Yitzhak, I Vass only following ordersss!
My attention was caught during Rish Hashanna, when I had occasion to read the commentary on the subject contained in the High Holiday Prayer Book translated and edited by Morris Silverman. This is the original "Conservative Mahkzor" that so many of us grew up with. For years, I had read this commentary, but this year, it suddenly leaped out of the page and punched me in the face:
The sounding of the shofar .. is a reminder of that implicit obedience to God which was revealed by Abraham and Isaac. The theme of the Akedah ... was intended to arouse God's compassion for Isaac's descendants and to inspire us to deeds of sacrifice. Religion consists of those aspirations for which we are ready to sacrifice comfort, position, and even safety. We do not truly live our ideals unless we are ready, if necessary to die for them.
And what noble aspirations was Abraham willing to sacrifice for? What ideas should we die for? Rabbi Silverman also does not elucidate. He goes on with a whole paragraph about how this story shows that Judaism abhors human sacrifice, and then concludes with a praise of the concept of martyrdom:
There is not a single noble cause, movement, or acheivment that does not call for great sacrifice and martyrdon. [!] Liberty, science, truth, -- all have exacted their toll of heroes. The people of Israel have been the very symbol of martyrdom on behalf of freedom, justice, and truth.
If that's the case, this whole exercise was really a test of Isaac, not Abraham.
As for Abraham, the only "noble" ideal here being tested is that of obedience, not "liberty," "freedom," "science," or even "truth." Now obedience is sometimes a useful quality and may be needed on oaccasion in order for people to accomplish things, but I believe that it always need to be offered conditionally. All authority to demand obedience is contigent, even, as far as I'm concerned, that of God. Even an organizaton like the U.S. Army requires soldiers to disobey their superiors if issued an illegal order.
Abraham was tested and shown that he was willing to commit an act that God, presumably finds abhorrent. And then God blesses him for it!
It shows that not only did Abraham fail the test, but so did God.
And Rabbi Silverman was clueless about its meaning. This is especially true becuase Silverman wrote his notes in 1939, a period when the folly of considering obedience a virtue was manifestly evident:
"Ve vere only following ordersss, after all..."