S.A.L.T. - Thursday
The Torah in Parashat Vayeira tells the famous story of akeidat Yitzchak – God’s command to Avraham to sacrifice his son, Yitzchak, on Mount Moriah. Avraham prepared to obey the command, traveled to Moriah, bound Yitzchak upon the altar, and lifted the knife to slaughter him – until an angel spoke to Avraham and commanded him to desist, explaining, “…because now I know that you are God-fearing, as you did not withhold from Me your only son” (22:12).
Rav Meir Simcha Ha-kohen of Dvinsk, in Meshekh Chokhma, observes a subtle distinction between the angel’s comments to Avraham now, after the test of akeidat Yitzchak, and God’s formulation of the command: “Please take your son, your only son, whom you love…” (22:2). God described Yitzchak to Avraham before akeidat Yitzchak as “binkha yechidekha asher ahavta” – “your only son, whom you love,” whereas the angel referred to Yitzchak after the akeida as merely “binkha yechidekha” – “your only son.” The Meshekh Chokhma explains that the angel could not say “asher ahavta” because, quite simply, only God knows the feelings of a person’s heart, and thus only God knew the full extent of Avraham’s love for Yitzchak. When God informed Avraham of the unfathomably difficult test he was assigning to him, He could say, “your only son, whom you love,” but the angel, in expressing to Avraham that the akeida demonstrated his limitless devotion to God, could not say, “your only son, whom you love.” The angel certainly understood that Avraham had just withstood a very difficult test of faith, but it did not grasp the full extent of Avraham’s angst as he prepared to slaughter Yitzchak, because nobody but God can accurately perceive any human being’s feelings.
The practical application of the Meshekh Chokhma’s insight is that we cannot judge other people’s conduct, because we will never know their unique struggles and challenges. Nobody but God knows the difficulty of any individual’s tests in life. A challenge which for us might seem fairly simple is an enormous struggle for others. If even the angels could not fully grasp the extent of Avraham’s test at akeidat Yitzchak, then certainly we cannot fully grasp the extent of our fellowman’s personal struggles. Recognizing our limited knowledge of other people’s emotions will lead us to refrain from passing judgment and to instead give them the benefit of the doubt and look upon them favorably despite their shortcomings.
Our SALT Archives house nearly two decades of divrei Torah. Click here.
More recent SALTs can be found by searching for SALT in our Advanced Search box, along with the parsha name. See below for an example.