The Binding of Isaac

And Abraham rose up early in the morning, and saddled his ass, and took two of his young men with him, and Isaac his son, and broke the wood for the burnt offering, and rose up, and went to the place of which God had told him: (Genesis 22.3)

One of the most interesting and significant episodes in the whole of the Bible is the sacrifice of Isaac. It is important not only because it is the test of Abraham’s faith and trust in God in the severest possible sense, but also because it explains the essential nature of the act of sacrifice. The episode is also related to the story of Balaam (See hyperlink Balaam and the sacrifice of Isaac).

The Korban

The noun ‘sacrifice’ in Hebrew is korban קורבן and is derived from the verb l’karev לקרב meaning ‘to come close to’. Hence the act of sacrifice means ‘to come close to God’. See hyperlink Sacrifice. Korban is related to keren, קרן meaning horn (and also ray of light) inasmuch that in most cases horned animals are the standard sacrifice. This is discussed in more detail (See hyperlink horned animal).

Mount Moriah

Let us consider the story of the sacrifice of Isaac in more detail.

God instructs Abraham to take “thine only son, Isaac, whom thou lovest, to the land of moriah; and offer him there as a burnt offering on one of the mountains which I will tell thee of.” (Genesis 22:2).

Term ‘moriah’ מריה means ‘teaching’, just as the Pentateuch or book of the Torah תורה, in Hebrew is derived from the same root, also means ‘book of the teaching’. Hence the purpose of Abraham and Isaac going up to Mount Moriah, as the place where the sacrifice was to take place, was in order to impart teaching.

We note in Genesis 22:3-5, Abraham and Isaac took with them two youths and an ass. And, as they approached Mt. Moriah: And Abraham said to his young men, ‘Abide ye here with the ass, and I and the lad will go yonder and worship, and come again to you’.

According to ancient tradition, it is said that on his way to Mt. Moriah, Abraham was met by Satan (Satan literally means disturber), who used various means to convince Abraham not to go through with this senseless act of slaughtering his own son. He of course disregarded Satan.

Even before this, and before he leaves the two youths, Abraham is very firm on what he must do and what will be the result, for he says to the two youths:

Abide ye here with the ass; and I and the lad will go yonder and worship, and come again to you: (Genesis 22.5).

Hence it was clear to Abraham even then that he would return with Isaac from Mt. Moriah and the sacrifice would not take place.

In accord with ancient lore, these two youths were Ishmael and Eliezer of Damascus. What is the meaning of leaving these two youths and the ass behind? The two youths represent the world of duality, the phenomenal world as we know and see in our normal lives. The ass represents the vehicle that carries them (us) through life (the word for ‘ass’ in Hebrew is hamor and is related to the word homer, meaning matter or material). Hence by leaving the two boys and the ass behind Abraham and Isaac unfetter themselves from the things of this world and proceed to another time-space zone on Mt Moriah.

Mount Moriah, according to tradition is said to be ‘the Dome of the Rock’ on Temple Mount in Jerusalem. Distinct from the world they had left behind, on Mount Moriah, they could sense a world apart. Indeed there was a holiness in this place and with each step towards the Rock, so the feeling would envelop them. This was the navel of the world, the place where humanity began; where Adam and Eve were created; where David later set the Arc of the Covenant on the threshing floor of Ornan the Jebusite and where Solomon set his temple {1} ; this was the place where heaven and earth meet in this earthly world. It was the Sabbath of the world.

The Akeda

The episode of the sacrifice of Isaac is traditionally called ‘the Akeda’ עקדה meaning ‘the binding’ and is related to the sentence in Genesis 22:8 which says: And they came to the place which God had told him of; and Abraham built and altar there, and laid the wood in order, and bound Isaac his son, and laid him on the altar upon the wood. The Binding, or the akeda, is a process that is applied to sacrificial animals in which the four legs of the animal are bound together to form ‘one’. In the case of Isaac his arms and legs were bound together to form ‘one’. Effectively sacrifice is the act of bringing the ‘four’ of the phenomenal world back to the ‘one’ of the creator. It is the inverse of the act of creation, (See hyperlink the mist, Adam and truth and the two trees) in which ‘the four’, the phenomenal world, is created from ‘the one’ i.e. God. Here the act of binding is to return the body to from the phenomenal world to God: thus the phrase From dust you were made and to dust your shall return (Genesis 3:19).

