The Five Words of The Jew

The rabbis often identify unnamed characters in the Bible with other, identifiable, characters. One of the strangest ones is the wife of Joseph, given to him by Pharaoh. Her name is Asenat, the daughter of Potiphera. Potiphera is the same as Potiphar, the Egyptian master to whom Joseph had been sold as a slave. It was his wife who tried to hit on Joseph, and ultimately caused his being thrown in jail. On the surface, it would seem that Joseph got the daughter of the woman instead of the woman herself.

But our rabbis say that Joseph's wife was not the daughter of Mrs. Potiphar! She was only the adopted daughter of Mr. Potiphar. Instead, she was actually a close relative of Joseph's: the daughter of his sister Dina! And, even more interestingly, that meant that she was the daughter of Schechem, the Prince of the city of the same name who had raped her. In the aftermath of that rape, the two brothers Simon and Levi annihilated all of the men of Schechem. Their father, Jacob, was displeased with them for this act of violence.

Without commenting on the historical accuracy of this identification, the rabbis clearly seem to be teaching us something by identifying Joseph's wife with that incident. What is it?

Jacob, on his deathbed, bequeaths the city of Shechem to Joseph. The city, Jacob continues, "that I took from the Amorite with my sword and my bow." The Aramaic translation of the verse says, "that I took from the Amorite with my prayer and my request." Rabbi Zalman Sorotzkin questions the order of sword and bow. In battle, one uses the bow and arrow first since it shoots to the distance, and only when the enemy is in close quarters does one pull out the sword. Why are they reversed in this verse?

Rabbi Sorotzkin answers that "prayer," or the sword mentioned in the verse, is specifically referring to the recitation of the Shema. "Request," or bow and arrow, refers to the silent devotion which is comprised of requests. The order is important! First, we must strengthen for ourselves our core beliefs. These we do when we recite the Shema, the Jewish proclamation of faith. Only then are we ready to reach out to the distant world, with requests for the future for everybody. We need to know who we are before we can define what to ask for and what our vision for the world is.

There is a midrash that says the following: "Because he (Joseph) was early, and did not do as they did, he shall receive Shechem in his portion." What does this mean?

In truth it was Simon and Levi who conquered Shechem, so they should have been the ones to inherit it. Their act of cruelty and violence, however, was such a trauma for Jacob that he would not allow them to inherit that city. How did Simon and Levi come to behave in such a fashion? They didn't live according to the five words, and here they are:

"The Lord is our God, the Lord is one… And you shall love…" (I know, in English it's about 13 words, but in Hebrew it's five.)

Before a Jew interacts with the world, he must internalize these five words. Joseph did. When he went to Egypt, he showed his faith by resisting the temptations of Potiphar's wife, and he showed his love by serving and helping even the lowliest prisoner in the jails of Egypt. Perhaps, when the medrash refers to Joseph rising early, it is referring to these five words of the Shema. Because Joseph always read the Shema first, he did not act as others, specifically Simon and Levi, did. Their action was anything but an "And you shall love" kind of action.

Thus, I believe that Joseph's wife was part of a correcting and healing of the moral wound of the massacre at Shechem. Jacob recognizes that Joseph would never have behaved in such a fashion. Instead, Joseph's marriage choice brings some healing. His wife, after all, is the mother of Efraim, whose descendents will inherit that city. Through his daughter, Prince Shechem is brought back to life in terms of legacy and inheritance.

These words, "the Lord is our God, the Lord is one, And you shall love…" must guide us before we act, even before we pray.

Converts and Judaism

Shavuot is the festival most relevent to converts to Judaism, as the Book of Ruth indicates. She is the most famous convert, and indeed is the ancestor of King David and, by extension, the Messiah. In truth, all Jews "converted" on Shavuot by accepting the Torah.

So many religions proselytize, and actively seek out converts. Some do it at the edge of the sword. What does Judaism think?

