eyes of Itzchak from the mercy of his father. And nonetheless, the heart was happy to do the will of his Maker. And the angels gathered in many groups above them. What did they yell out? “The ways have become desolate, the wayfarer has ceased; He has rescinded His covenant; He has become disgusted with the cities” (Isaiah 33:7) – He does not desire Jerusalem and the Temple that he had in mind to bequeath to the children of Itzchak. 'He did not consider a man' – merit did not stand Avraham well: 'No creation has importance in front of Me.'” Rabbi Acha said, “Avraham started to wonder, “These words are only words of wonder. Yesterday, you told me (Genesis 21:12), “Because in Itzchak will your seed be called.” And (then) you went back and said, “Please take your son.” And now You say to me, “Do not send your hand to the youth.” It is a wonder!” The Holy One, blessed be He, said, “'Avraham, “I will not profane My covenant and the utterances of My lips, I will not change” (Psalms 89:35) – When I said, “Please take your son,” I did not say, "slaughter him," but rather, "and bring him up." For the sake of love did I say (it) to you: I said to you, "Bring him up," and you have fulfilled My words. And now, bring him down.’” (A different version: They said a parable about a king that said to his friend, “Bring up your son to my table.” His friend brought him up and his knife was in his hand. The king said, “And did I say to you, "Bring him up to eat him?" I said to you, "Bring him up"” – (and this was) because of (the king's) love.) This is (the meaning of) what is written (Jeremiah 19:5), “it did not come up on My heart” – that is Itzchak.)”

Bereishit Rabbah 56:7

“And the angel of Ad-nai called to him out of heaven, and said: Abraham, Abraham” (Gen. 22:11). Rabbi Hiya taught: “This is an expression of love, this is an expression of urging.” Rabbi Eliezer ben Yaakov said: “He spoke to him and to future generations, there is no generation which does not contain people like Avraham, and there is no generation which does not contain people like Yaakov, Moshe, and Shmuel. “And he said: "Do not lay your hand etc."” (Gen. 22:12) Where was the knife? Three tears had fallen from the angels of service and the knife dissolved. Avraham said: “I will strangle him,” He said: “Do not lay your hand upon the lad.” (Avraham) said “I will take a drop of blood from him” - He said to him: ‘Neither do anything (me'uma) to him’ (meaning) inflict no blemish (muma) upon him. "Because now I know" (meaning) I have made it known to all that you love Me, “"and you have not withheld, etc"”. And do not say that all ills that do not affect one’s own body are not ills, rather I ascribe merit to you as though I had told to you to sacrifice yourself and you did not refuse.”

Midrash Tanchuma Vayera 23:9

The Holy One, blessed be He, answered: “You have spoken what was in you heart, now I will say what I wish to say. In the future Isaac’s descendants will sin against Me, and I will judge them on Rosh Hashanah. If they want Me to discover something to their credit, and to recall for their advantage the binding of Isaac, let them blow upon this shofar.” Abraham asked: “What shofar?” The Holy One, blessed be He, said: “Turn around.” Then it was that Abraham lifted up his eyes, and looked, and behold, behind a ram caught in the thicket by his horns (Gen. 22:13). This was one of the ten things that were created at twilight.17

