This past Shabbat we read in the parshah the heart wrenching story of akeidat Yitzchak, the binding of Isaac, where God tells Abraham, “Please take your son, your unique and special son, the son you love, Isaac, and raise him as an offering on the mountain which I will indicate to you.”
Abraham was confused, and said to himself, “What happened to the promise that ‘your children will be numerous like the stars in the sky?’ Didn’t God say to me that ‘through Isaac you will have eternal progeny?’”
Yet, notwithstanding his questions, Abraham hastened to do God’s will. With dedication and enthusiasm he took his son Isaac and placed him on the altar. We read how Isaac understood what was going on and joined his father in one of the most agonizing episodes depicted in the Torah.
As we read about how at the last second God told Abraham to remove Isaac from the altar and not to shed one drop of his blood, the news from Tree of Life*Or L’Simcha was starting to reverberate in our shul.
The news came with utter shock; it felt as if Isaac wasn’t taken off the altar.
God, what happened to your promise that “I will gather you from your exile”?! God, what happened to your covenant with the Jewish people that, come what may, we will be protected like the apple of your eye? And God, how can people affirming your Oneness by proclaiming “Shema Yisrael Hashem Elokeinu Hashem Echad” be slaughtered in your sacred home?!
Somehow, Abraham was able to move forward with his questions about his faith and God that tormented him as he took Isaac to the altar. Even though he had conflicting messages from God, he still managed to keep plowing ahead in his mission to bring unity into a divided world.
Abraham teaches us that we must accept that each Jew is unique and special before God, and that even though we face the deepest challenge, the greatest darkness, when we ask God, “Where is the blessing that ‘through you all nations will be blessed?’”— we still move forward. Even when hatred and division rear their ugly heads, we stay true to our goal to bring more light into our world.
A little light dispels much darkness, and an abundance of good certainly changes our world. Let us add light today by speaking kinder to one another, even when we disagree. Reach out to a neighbor or friend and show some kindness and love. Let’s realize that hatred and anger is changed through love and patience.
Let’s change the world, individual by individual, so that each man and woman in this entire world will be seen to be as special as the 11 special people our world lost this past Shabbat.
Each of these men and women was a son or daughter of God, a unique and special child, a child that He loved, a child like Isaac, who brought joy and smiles to others and to God.
This week we read Parshat Chayei Sarah, in which we mourn the passing of our great matriarch and learn of her burial in the Cave of Machpela, through Abraham.
But the parshah is called “the life of Sarah” — in it, we celebrate her life and legacy. We comfort the mourners and we bring new happiness and joy into this world.
We march on with the everlasting legacy of our martyrs here in Pittsburgh. We will bring about a world where hatred is removed, a world where peace is desired and kept by all. We will yet see in our lifetime a world where all mankind serves God with united devotion, a world where a nation will not draw a sword against another.
The deeds of Abraham, Isaac and Sarah and their legacies guide us for eternity. May the memory and inspiration of our departed holy brothers and sisters be a shining light and influence that brings about a world of peace and holiness.
May God comfort their families amongst all Israel that mourns as brethren with them. And may their holy memories bring abundant blessings for each member of our Pittsburgh Jewish community for eternity. PJC
Rabbi Elchonon Friedman is the rabbi at Bnei Emunoh Chabad-Greenfield. This column is a service of the Vaad Harabanim of Greater Pittsburgh.