ויאמר אל תשלח ידך אל הנער ועל תעש לו מאומה, כי עתה ידעתי כי ירא אלהים אתה ולא חשכת את בנך את יחידך ממני
(בראשית כב, יב)
At the end of this week’s parasha we read about akedat Yitzchak, the incomprehensible test that God puts Avraham through, asking him to sacrifice his beloved son. When God stops Avraham at the last moment from slaughtering Yitzchak, he says to him:
And he said: lay not your hand upon the lad, neither do anything to him; for now I know that you are a God-fearing man, seeing that you have not withheld your son, your only son, from Me.
(Bereshit 22, 12)
Why does God refer to Avraham as “God-fearing” and how is this related to Avraham’s deeds?
Avraham suffered much in his life. Specifically, he embodies two sufferings that the prophet Yeshayahu referred to many years later: that of the ger (the convert, the stranger) and that of the saris (the eunuch). The converts fear that, despite them wanting to be part of the Jewish people, there will always be those who reject them or make them feel unwanted. The eunuchs fear that they will never be part of that greatest of human achievements: bearing children who serve as a continuation of ourselves after we die. The prophet consoles both groups of people, promising them that they have a place within the nation.
Avraham encountered both sufferings. He is commanded by God to leave his birthplace and his family and go to an unknown place, to be a stranger. He proclaims himself to be a ger when addressing the Hittite people about buying a burial plot for his wife. After being rewarded by a son at the age of 100, he faces the prospect of that son dying at his own hands, of becoming a saris in the sense of not leaving children behind when he dies.
How does Avraham bear up to these challenges (and many others that God put him through)? The answer is in the verse quoted above: being a God-fearing man. Despite the hardships, Avraham persisted in his love of God, believed in Him and trusted the covenants that God made with him. It is this unshakeable, indeed immutable, belief that earned him the title of avi ha-ma’aminim, father of all believers. Facing the prospects of eternal barren estrangement, Avraham perseveres by latching on to the truly eternal anchor in our lives: the belief in God.
The same prophet, Yeshayahu, calls our first forefather Avraham ohavi, “Avraham who loves me” (ch. 41, verse 8). Avraham’s love of God earns him a special recognition from God. May we all be so blessed.