Sefer HaYashar (midrash) Book of Genesis, Vayera 18

And while Abraham was pursuing his journey with his son Isaac, behold Satan came and ‎appeared to Abraham in the figure of a very old man, of a very modest and humble spirit. And ‎ approaching Abraham he said unto him: “Art thou a fool or an idiot that thou goest to do such a ‎thing this day and even to thy only son? For behold the Lord had given him unto thee in the last of thy days and in thy old age, and now wilt thou go and slaughter him without any wrong ‎action of his, and destroy the life of thy only son? Knowest thou not, and hast thou not heard ‎of it, that such a thing could never have come from the Lord, for the Lord hath never done ‎unto man a great evil like this upon the earth to say unto a man go and slay thy son?” And ‎Abraham hearing these words knew at once that it was the voice of Satan who attempted to ‎lead him astray from the way of the Lord, and Abraham refused to hearken to the voice of ‎Satan. And Abraham rebuked him severely and Satan went away from him. And Satan soon ‎returned and came to Isaac, appearing unto him in the guise of a young man of good figure ‎and pleasant looks. And he approached Isaac and said unto him: “Knowest thou or hast thou ‎heard of it, that thy old and foolish father carries thee to the slaughter to-day without any cause? And now, my boy, do not listen unto him and do not obey him, for he is old and foolish, ‎and do not suffer thy precious life and thy handsome person to perish from the earth.” And ‎when Isaac had heard these words he turned unto Abraham saying: “Hast thou heard, oh, my ‎father, the words of this man, such and such are his remarks.” And Abraham answered unto his ‎son Isaac saying: “Beware of him my son, do not listen unto his word and pay no attention unto ‎him, for that is Satan, who is resolved to turn us this day from following the commandments of ‎our Lord.” And Abraham rebuked Satan once more, and he went away from them. And when ‎Satan saw that he could not succeed in that manner, he disappeared suddenly and went on ‎before them on their road, and changed himself into a mighty river full of water on the road. ‎And when Abraham and Isaac and his two young men reached that place they saw a river, ‎large and very powerful like unto the mighty waters. And they went into the river, the waters ‎of which reached up to their legs and they passed on through it. But the waters grew always ‎deeper and reached finally to their necks, when they were all terrified on account of the ‎water. And as they passed on Abraham at once recognized the place, and Abraham knew that ‎there hath never been a river before on that place. And Abraham said unto his son Isaac: “I ‎know this place well and there hath never been before neither a river nor any water, and it is ‎only the work of Satan, who is doing these things in order to turn us this day from the ‎commandments of the Lord.” And Abraham rebuked Satan saying unto him: “May the Lord ‎rebuke thee, oh Satan, get thee behind us for we are following the order of our Lord.” And ‎Satan became terrified at Abraham's voice and he departed from them,

Sefer HaYashar (midrash) Book of Genesis, Vayera 21

And Abraham slew the ram upon the altar for a burnt offering before the Lord instead of his ‎son Isaac; and Abraham sprinkled of the blood of the ram upon the altar, and he exclaimed, ‎saying: “This is instead of my son, and may it be considered as the blood of my son before the ‎Lord, even on this day”; and whatsoever Abraham performed upon that occasion he always ‎accompanied it by these words: “This is in the place of my son, and may it be considered this ‎day before the Lord in place of my son.” And when Abraham had completed the services at the ‎altar, and the offering was accepted by the Lord, it was actually considered as if it had been ‎Isaac that was sacrificed. And the Lord blessed Abraham and his seed on that day. And Satan ‎hurried unto Sarah and appeared unto her in the guise of a very humble and lowly old man, ‎while Abraham was still performing his duties at the altar before the Lord. And Satan said unto ‎Sarah: “Knowest thou not the work that Abraham hath done with thine only son to-day? Verily, ‎he hath taken Isaac and built an altar and killed him and brought him for a burnt offering upon ‎the altar; and Isaac was weeping and praying before his father, but he never heeded his cries ‎and he had no mercy upon him.‎‏” ‏And after repeating his story, Satan departed from Sarah; and ‎Sarah having heard these words of Satan, took him for one of the sons of man who had been ‎with her son and who had come to tell her these words.‎‏ ‏And Sarah lifted up her voice and she ‎wept and cried bitterly over the loss of her son; and she lay down upon the ground and she ‎scattered dust upon her head, and she exclaimed: “Oh, my son, Isaac | oh, my son would that I ‎had died to-day in thy place |” And she continued weeping and crying: “It grieves me for thy ‎sake, oh, my son I Would that I had died to-day in thy place!” And she kept on lamenting, and ‎she said: “It grieves me for thy sake, now after I have raised thee and brought thee up, my joy ‎hath been turned into mourning for thee, I who was yearning for thee, I who have been crying ‎and praying to the Lord for thee until I bare thee at the age of ninety years, and now hast thou ‎been given up to-day to the knife and to the fire to be made a burnt offering; yet I will take ‎comfort, my son, in the thought that all hath been caused by the word of the Lord, as thou ‎hast performed the commandment of thy God, and who can rebel against the word of God in ‎whose hand is the soul of every living creature? Thou art just, O Lord our God, and all thy ‎works are justice and righteousness; and I am exceedingly glad at the words of thy command, ‎and though mine eye weepeth, my heart rejoiceth within me.”‎‏ ‏And Sarah placed her head ‎upon the bosom of one of her maid servants and she became silent like a rock. And soon after ‎she arose and went about to make inquiries until she reached Hebron. And she questioned ‎every passer-by that she met on the road, but no one could tell her anything concerning the ‎fate of her son.‎