The act of binding of a sacrifice is not unique to Judaism and is also practiced in the Tibetan Buddhist sky burials, whereby the body, the arms and the legs are is bound together in muslin cloth and a monk will carry the bound body around the sacrificial stone several times whilst other monks chant prayers. It is then is placed on a stone slab and cut into pieces and offered to the vultures and eagles, hence also re-enacting the return of the four into the one and also re-enacting ‘from dust you were formed and to dust you shall return’ {2}.

Isaac is unique of the three patriarchs of Judaism, because (i) he is the first person born as a result of circumcision (See hyperlink the circumcision) and (ii) he has undergone this near-death experience in this story of the akeda.

The word ‘akeda’, עקדה spelt: ayin-kof-daled-heh = 70-100-4-5 = 179 has the same numerical value as ‘the Garden of Eden’, Gan b’eden גן בעדן spelt: gimmel-nun-beth-ayin-daled-nun = 3-50-2-70-4-50 = 179, and which is ½ the value for Messiah, Mashiach משיח spelt mem-shin-yod-nun 40-300-10-50 =358. Hence when Abraham and Isaac enter Mt. Moriah, the navel of the world, they are in fact entering the Garden of Eden. As we know from (See hyperlink the mist, Adam and truth and the two trees), the Garden of Eden holds the Tree of Life and the Tree of knowledge of good and evil which bear the ratio of 1:4. And so Abraham upon entering Mt. Moriah is faced with two choices: ‘to do or not to do’; to slaughter thine only son, Isaac, whom thou lovest’, the way of the ‘one’ or not to do so, so choosing the way of the ‘four’ and disobeying God, as did Adam.

From a gematrical point of view we can see the story of the sacrifice of Isaac not only as a test of Abraham’s faith, but perhaps more important, the realisation of Isaac, where Mount Moriah is the ‘mount of the teaching’ for Isaac. It is Isaac who is brought to the mount (and to which he goes willingly) to encounter the near death experience. It is Isaac who is to be sacrificed as a korban and be brought close to God. It is Isaac who, through the akeda, the binding, has the realisation of the world of one and the world of the Garden of Eden.

Isaac is the first person in the Bible born through the act of circumcision, through a covenant with God. He is the first person who has achieved a state of purity and covenant with God that no one else has realised before his. From henceforth any issue from his seed and the generations that follow will be pure and with a covenant with God.

 

Moreover he is the only person who has gone through a near death experience when he was about to be sacrificed. This experience, instead of being a psychological trauma implanted on his personality, had an indelible effect upon his subsequent actions. His four limbs had been bound to the ‘one’ in the Akeda, on Mount Moriah, the navel of the world where heaven meets earth, which was paradise, Garden of Eden (179), half way to the Messiah. As his jugular vein was about to be cut, and his blood was about to flow upon the altar of God, he was brought back from the dead, from the ‘one’ back to the ‘four’. This made Isaac unique. He had seen paradise. The realisation of, and reason for, the akeda on Mount Moriah is this.

 

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{1} Chronicle II: 3 vs. 1

{2}Notably the Tibetans have four kinds of burials, as represented by the elements Earth, Air, Fire and Water. The sky burial (Air) is for the common man who offers his body to be recycled in the phenomenal world; Cremation (Fire), is for High Lamas whose bodies are so powerful that they should not be recycled to lower beings; Water burials is for those living near water and Earth burials are considered the lowest form of burial and quite undesirable.

 

 
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