Isaac's Death and Resurrection

Read Genesis 22: 1-19

ולמה נותנין אפר בראש כל אחד ואחד פליגי בה ר' לוי בר חמא ור' חנינא חד אמר הרי אנו חשובין לפניך כאפר וחד אמר כדי שיזכור לנו אפרו של יצחק

And why do they place ashes upon the head of each and every individual? Rabbi Levi bar Ḥama and Rabbi Ḥanina disagree with regard to this matter. One said that this is as though to say: We are considered like ashes before You. And one said that these ashes are placed in order to remind God of the ashes of our forefather Isaac, on our behalf.

(א) ר' יהודה אומ' כיון שהגיע החרב על צוארו פרחה ויצאה נפשו של יצחק וכיון שהשמיע קולו מבין הכרובים ואמ' לו אל תשלח ידך נפשו חזרה לגופו וקם ועמד יצחק על רגליו וידע יצחק שכך המתים עתידים להחיות ופתח ואמ' ברוך אתה ה' מחיה המתים.

R. Yehuda says: Since the knife came upon [Isaac's] neck, Isaac's soul burst out and departed. And since God projected His voice from between the Cherubs and said to [Abraham], "Do not raise your hand" (12), [Isaac's] soul returned to his body. Isaac rose up and stood on his feet, and Isaac knew thus that in the future the dead will be revived. He opened his mouth and said, "Praised are You, Adonai, who revives the dead."

From Shalom Spiegel, The Last Trial, p. 64 (iBooks edition): MhG on 22:19. And so, too, the poet Benjamin bar Samuel of Coutances speaks of Isaac spending three years in Paradise, in a Kerobah for the Feast of Shabuot, “Longer than the earth, wider than the sea.” Sec L. Zunz, Literaturgeschichte der synagogalen Poesie (Berlin, 1865), p. 291 [hereafter abbr. Literaturgeschichte], The Kerobah has disappeared and was not copied from the Turin Mahzor. cf. I. Davidson, Seder Hibbur Berakot, JQR. XXI (1931), 252.

Now when Isaac, lying on tops of the altar, heard the angel say, “Put not forth thy hand,” he exclaimed: “Blessed is He who quickens the dead.”

Sefer ha-Eshkol, by R. Abraham of Narbonne, ed. S. and H. Albeck, I, p. 27.

From: Shalom Spiegel. “The Last Trial.” iBooks.

The story of the near-sacrifice of Isaac is traced to E. It refers to the deity as Elohim in vv. 1,3,8, and 9. But, just as Abraham’s hand is raised with the knife to sacrifice Isaac, the text says that the angel of Yahweh stops him (v. 11). The verses in which Isaac is spared refer to the deity as Yahweh (vv. 11–14). These verses are followed by a report that the angel speaks a second time and says, “… because you did not withhold your son from me….” Thus the four verses which report that Isaac was not sacrificed involve both a contradiction and a change of the name of the deity. As extraordinary as it may seem, it has been suggested that in the original version of this story Isaac was actually sacrificed, and that the intervening four verses were added subsequently, when the notion of human sacrifice was rejected (perhaps by the person who combined J and E). Of course, the words “you did not withhold your son” might mean only that Abraham had been willing to sacrifice his son. But still it must be noted that the text concludes (v. 19), “And Abraham returned to his servants.” Isaac is not mentioned. Moreover, Isaac never again appears as a character in E. Interestingly, a later midrashic tradition developed this notion, that Isaac actually had been sacrificed. This tradition is discussed in S. Spiegel’s The Last Trial (New York: Schocken, 1969; Hebrew edition 1950).

Richard Elliott Friedman, Who Wrote the Bible? (Kindle Locations 4122-4132). Kindle Edition.

From "The Slaughter of Isaac and his Revival" by R. Ephraim of Bonn (1132–1200), chronicler of the massacres of Jews during the Crusades (From S. Spiegel, The Last Trial)

He made haste, he pinned him down with his knees,
He made his two arms strong.
With steady hands he slaughtered him according to the rite,
Full right was the slaughter.

Down upon him fell the resurrecting dew, and he revived.
(The father) seized him (then) to slaughter him once more.
Scripture, bear witness! Well-grounded is the fact:
And the Lord called Abraham, even a second time from heaven.

The ministering angels cried out, terrified:
Even animal victims, were they ever slaughtered twice?
Instantly they made their outcry heard on high,
Lo, Ariels cried out above the earth.

We beg of Thee, have pity upon him!
In his father’s house, we were given hospitality.
He was swept by the flood of celestial tears
Into Eden, the garden of God.

