Lesson 5 – Akedat Yitzhak (The Binding of Isaac)

This most significant of religious stories is at the center of Jewish religious life, yet in terms of length and detail it is miniscule – a mere 19 sentences. The very fact that the story is laconic lends itself to the process of midrash. In addition, since this story is described at its beginning as a test for Abraham. it raises a flag (pun intended, as you will see) for us as readers. How are we to understand this test? What is its purpose? What does God intend to gain from such a test? One can ask a plethora of questions. Also, somehow always lurking in the background, we continue to be concerned with the ever present question concerning Abraham’s worthiness for the job that God has assigned him.

Alas, the task is large and the time is short. We will study together only one or two midrashim. Even the greatest hits of the midrashic tradition on this story would take up more than a course. What I propose to do with you is to examine the evolution of the opening midrash on the Akedah as it is found in Bereishit Rabbah and then to see how the same midrash is treated three centuries later in a midrashic collection known as Tanhuma, but first the story as it is found in the Torah.

Read through the entire story (It is short!), even though we will only be concerned for our purposes with the first sentence and in the first sentence we will only be concerned with a single word.

(א) וַיְהִ֗י אַחַר֙ הַדְּבָרִ֣ים הָאֵ֔לֶּה וְהָ֣אֱלֹהִ֔ים נִסָּ֖ה אֶת־אַבְרָהָ֑ם וַיֹּ֣אמֶר אֵלָ֔יו אַבְרָהָ֖ם וַיֹּ֥אמֶר הִנֵּֽנִי׃ (ב) וַיֹּ֡אמֶר קַח־נָ֠א אֶת־בִּנְךָ֨ אֶת־יְחִֽידְךָ֤ אֲשֶׁר־אָהַ֙בְתָּ֙ אֶת־יִצְחָ֔ק וְלֶךְ־לְךָ֔ אֶל־אֶ֖רֶץ הַמֹּרִיָּ֑ה וְהַעֲלֵ֤הוּ שָׁם֙ לְעֹלָ֔ה עַ֚ל אַחַ֣ד הֶֽהָרִ֔ים אֲשֶׁ֖ר אֹמַ֥ר אֵלֶֽיךָ׃ (ג) וַיַּשְׁכֵּ֨ם אַבְרָהָ֜ם בַּבֹּ֗קֶר וַֽיַּחֲבֹשׁ֙ אֶת־חֲמֹר֔וֹ וַיִּקַּ֞ח אֶת־שְׁנֵ֤י נְעָרָיו֙ אִתּ֔וֹ וְאֵ֖ת יִצְחָ֣ק בְּנ֑וֹ וַיְבַקַּע֙ עֲצֵ֣י עֹלָ֔ה וַיָּ֣קָם וַיֵּ֔לֶךְ אֶל־הַמָּק֖וֹם אֲשֶׁר־אָֽמַר־ל֥וֹ הָאֱלֹהִֽים׃ (ד) בַּיּ֣וֹם הַשְּׁלִישִׁ֗י וַיִּשָּׂ֨א אַבְרָהָ֧ם אֶת־עֵינָ֛יו וַיַּ֥רְא אֶת־הַמָּק֖וֹם מֵרָחֹֽק׃ (ה) וַיֹּ֨אמֶר אַבְרָהָ֜ם אֶל־נְעָרָ֗יו שְׁבוּ־לָכֶ֥ם פֹּה֙ עִֽם־הַחֲמ֔וֹר וַאֲנִ֣י וְהַנַּ֔עַר נֵלְכָ֖ה עַד־כֹּ֑ה וְנִֽשְׁתַּחֲוֶ֖ה וְנָשׁ֥וּבָה אֲלֵיכֶֽם׃ (ו) וַיִּקַּ֨ח אַבְרָהָ֜ם אֶת־עֲצֵ֣י הָעֹלָ֗ה וַיָּ֙שֶׂם֙ עַל־יִצְחָ֣ק בְּנ֔וֹ וַיִּקַּ֣ח בְּיָד֔וֹ אֶת־הָאֵ֖שׁ וְאֶת־הַֽמַּאֲכֶ֑לֶת וַיֵּלְכ֥וּ שְׁנֵיהֶ֖ם יַחְדָּֽו׃ (ז) וַיֹּ֨אמֶר יִצְחָ֜ק אֶל־אַבְרָהָ֤ם אָבִיו֙ וַיֹּ֣אמֶר אָבִ֔י וַיֹּ֖אמֶר הִנֶּ֣נִּֽי בְנִ֑י וַיֹּ֗אמֶר הִנֵּ֤ה הָאֵשׁ֙ וְהָ֣עֵצִ֔ים וְאַיֵּ֥ה הַשֶּׂ֖ה לְעֹלָֽה׃ (ח) וַיֹּ֙אמֶר֙ אַבְרָהָ֔ם אֱלֹהִ֞ים יִרְאֶה־לּ֥וֹ הַשֶּׂ֛ה לְעֹלָ֖ה בְּנִ֑י וַיֵּלְכ֥וּ שְׁנֵיהֶ֖ם יַחְדָּֽו׃ (ט) וַיָּבֹ֗אוּ אֶֽל־הַמָּקוֹם֮ אֲשֶׁ֣ר אָֽמַר־ל֣וֹ הָאֱלֹהִים֒ וַיִּ֨בֶן שָׁ֤ם אַבְרָהָם֙ אֶת־הַמִּזְבֵּ֔חַ וַֽיַּעֲרֹ֖ךְ אֶת־הָעֵצִ֑ים וַֽיַּעֲקֹד֙ אֶת־יִצְחָ֣ק בְּנ֔וֹ וַיָּ֤שֶׂם אֹתוֹ֙ עַל־הַמִּזְבֵּ֔חַ מִמַּ֖עַל לָעֵצִֽים׃ (י) וַיִּשְׁלַ֤ח אַבְרָהָם֙ אֶת־יָד֔וֹ וַיִּקַּ֖ח אֶת־הַֽמַּאֲכֶ֑לֶת לִשְׁחֹ֖ט אֶת־בְּנֽוֹ׃ (יא) וַיִּקְרָ֨א אֵלָ֜יו מַלְאַ֤ךְ יְהוָה֙ מִן־הַשָּׁמַ֔יִם וַיֹּ֖אמֶר אַבְרָהָ֣ם ׀ אַבְרָהָ֑ם וַיֹּ֖אמֶר הִנֵּֽנִי׃ (יב) וַיֹּ֗אמֶר אַל־תִּשְׁלַ֤ח יָֽדְךָ֙ אֶל־הַנַּ֔עַר וְאַל־תַּ֥עַשׂ ל֖וֹ מְא֑וּמָּה כִּ֣י ׀ עַתָּ֣ה יָדַ֗עְתִּי כִּֽי־יְרֵ֤א אֱלֹהִים֙ אַ֔תָּה וְלֹ֥א חָשַׂ֛כְתָּ אֶת־בִּנְךָ֥ אֶת־יְחִידְךָ֖ מִמֶּֽנִּי׃ (יג) וַיִּשָּׂ֨א אַבְרָהָ֜ם אֶת־עֵינָ֗יו וַיַּרְא֙ וְהִנֵּה־אַ֔יִל אַחַ֕ר נֶאֱחַ֥ז בַּסְּבַ֖ךְ בְּקַרְנָ֑יו וַיֵּ֤לֶךְ אַבְרָהָם֙ וַיִּקַּ֣ח אֶת־הָאַ֔יִל וַיַּעֲלֵ֥הוּ לְעֹלָ֖ה תַּ֥חַת בְּנֽוֹ׃ (יד) וַיִּקְרָ֧א אַבְרָהָ֛ם שֵֽׁם־הַמָּק֥וֹם הַה֖וּא יְהוָ֣ה ׀ יִרְאֶ֑ה אֲשֶׁר֙ יֵאָמֵ֣ר הַיּ֔וֹם בְּהַ֥ר יְהוָ֖ה יֵרָאֶֽה׃ (טו) וַיִּקְרָ֛א מַלְאַ֥ךְ יְהוָ֖ה אֶל־אַבְרָהָ֑ם שֵׁנִ֖ית מִן־הַשָּׁמָֽיִם׃ (טז) וַיֹּ֕אמֶר בִּ֥י נִשְׁבַּ֖עְתִּי נְאֻם־יְהוָ֑ה כִּ֗י יַ֚עַן אֲשֶׁ֤ר עָשִׂ֙יתָ֙ אֶת־הַדָּבָ֣ר הַזֶּ֔ה וְלֹ֥א חָשַׂ֖כְתָּ אֶת־בִּנְךָ֥ אֶת־יְחִידֶֽךָ׃ (יז) כִּֽי־בָרֵ֣ךְ אֲבָרֶכְךָ֗ וְהַרְבָּ֨ה אַרְבֶּ֤ה אֶֽת־זַרְעֲךָ֙ כְּכוֹכְבֵ֣י הַשָּׁמַ֔יִם וְכַח֕וֹל אֲשֶׁ֖ר עַל־שְׂפַ֣ת הַיָּ֑ם וְיִרַ֣שׁ זַרְעֲךָ֔ אֵ֖ת שַׁ֥עַר אֹיְבָֽיו׃ (יח) וְהִתְבָּרֲכ֣וּ בְזַרְעֲךָ֔ כֹּ֖ל גּוֹיֵ֣י הָאָ֑רֶץ עֵ֕קֶב אֲשֶׁ֥ר שָׁמַ֖עְתָּ בְּקֹלִֽי׃ (יט) וַיָּ֤שָׁב אַבְרָהָם֙ אֶל־נְעָרָ֔יו וַיָּקֻ֛מוּ וַיֵּלְכ֥וּ יַחְדָּ֖ו אֶל־בְּאֵ֣ר שָׁ֑בַע וַיֵּ֥שֶׁב אַבְרָהָ֖ם בִּבְאֵ֥ר שָֽׁבַע׃ (פ)
