with a group of psychotherapists lately who told me, with full conviction,
that at the Akeida ["Binding of Issac"-Gen. 19], Isaac was sacrificed
and then rose again, and that this represents mankind's move from human
to animal sacrifice. They base this on the concluding verse, "Abraham
returned... and went to Beersheva," in which there is no mention of Issac's
return. What do you think?"
This explanation of the Akeida
does not stand up to scrutiny. Both the Torah and world history report
widespread human sacrifice during and long after the time of Avraham.
Any uplifting influence Avraham exerted on his generation about the sanctity
of human life should be primarily attributed to his singleminded pursuit
of his mission of spreading monotheistic awareness and morality for nearly
a century prior to the Akeida. Indeed, the extent to which he had been
successful made G-d's request even more difficult for him! In addition
to the personal loss, to sacrifice his son would mean to publicly and
absolutely contradict all the values he so strongly represented for all
G-d's opening words to Avraham
in this episode are: "Please take your son Yitzhak and offer
him up...." This unusual "please," say the commentators,
indicates that G-d was asking Avraham for a favor (so to speak), in order
to prove to the nations his absolute dedication to G-d. But if human sacrifice
was the norm at the time, what would be so extraordinary in other people's
eyes that Avraham also did such a thing?
Their other conjecture, that
Yitzhak died and was resurrected, although seemingly far-fetched, can
be found within the classic Jewish commentary on the problem you cited
of why Yitzhak's return is omitted. First, though, let's survey the basic
1. [Ibn Ezra] Yitzhak
isn't mentioned because there was no need for it; he is subordinate to
2. [Malbim] Avraham told him to go directly to Hebron and Mother
3. [Midrash] He went north instead of south, to the Yeshiva of
There are, however, Midrashim
which take a different tack, based on the interpretation that when it
says a few chapters later, "...Yitzhak went out to meditate in the
fields..." (Gen. 24:63), "went out" refers to his emergence
from the Garden of Eden when he had been recuperating and/or studying
for the previous three years.
When the knife reached his neck, his soul left him. When G-d's voice came...
[announcing] not to harm him, his soul returned to his body.... Yitzhak
experienced the resuscitation of the dead. (2)
Avraham did begin to slit Yitzhak's
throat and actually perforated his windpipe. When Avraham looked up and
saw the ram, the angels swooped Yitzhak away, brought him to the Garden
of Eden and left him there until he was completely healed. (3)
Although most authorities don't
maintain that Yitzhak actually died, many do understand that on a spiritual
level the sacrifice did take place or, alternatively, that in G-d's eyes
it is as if it took place. Thus, we find many invocations for mercy in
the High Holiday prayers which refer to "the ashes of Yitzhak piled
before You." May their merit once again help us to be inscribed and
sealed for a good and sweet year!
1) Local tradition says that yeshiva was at a known location here
2) Artscroll from Pesikta d'Rabbi Eliezer.
3) Torah Anthology from Yalkut Shemoni.