Easy. We love converts, and do not encourage them to do so. A convert is very holy, having freely decided to accept 613 commandments. They did not have to in order to gain entry to The World To Come. Any human being living in accordance with the rules of morality finds great favor in God's eyes. This spiritual person could have become a "Noachide", an observer of the Seven Laws of the Sons of Noah. Yet they chose full-blown Judaism. Inspiring.

In the quality versus qualntity argument, Judaism chooses quality. Once in history did Jews actually force the conversion of a people. Back in the days of John Hyrcanus, more than 2000 years ago, Judea offered the Edomites the choice of conversion or exile. Many chose exile, and many chose conversion. Among the descendants of those converts was Herod, the monumental - and bloody - king of Judea.

Was it the right thing to do? Who knows. On the one hand, Hyrcanus immediately neutralized the security threat posed by the Edomite enclaves in Judea's side. Maybe Israel should offer the same deal to the Palestinians! And in the long term, most of those conversions seem to have stuck.

On the other hand, it is an affront to Judaism's belief in the value of all nations to force conversion. We do not regard "Lions converts", ie, converts from fear or coercion, highly.

That really is the bottom line, but not to be taken to the extreme. Some wish to eliminate conversion altogether, and others restrict it where it is really needed.

I believe that in cases of some Jewish lineage, or doubtful lineage, conversion should be ACTIVELY encouraged. In cases where the conversion is for marriage, it should not be encouraged. If the marriage is already in place, then it can be encouraged.

Why? Because conversion for marriage is often insincere. It is done to alleviate the guilt of the families. If, however, the couple is already married, the reason for the conversion is no longer to please the families, but to reconcile the home. That is more sincere, and I belive the rabbis should examine these cases with a favorable inclination.

We need not fear conversion. In many situations today, a new, welcoming approach is called for.

But there is one type of proselytizing we MUST do. We must encourage ALL humans to live by the 7 Noahide laws of basic morality. That may be done even by force. After all, the purpose of the Jewish people in the world is "to fix the world under God's Kingdom."

Lot and the most important character trait

There are three main stories involving Lot. The first is when his shepherds argued with Abraham's, resulting in Lot moving down to the lush, but sinful, city of Sodom. The second is when Abraham rescued Lot and the Sodomites from four mighty kings that had captured them. This was a brilliant military victory where Abraham, with just a few hundred soldiers, defeated four powerful armies.

The most significant story, however, is how Lot was rescued on the eve of Sodom's destruction. When we think of an individual being saved from a cataclysm, we think of Noah. It must be that Lot had a certain virtue that raised him to that same level. What was it?

The Torah tells us that Lot was saved after God remembered Abraham. The Ramban suggests that Lot did not possess sufficient merit to be saved by himself, so the merit of Abraham was needed to save him. Abraham had extended much effort to rescue Lot from those kings. Perhaps God was doing Abraham a favor, so he should not feel that all his effort was in vain.

Rashi, however, quotes the rabbis who explained that Lot had actually done a great deed for Abraham. When Abraham had first arrived in the holy land, a famine drove him, his wife, and his nephew down to Egypt. Abraham feared that the Egyptians would kill him to take his beautiful wife, so he requested that she tell them that Abraham was her brother, not her husband. In this fashion, even if Sara should be taken away, Abraham's life would be spared.

The Rabbi say that Lot knew this plot and allowed it to go forward, not revealing the truth to the Egyptians. It was this merit that saved him from the destruction of Sodom. Some ask, however, why this act was so meritorious? After all, what would Lot gain by telling the Egyptians that Sara was Abraham's wife? An answer is given that, at that time, before the birth of Isaac and Ishmael, Lot was Abraham's heir. Had Abraham been killed, Lot would come into a large inheritance. Nonetheless, he put his own self-interest aside and protected his uncle.

This will be a key an understanding just why Lot was rescued, and why his stories have much to teach us. The most important character trait is here. Let us delve further.