(1) Some time afterward, God put Abraham to the test. He said to him, “Abraham,” and he answered, “Here I am.” (2) And He said, “Take your son, your favored one, Isaac, whom you love, and go to the land of Moriah, and offer him there as a burnt offering on one of the heights that I will point out to you.” (3) So early next morning, Abraham saddled his ass and took with him two of his servants and his son Isaac. He split the wood for the burnt offering, and he set out for the place of which God had told him. (4) On the third day Abraham looked up and saw the place from afar. (5) Then Abraham said to his servants, “You stay here with the ass. The boy and I will go up there; we will worship and we will return to you.” (6) Abraham took the wood for the burnt offering and put it on his son Isaac. He himself took the firestone and the knife; and the two walked off together. (7) Then Isaac said to his father Abraham, “Father!” And he answered, “Yes, my son.” And he said, “Here are the firestone and the wood; but where is the sheep for the burnt offering?” (8) And Abraham said, “God will see to the sheep for His burnt offering, my son.” And the two of them walked on together. (9) They arrived at the place of which God had told him. Abraham built an altar there; he laid out the wood; he bound his son Isaac; he laid him on the altar, on top of the wood. (10) And Abraham picked up the knife to slay his son. (11) Then an angel of the LORD called to him from heaven: “Abraham! Abraham!” And he answered, “Here I am.” (12) And he said, “Do not raise your hand against the boy, or do anything to him. For now I know that you fear God, since you have not withheld your son, your favored one, from Me.” (13) When Abraham looked up, his eye fell upon a ram, caught in the thicket by its horns. So Abraham went and took the ram and offered it up as a burnt offering in place of his son. (14) And Abraham named that site Adonai-yireh, whence the present saying, “On the mount of the LORD there is vision.” (15) The angel of the LORD called to Abraham a second time from heaven, (16) and said, “By Myself I swear, the LORD declares: Because you have done this and have not withheld your son, your favored one, (17) I will bestow My blessing upon you and make your descendants as numerous as the stars of heaven and the sands on the seashore; and your descendants shall seize the gates of their foes. (18) All the nations of the earth shall bless themselves by your descendants, because you have obeyed My command.” (19) Abraham then returned to his servants, and they departed together for Beer-sheba; and Abraham stayed in Beer-sheba.