The pure one thought: The child is free of guilt,
Now I, whither shall I go?
Then he heard: your son was found an acceptable sacrifice,

By Myself have I sworn it, saith the Lord.

In a nearby thicket did the Lord prepare
A ram, meant for this mitsvah even from Creation.
The proxy caught its leg in the skirts of his coat,
And behold, he stood by his burnt offering.

So he offered the ram, as he desired to do,
Rather than his son, as a burnt offering.
Rejoicing, he beheld the ransom of his only one
Which God delivered into his hand.

This place he called Adonai-yireh,
The place where light and the law are manifest.
He swore to bless it as the Temple site,
For there the Lord commanded the blessing.

Thus prayed the binder and the bound,
That when their descendants commit a wrong

“This act be recalled to save them from disaster,
From all their transgressions and sins.

O Righteous One, do us this grace!
you promised our fathers mercy to Abraham.
Let then their merit stand as our witness,
And pardon our iniquity and our sin, and take us for Thine inheritance.

Recall to our credit the many Akedahs,
The saints, men and women, slain for Thy sake.
Remember the righteous martyrs of Judah,
Those that were bound of Jacob.

Be Thou the shepherd of the surviving flock
Scattered and dispersed among the nations.
Break the yoke and snap the hands
Of the bound flock that yearns toward Thee


מדרש הגדול בר׳ כב: יט

וישב אברהם אל נעריו. ויצחק היכן הוא? אלא אמר ר׳ אלעזר בן פדת אע״פ שלא מת יצחק מעלה עליו הכתוב כאלו מת ואפרו מוטל על גבי המזבח. לכך נאמר ״וישב אברהם אל נעריו.״

ד״א וישב אברהם. ויצחק היכן הוא? אלא שהכניסו הקב״ה לגן עדן וישב שם בה שלוש שנים.

Midrash HaGadol Gen. 22:19

And Abraham returned to the youths. And where was Isaac? R. Eleazar ben Pedat said even though Isaac did not die, the text regards it as if he died and his ashes were sprinkled over the altar.

Another interpretation: And Abraham returned... And where was Isaac? The Holy One brought him into the Garden of Eden and he dwelt there three years.

(כז) וַיִּגַּשׁ֙ וַיִּשַּׁק־ל֔וֹ וַיָּ֛רַח אֶת־רֵ֥יחַ בְּגָדָ֖יו וַֽיְבָרֲכֵ֑הוּ וַיֹּ֗אמֶר רְאֵה֙ רֵ֣יחַ בְּנִ֔י כְּרֵ֣יחַ שָׂדֶ֔ה אֲשֶׁ֥ר בֵּרֲכ֖וֹ ה'׃

(27) and he went up and kissed him. And he smelled his clothes and he blessed him, saying, “Ah, the smell of my son is like the smell of the fields that the LORD has blessed.

(ד) שְׁלָשְׁתָּן לְשׁוֹן בַּקָּשָׁה, לְשׁוֹן שִׁפְלוּת וְעַנְוְתָנוּת. וְאוֹתוֹ רָשָׁע אָמַר, יָקֻם אָבִי וְיֹאכַל. אָמַר לוֹ הַקָּדוֹשׁ בָּרוּךְ הוּא לְיַעֲקֹב, אַתָּה אָמַרְתָּ קוּם נָא, הֲרֵי בֶּן בִּנְךָ מֹשֶׁה יֹאמַר לִי קוּמָה ה' וְיָפוּצוּ (במדבר י, לה). אַתָּה אָמַרְתָּ שְׁבָה בֶּן בִּנְךָ יֹאמַר: שׁוּבָה ה' רִבֲבוֹת וְגוֹ' (במדבר י, לו). אֲבָל עֵשָׂו שֶׁאָמַר יָקֻם אָבִי, בּוֹ בַּלָּשׁוֹן אֲנִי מְעוֹרֵר עָלָיו מִדַּת הַדִּין, שֶׁנֶּאֱמַר: יָקוּם אֱלֹקִים יָפוּצוּ אוֹיְבָיו (תהלים סח, ב). יָקֻם אָבִי, בְּאוֹתָהּ שָׁעָה הִכִּיר אֶת קוֹלוֹ וְהִתְחִיל חָרֵד. אָמַר לוֹ: מִי אַתָּה. לְפִי שֶׁבְּשָׁעָה שֶׁנִּכְנַס יַעֲקֹב נִכְנְסָה עִמּוֹ רֵיחַ גַּן עֵדֶן רֵיחַ נִיחוֹחַ, וְנִתְיַשְּׁבָה דַעְתּוֹ שֶׁל אוֹתוֹ צַדִּיק, שֶׁנֶּאֱמַר: רְאֵה רֵיחַ בְּנִי כְּרֵיחַ שָׂדֶה אֲשֶׁר בֵּרֲכוֹ ה'. הִתְחִיל לְבָרְכוֹ. אֲבָל כְּשֶׁנִּכְנַס עֵשָׂו נִפְתַּח לוֹ גֵּיהִנָּם, לְפִיכָךְ וַיֶּחֱרַד יִצְחָק חֲרָדָה גְדֹלָה. וְהָיָה תָמֵהַּ יִצְחָק בְּלִבּוֹ וְאוֹמֵר: אֲנִי רוֹאֶה גֵיהִנָּם וְעֵשָׂו מַסִּיק אוֹתוֹ.