A fourth story involves Lot's daughters and this same trait. After Sodom was destroyed, Lot and his daughters fled to a cave. The daughters were convinced that, once again, humanity had been destroyed and they were the sole hope for the future. The older daughter suggested that they get their father drunk and then become pregnant by him. So it was that they became the progenitors of the nations of Ammon and Moab. The question is, was this a good deed that they did or not?

There seems to be a divide among the rabbis on this question. They are critical of the immodesty of the older daughter, and critical of Lot who may have been aware of what was happening. Others, however, see Divine Providence in their actions, and praise them for their deeds. On what does the argument rest?

The Torah says that the daughters feared that "there is no man to come to us as the way of all the world." Some rabbis interpret this to mean that they believe that the world of been destroyed, just as in the days of Noah. Others, again, are more critical and say that these daughters knew that there were humans elsewhere, but feared that none of them were worthy to be their husbands. They just weren't as good as their father, so...

Let's follow the first assumption, that they really believed the world had been destroyed. And let us contrast that with the experience of Noah and his sons after the flood. After the flood, Noah, perhaps suffering from post traumatic stress disorder, becomes drunk inside his tent. His son, Ham, sees him in his nakedness and does something. What did he do? One opinion is that he raped his father. The other is that he sterilized him. In either case the action he took would not lead to having children.

In the case of Lot, the story is reversed. The daughters get the father drunk specifically in order to have children! What is the difference between the two cases? Perhaps the most important character trait a person can possess: Responsibility. The success of the human experiment depends upon the victory of Responsibility over Selfishness.

Lot was an average person. As a matter of fact, his choice to dwell in Sodom indicates that he was a below average person on the moral scale. But he had one overriding character trait which gave him tremendous merit. His sense of Responsibility showed itself time and again. Responsibility means being concerned about, and ready to act upon, the needs of others, of society, of the world. Lot put his selfishness aside in order to protect his uncle Abraham.

What's more, Lot refused to turn away strangers from his home, even though the welcoming of such guests was considered a terrible crime in Sodomite society. When the mob descended upon his house after he had welcomed two guests, he protected his guests at all costs. He was even willing to put his two daughters at the mob's mercy to do so. (Some question how Lot was ready to do such a terrible thing. Perhaps he learned it, according to his own understanding, from Abraham's willingness to endanger Sara's chastity to preserve his own life at Egypt. Perhaps he understood that rape is the lesser evil, and life must take precedence. Whether he was right or wrong is the subject of a different discussion.)

The same can be said about Lot's daughters. They felt an overriding responsibility to continue the human race, despite how distasteful the method available to them was. They looked at what happened between Ham and Noah and decided to do the opposite. They provided the wine, they ensured that the children would be born.

And, as a result of these unions, who was born? The nation of Moab, the nation that gave us Ruth the convert. Ruth took responsibility for her mother-in-law Naomi, and as a result, the line that gave us King David and will ultimately bring us the Messiah came into being.

Yes, Responsibility is the character trait that will save the world. Selfishness, the trademark of Sodom, is what destroys the world. The Jewish nation has always felt a tremendous responsibility to improve the lot of humanity. We, as individuals, must be proud of that character trait and strengthen it in ourselves for the benefit of all.

Synagogue versus cathedral

At first glance, the purpose of the Tabernacle and the wonder of the High Priest and his magnificent dress would seem to be to inspire people. It is certainly true that human beings are affected by things that are aesthetically pleasing. We create a positive association for that which looks good and sounds beautiful. Good-looking people are deemed more trustworthy and likable, even though there is no objective reason for it.

And so it is important for our Jewish communal institutions to create that good impression. And, yet, the purpose of the garments of the High Priest go way beyond simply making a good impression.

The centerpiece of his eight garment uniform was the Breastplate. In it, were 12 stones representing the 12 tribes of Israel. They were known as the "Urim Vetumim." This means that they "lit up and perfected." Indeed, these stones had a supernatural power to them. In the times of the first Temple, the King, when faced with major decisions of state, could consult the Urim Vetumin to gain Divine guidance. All of the letters of the Hebrew alphabet were on those stones, and upon being asked, the letters indicating the correct answer would light up miraculously.