Notes and Questions

1. In the 1st verse, we are told that God “did prove” – ” ניסה ” Abraham. This is translated in the NJPS translation as “God put Abraham to the test” and, in fact, a ” ניסיון ” is a test.

2. What do you make of the nature of this test? What is it supposed to prove?

2. Midrash 1

Here we have another midrash from Bereishit Rabbah. Ths midrash is a peticha. As we noted in a previous lesson, this midrash opens with a verse from elsewhere in the Tanach, interprets it and winds its way back to the verse from the beginning of the Torah reading. Notice how every part of the verse from Psalms is interpreted in this midrash.

(א) וַיְהִי אַחַר הַדְּבָרִים הָאֵלֶּה וְהָאֱלֹהִים נִסָּה אֶת אַבְרָהָם (בראשית כב, א), כְּתִיב (תהלים ס, ו): נָתַתָּה לִּירֵאֶיךָ נֵס לְהִתְנוֹסֵס מִפְּנֵי קשֶׁט סֶלָּה, נִסָּיוֹן אַחַר נִסָּיוֹן, וְגִדּוּלִין אַחַר גִּדּוּלִין, בִּשְׁבִיל לְנַסּוֹתָן בָּעוֹלָם, בִּשְׁבִיל לְגַדְּלָן בָּעוֹלָם, כַּנֵּס הַזֶּה שֶׁל סְפִינָה. וְכָל כָּךְ לָמָּה, מִפְּנֵי קשֶׁט, בִּשְׁבִיל שֶׁתִּתְקַשֵּׁט מִדַּת הַדִּין בָּעוֹלָם, שֶׁאִם יֹאמַר לְךָ אָדָם לְמִי שֶׁהוּא רוֹצֶה לְהַעֲשִׁיר מַעֲשִׁיר, לְמִי שֶׁהוּא רוֹצֶה מַעֲנִי, וּלְמִי שֶׁהוּא רוֹצֶה הוּא עוֹשֶׂה מֶלֶךְ, אַבְרָהָם כְּשֶׁרָצָה עֲשָׂאוֹ מֶלֶךְ, כְּשֶׁרָצָה עֲשָׂאוֹ עָשִׁיר, יָכוֹל אַתְּ לַהֲשִׁיבוֹ וְלוֹמַר לוֹ יָכוֹל אַתְּ לַעֲשׂוֹת כְּמוֹ שֶׁעָשָׂה אַבְרָהָם אָבִינוּ, וְהוּא אוֹמֵר מֶה עָשָׂה, וְאַתְּ אוֹמֵר לוֹ (בראשית כא, ה): וְאַבְרָהָם בֶּן מְאַת שָׁנָה בְּהִוָּלֶד לוֹ, וְאַחַר כָּל הַצַּעַר הַזֶּה נֶאֱמַר לוֹ (בראשית כב, ב): קַח נָא אֶת בִּנְךָ אֶת יְחִידְךָ וְלֹא עִכֵּב, הֲרֵי נָתַתָּה לִּירֵאֶיךָ נֵס לְהִתְנוֹסֵס.