(ה) הוּא הַצָּד צַיִד. לָמָּה שְׁתֵּי פְעָמִים? אֶלָּא אָמַר יִצְחָק לְעֵשָׂו: אַתָּה הָלַכְתָּ לָצוּד וְאַתָּה נוֹצַדְתָּ. אָמַר לוֹ עֵשָׂו: מַה לְּךָ אַתָּה תָמֵהַּ. אָמַר לוֹ: וָאֹכַל מִכֹּל, מִכָּל מַה שֶּׁבָּרָא הַקָּדוֹשׁ בָּרוּךְ הוּא מִשֵּׁשֶׁת יְמֵי בְרֵאשִׁית הָיָה בְאוֹתָן תַּבְשִׁילִין. בְּטֶרֶם תָּבֹא וָאֲבָרֲכֵהוּ, בִּקֵּשׁ לִטּוֹל אֶת הַבְּרָכוֹת וְלוֹמַר גַּם אָרוּר יִהְיֶה. אָמַר לוֹ הַקָּדוֹשׁ בָּרוּךְ הוּא: מָה אַתָּה עוֹשֶׂה? לְעַצְמְךָ אַתָּה מְקַלֵּל? שֶׁאַתָּה אָמַרְתָּ לוֹ: אֹרְרֶיךָ אָרוּר וּמְבָרֲכֶיךָ בָּרוּךְ. חָזַר וְקִיֵּם אֶת הַבְּרָכוֹת וְאָמַר גַּם בָּרוּךְ יִהְיֶה.

(1) And Isaac trembled very exceedingly (Gen. 27:33).

(4) Three words in this one verse are expressions of pleading, humility, and meekness. The wicked one, however, said merely: Let my father arise, and eat. The Holy One, blessed be He, said to Jacob: Inasmuch as you said Arise, I pray thee, your descendant Moses will say to Me: Rise up, O Lord, and let thine enemies be scattered (Num. 10:35). Inasmuch as you said sit (shevah), your descendants will say: Return (shuvah), O Lord, unto the tens of thousands (ibid., v. 36). However, because Esau said Let my father arise, I will exact retribution from him through that very expression, as it is said: Let God arise, let His enemies be scattered (Ps. 68:2). Let my father arise. At that moment Isaac recognized his voice and began to tremble. Who art thou? (Gen. 27:32), he asked. When Jacob entered the room, a fragrance from the Garden of Eden accompanied him; a fragrance so pleasant that the righteous one’s mind was set at ease, as is said: See, the smell of my son is as the smell of a field which the Lord hath blessed (ibid., v. 27). However, when Esau entered, Gehenna was revealed to him. Hence, it says: Isaac trembled very exceedingly (ibid., v. 33). Isaac was astonished and cried out: I see Gehenna and Esau is causing the flames to rise.

(5) Who, then, is he that hath trapped venison? (ibid.). Why is the word trapped repeated in the text?11The Hebrew for “hath trapped venison” reads: hatzad tzayid. The words for “trapped” and “venison” have the same root and are so similar as to warrant the question. Isaac said to Esau: “You went out to trap, and you were trapped.” “Why are you upset?” Esau asked. He replied: I have eaten of all (ibid.); that is, everything that the Holy One, blessed be He, created during the six days of creation was contained in the food I ate before you entered, and I blessed him. Isaac desired to withdraw the blessing he had conferred upon Jacob and to declare instead: “Cursed shall ye be,” but the Holy One, blessed be He, rebuked him, saying: What are you doing? You are, in fact, cursing yourself, for you said to him: Cursed be everyone that curseth thee, and blessed be everyone that blesseth thee (ibid., v. 29). He changed his mind and confirmed the blessings, saying: Yea, and he shall be blessed (ibid., v. 33).