The Akeida and Religious Experience by Rabbi Howard Jachter

1997/5758

              The dominant Western concept of religion is that one can serve God on one's own terms.  The Torah's philosophy, however, is that one may engage the Almighty only under carefully orchestrated circumstances.  Our view of religion is theocentric, whereas the dominant theme in the Western view of religion is anthropocentric.  The Western view considers fulfilling man's spiritual needs to be the primary objective of religion.  Our view is that the primary objective is obedience of the Divine command.  Rav Yehuda Amital (in a Shiur delivered in Teaneck in October 1985) explained how Akeidat Yitzchak emphasizes this idea.  The following ideas are based on his words.

              The Akeida was obviously not primarily inAvraham's interest.  Indeed, Hashem requests of Avraham to "please" (22:2) engage in the act of the Akeida to prove the "spiritual worthiness" of the ancestors of Am Yisrael (see Rashi).  Idol worshippers' criticism of monotheism was that it lacked religious fervor and dedication.  In their view, only idolaters possessed the dedication and enthusiasm to offer their children to the gods.  Monotheists were too "intellectual" in their belief in an abstract God.  With the Akeida, Avraham and Yitzchak demonstrated that the !: $;, "fire of religion," burned as intensely in the souls of monotheists as it did in the souls of idolaters.  The Akeida served to raise Hashem's prestige throughout the world.

              The Rambam, in his Guide to the Perplexed, adds that the Akeida also teaches the absolute certainty of prophecy.  If Avraham was not one hundred percent certain of God's command, Avraham never would have sought to sacrifice his son.

              Akeidat Yitzchak should not be understood as merely a one-time event.  It teaches that the essence of religious experience is to respond to the divine command and not to serve man's spiritual needs.  This point is emphasized by Chazal (Shabbat 88a) when they state that at Har Sinai, God held a mountain above Am Yisrael and threatened to kill them if they failed to accept the Torah.

              Rav Amital pointed out that in his view this is the problem with devising new rituals.  Even if groups which exercise religious "freedom" do not technically violate Halacha, they are not in harmony with Torah Hashkafa.  The objective of the Jew is to respond to God's command and not to develop his own rituals through which to serve Him.  Subjective religious experience is secondary to our primary focus; obedience to the divine command (see Rav Soloveitchik's analysis of the Korach rebellion presented in the first volume of "Reflections of the Rav").

              May our delving into the Parsha of the Akeida deepen our commitment to God and deepen our true sense of spirituality.

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