It is written, Thou hast given a banner (nes) to them that fear Thee, that it may be displayed (le-hithnoses) because of the truth. Selah (Ps. LX, 6):

this means, trial upon trial, greatness after greatness, in order to try them in the world and exalt them in the world like a ship’s ensign [flying aloft].

And what is its purpose? ‘Because of the truth. Selah’:

in order that the equity of God’s justice may be verified in the world.

Thus, if one says, ‘ Whom He wishes to enrich, He enriches; to impoverish, He impoverishes; whom He desires, He makes a king; when He wished, He made Abraham wealthy, and when He wished He made him a king,’

then you can answer him and say, ‘ Can you do what Abraham did? ‘ Abraham was a hundred years old, when his son Isaac was born unto him (Gen. XXI, 5); yet after all this pain it was said to him,

TAKE NOW THY SON, THINE ONLY SON (XXII,2), yet he did not refuse. Hence, ‘ Thou hast given a banner to them that fear Thee, that it may be displayed’;

so it is written, THAT GOD DID PROVE ABRAHAM .

Questions and Comments

  1. The peticha verse for this midrash comes from the book of Psalms.
(ו) נָ֘תַ֤תָּה לִּירֵאֶ֣יךָ נֵּ֭ס לְהִתְנוֹסֵ֑ס מִ֝פְּנֵ֗י קֹ֣שֶׁט סֶֽלָה׃

(6) Thou hast given a banner (nes) to them that fear Thee, that it may be displayed (lehitnosess) because of the truth. Selah

Notice here that the word “nes” – banner and “lehitnoses” to display sound like the word “nisayon “. The connection between the opening verse of the parashah and the verse from this psalm is based on the homonymic similarity between these words.

Take note of how this literary playfulness can be transformed into a powerful message.

  1. What point is this midrash trying to make about testing Abraham? What is the purpose of the test?
  2. Who does the test ultimately justify?
  3. What is Abraham’s purpose in this test?
  4. Is Abraham intended to be someone to emulate in this test?

3. Midrash 2

Midrash Tanhuma was composed in Eretz Yisrael probably around the seventh century – some three centuries after the above midrash. This midrash is based on the earlier midrash that we have just seen.

I have underlined (in the Hebrew) and put in bold print (in the English) those elements which are new. Our task will be to determine what the later author intended to say through these additions that was not already said in the earlier midrash.

