Fear and Trembling, Sören Kierkegaard, Ch. 3
The ethical as such is the universal, it applies to everyone, and the same thing is expressed from another point of view by saying that it applies every instant...
Faith is precisely this paradox, that the individual as the particular is higher than the universal, is justified over against it, is not subordinate but superior...
Now the story of Abraham contains such a teleological suspension of the ethical....He acts by virtue of the absurd, for it is precisely absurd that he as the particular is higher than the universal. This paradox cannot be mediated...
The difference between the tragic hero and Abraham is clearly evident. The tragic hero still remains within the ethical. He lets one expression of the ethical find its telos in a higher expression of the ethical; the ethical relation between father and son, or daughter and father, he reduces to a sentiment which has its dialectic in the idea of morality. Here there can be no question of a teleological suspension of the ethical.
With Abraham the situation was different. By his act he overstepped the ethical entirely and possessed a higher telos outside of it, in relation to which he suspended the former.
In Abraham's life there is no higher expression for the ethical than this, that the father shall love his son. Of the ethical in the sense of morality there can be no question in this instance. In so far as the universal was present, it was indeed cryptically present in Isaac, hidden as it were in Isaac’s loins, and must therefore cry out with Isaac’s mouth, "Do it not! Thou art bringing everything to naught."
Why then did Abraham do it? For God’s sake, and (in complete identity with this) for his own sake. He did it for God’s sake because God required this proof of his faith; for his own sake he did it in order that he might furnish the proof.
Covenant and Moral Sensibility, An Interview with David Hartman, Havruta, Spring 2008
Abraham’s surrender to God in the akedah (the binding of Issac) has become the model of genuine religiosity. Abraham’s ability to violate his deepest ethical values and bring his son as a sacrifice to God exemplified for traditional Jews the need to reject their deepest moral principals when they seem to contradict the halakhah. While they may feel sympathy, for example, for an aguna, nevertheless they surrender their moral outrage to halakhic authority. Yet when halakhah violates essential principles of justice, moral outrage is a far more appropriate response than passive acceptance of the authority of tradition.
How can one act on the basis of his/her independent moral intuitions even if they seem to negate the halakhic authority and yet remain rooted in the tradition? Does the tradition demand the quelling of subjective morality in the face of the objective halakhic system? These are the questions that now occupy me.
Abraham, it seems, can be read as the archetype of the morally informed, active Jew, challenging God’s decision to destroy Sodom, and also of the submissive Jew at the akedah. Can we resolve these two seemingly opposed pictures of Abraham? Or must we be content with accepting the paradox?
The two models don’t contradict each other but give expression to two distinct moments in religious life. The Sodom model is the empowering, activist model. Here Abraham is the man who confronts God, saying, “Shall the judge of the earth not do justice?” In the akedah model, Abraham is the submissive person who is not critical of God. The akedah stands for the unintelligible, tragic moments in religious life in which one decides to maintain loyalty to the tradition despite life’s incomprehensibility. When these moments occur, the human being has to call on internal resources and declare: “Even though I don’t understand, even though history makes no sense, even though the Holocaust remains permanently a tragic, incomprehensible experience, I decide to continue to be a Jew and live my covenantal life.”