(א) והאלהים נסה את אברהם. זש"ה נתת ליראיך נס להתנוסס (תהלים ס ו), מנוס שנוצלו ישראל מדינה של גיהנם, (ד"א נס להתנוסס) מפני קושט סלה. כדי ליתן שכרו בקושט, שנאמר ונתתי פעולתם באמת (ישעיה סא ח), אבל הרשעים אין להם מנוס, שנאמר ועיני רשעים תכלינה ומנוס אבד מנהם (איוב יא כ). נתת ליראיך נס. בא וראה מה בין הראשונים לאחרונים, שהראשונים היו מתנסים ע"י הקב"ה, שנאמר והאלהים נסה את אברהם, וכן באנשי דור המדבר, שנאמר למען אנסנו הילך בתורתי אם לא (שמות טז ד), וכן הוא אומר למען ענותך [ולמען] נסותך וגו' (דברים ח טז), אבל האחרונים נתנסו על ידי האומות, שנאמר ואלה הגוים אשר הניח ה' לנסות בם את ישראל (שופטים ג א), הרי נתת ליראיך נס להתנוסס מפני קושט סלה, מאי מפני קושט בסלה, מי נתנסה ועמד בנסיונות, וכן אתה מוצא בדניאל וחביריו כשגלו גזר עליהם הקב"ה שיאכלו לחם טמא, שנאמר ככה יאכלו בני ישראל את לחמם טמא בגוים אשר אדיחם שם (יחזקאל ד יג), עמד נבוכדנצר וקיים את הדבר, התחיל ואמר גוזר אני שיהו אוכלים מאכילה שלי, שנאמר וימן להם המלך וגו' (דניאל א ה), דניאל לא קיבל עליו אלא אמר אע"פ שגזר הקב"ה עלינו שנאכל לחם טמא, בקש לנסות אותנו, אלא נעשה שלנו, והקב"ה יעשה שלו, התחיל לומר לשר הטבחים בבקשה ממך נס נא את עבדיך ימים עשרה [ויתנו לנו מן הזרועים ונאכלה ומים ונשתה ויראה לפניך מראינו ומראה הילדים האוכלים את פת בג המלך וכאשר תראה עשה עם עבדיך] (דניאל א י ביג), אמר להם ואתם יכולים להתנסות ימים עשרה שלא לאכול לחם ושלא לשתות יין, אמרו לו הן, שאנו מבני בניו של אותו האיש שנתנסה בעשר נסיונות מן האלהים, זכותו תעמוד לנו, שנאמר נס נא את עבדיך (דניאל א יב), לא כבר מצאת אותנו עשר ידות (על החרטומים, בזכות מי, בזכות אברהם, שנתנסה בעשר נסיונות, כיון שעמדו בנסיונם מה כתיב, ויתן האלהים את דניאל [לחסד ולרחמים לפני שר הסריסים (שם שם ט), וישמע להם לדבר הזה וינסם ימים עשרה ומקצת ימים עשרה נראה מראיהם טוב ובריאי בשר מן כל הילדים האוכלים את פת בג המלך (שם ש יד טו)]. הוי נתת [ליראיך נס להתנוסס], מהו נס, גודלת אותם, כמה שנאמר וכנס על הגבעה (ישעיה ל יז), ולמה נסה אותם הקב"ה בשביל לגדלם, כדי שלא ליתן פתחון פה לאומות העולם לומר הוא מגדלן והוא לא נסה אותן ועמדו בנסיונן, לפיכך אחר הדברים האלה [והאלהים נסה את אברהם].

AND IT CAME TO PASS AFTER THESE THINGS, THAT GOD DID PROVE (NISSAH) ABRAHAM (XXI, 1). It is written, Thou hast given a banner (nes) to them that fear Thee, that it may be displayed (le-hithnoses) because of the truth. Selah (Ps. LX, 6):

1. A refuge that saved Israel from the judgment of Gehinom.

(Another interpretation: “a banner to be displayed”: because of truth. As it is written: “I will give them their reward in truth” (Isaiah 61:8); but the wicked have no refuge, as it says: “But the eyes of the wicked will fail and refuge is lost for them.” (Job 11:20)

“Thou hast given a banner to those who fear Thee.”

2. Come see the difference between the early generations and the later generations. The early generations were tested by God Himself, as it says: “And God tested Abraham. So, too, the generation of the desert, as it is written: “that I may test them, etc.” (Ex. 16:4) Similarly, it says: “that He may afflict you and test you etc.” (Deut. 8:16)

3. Later generations, however, were tested by the nations, as it says: “And these are the nations which God left to test Israel.” (Jud. 3:1) Thou hast given a banner to those who fear You that it may be displayed because of the truth.” What is the meaning of “because of the truth”? – that the person was tested and stood up to the tests. This is what we find with regard to Daniel and his companions who when they were exiled the Holy One Blessed be He tested them that they must eat impure bread, as it says: “Thus shall Israel eat their bread, unclean, among the nations, where I will exile them.” (Ez. 4:13) Nebuchadnezer arose and carried out this decree, and said: ‘I decree that they shall eat my food, as it says: “And the king appointed for them a daily provision.” (Dan. 1:8) Daniel refused to accept this. Instead, he said: ‘even though the Holy One Blessed be He declared that we should eat impure bread, it is only because He wanted to test us. So, we will do what we must do and God will do what He must do. So Daniel said to the steward: “I implore from you ‘test your servant for ten days and let them give us vegetables and we will eat and water and we will drink, then let our appearances be compared with those youth who ate the king’s food, as you see fit deal with your servant. (Dan. 1:12-3) The steward replied: ‘You can test yourselves for ten days by not eating [the king’s] bread and not drinking [his] wine. Daniel and his friends answered: “Thank you, for we are the descendents of the one who God tested ten times, may his merit uphold us, [since we are also being tested], as it says: “please test (nes) your servant.” (Ibid. )

Haven’t you found us ten times better than the king’s magicians? By whose merit? By Abraham’s merit!, for he was tested ten times, and succeeded ten times, it is written: “God brought Daniel grace and compassion with the chief eunich.” (Dan. 1:9)

And he listened to them and tested them for ten days. And at the end of ten days, their appearance was better and healthier than the children who had eaten the king’s food. This is what is meant by the verse: “Thou hast given a banner to those who fear you that it may be displayed.”

What is the banner? – that you have made them great, as it is written: “like a banner on a hill.” (Is. 30:17) Why did the Holy One Blessed be He test them? – In order to make them great, so that the nations of the world won’t be able to say that God made them great without ever testing their merit. They however, stood up to the test.

Therefore “After these things God tested Abraham.”

Questions and Comments

The Tanhuma uses the first midrash as its framework but makes three dramatic additions.

  1. In 1. in the midrash it is making a very interesting religious statement about the Akedah. See if you can explain what it is doing.
  2. In 2., the Tanhuma is making an important switch from the message of the first midrash to create its own message. What is the change and what is the new message?
  3. For 3., it is necessary to read the first chapter of the book of Daniel. Why did the Tanhuma choose Daniel as its hero. Compare and contrast him with Abraham. What is Daniel’s advantage over Abraham?
  4. What is the Tanhuma’s message? How is it different from the message in Bereishit Rabbah? Speculate as to the reason for this changed message.


I see that the midrashim on the Akedah –- the binding of Isaac presented some difficulties but I saw in the responses to this midrashim some very clear thinking. The two midrashim that I presented represent how two different generations played the same midrash.

In the first midrash from Bereishit Rabbah, the author used a verse from Psalms which had a word that sounded similar to the key word in the story of the Akedah – “nisa” – test. The word in the psalm is “nes” – flag. Who is the flag in the midrash? Abraham! What is the purpose of the test? To prove to the world that God’s choices are just. Every time Abraham “passed” a test, God was justified in the world. The ultimate test, where Abraham was willing to risk everything, namely, all of the promises made to him by God, trusting that God would come through for him, proved how worthy a “man of faith” Abraham really was and as a result how just God truly was.

Not everyone can be the “poster boy” for God that Abraham proved to be. None of us would want to be tested the way he was tested. Consequently, while it may have been necessary to justify God’s choice of Abraham in the time of Bereishit Rabbah, this was not an issue in the time of the second midrash. In addition, the first midrash has a theological message but it does not have a homiletic message which would have meaning for a larger audience. This, however, seems to have been important to the author of the “retake” of the midrash in the Tanhuma. The later author transforms the midrash for his own purposes. There are a number of things going on in this midrash. I will name a couple of the “biggies”.

  1. The play of the word “nisa” and “manos” – refuge. This little vignette shows the Akedah in a way which most of us have not seen it before. This midrash seems to want to use the Akedah to say to the “neighbors” that we Jews are not in need of “another” refuge from the netherworld because the Akedah already serves as a refuge for us from that fate. I hope you understand what I am talking about here!
  2. The major innovation of this midrash though is in replacing the Abraham model with the Daniel model. Why? Many of you caught it. Daniel is a more human size model. He does the kind of stuff we can do. He is a man of faith on our plain. His life also speaks to the issues that are a part of our lives. Loyalty to God in the face of assimilation. With Daniel as a model each and every one of us is turned into an Abraham who can through our loyalty to God prove that God made the “right “choice” in choosing the Jewish people.