This event would only happen when the High Priest wore the Breastplate. Only the combination of this holy individual with the holy adornment could bring that direct Divine communication.

Not every High Priest was worthy of it. Throughout the entire period of the Second Temple, the stones either were not present or did not function. The Talmud has uncomplimentary things to say about many of the High Priest in that period of time. Some of them were elitist, some refused to accept the principles of the Oral Law. The spiritual level of the High Priest seems to be critical to the functioning of the Urim Vetumin.

The commentaries all ask how it was possible for a High Priest in Second Temple times to fulfill his duties if there were no Urim Vetumim. The rule is that a High Priest who officiates without all of the required garments is liable to death at the hands of heaven! A couple of answers are offered. One is that the Breastplate was, indeed, there, just that the stones were not. Others disagree, and claim that the breastplate without the stones is as if it's nonexistent. Rather, they claim that the stones were there as well, but they no longer had the magical function.

This law of "mechusar begadim," or lacking required garments is explained by the commentaries in a striking way. The man who has been the High Priest but attempts to perform the Temple service without the garments is not, at that time, the High Priest. It is as if he is not even a Cohen, simply a regular individual who inserted themselves into the Temple ritual. About such a person the Torah says, "and the stranger that comes close (to perform the Service) shall die."

In other words, the clothing makes the man, or, in this case, the High Priest.

The Sefer Hachinuch, a later medieval scholar, provides a novel understanding of the role of these garments. Every single garment the High Priest wore had to cover his entire person. There was to be no significant flesh showing. In this way, the High Priest would see the symbols of holiness upon his entire person. In other words, the garments were not to impress and inspire the people coming into the Tabernacle, but rather to reminds the High Priest himself of his unlimited potential for holiness.

This is an inspiring concept. A human being who is in full perception of the innate holiness within himself is capable of becoming a conduit for direct communication from God. He wears upon his person, numerous times, the Divine Name. Such is the potential of the human being, created in the image of God.

What is even more inspiring is the fact that the first High Priest was Aaron. Why so? Because Aaron was a very human being. He had imperfections in his past, specifically the fact that he somehow facilitated the episode of the Golden Calf. Instead of being a disqualifier, perhaps that is the true reason he was the perfect person to be the first dedicated High Priest.

What is the role of the High Priest, anyway? To bring atonement and forgiveness to the people. There is no such thing as a completely perfect individual, but if there were, he would not be appropriate for this exalted position. He could not relate to the rest of the people who come to the Temple seeking redemption and cleansing. Nobody would feel any affinity for him, and thus his influence would not be effective.

Thus, we can resolve our doubt about the role of the Tabernacle and the splendiferous garments of the High Priest. They are not for the glory of God, but to show all of us the glory of God that resides in our own souls. The synagogue is not a cathedral where the faithful are made to feel very small, but rather it is a Tabernacle where the faithful reminded of just how great and holy they are.

The Temple and the synagogue are not places we go to discharge duties to God and then go home to our lives. They are places we go to stock up on spiritual self-esteem in order to bring that holiness with us out into the world and back into our homes. When we see a man, flawed as we are, who covers himself in holiness and reaches the level where God speaks through the Breastplate upon his person, we see what we are capable of achieving. And when the man treats us with love and honor, we are motivated to achieve that holiness.

Cain's Choice

The story that the medrash tells us about Lemech killing his ancestor Cain and his child Tuval Cain is, indeed, tragic. It brings up deep questions about Divine Justice. According to the Rabbis, Lemech was blind. He was out hunting with bow and arrow, accompanied by his third son, Tuval Cain, who was his "eyes". At one point, Tuval Cain sees what appeared to be an animal, and helped his father aim and shoot. When they discover that it was, indeed, Cain they had killed, Lemech claps his hands together in grief, accidentally killing (I guess by a blow to the head) Tuval Cain.

What does this story mean? Where was God's protection of Cain? Further, why did Lemech deserve to be the accidental victim of this tragedy? In truth, I believe that Lemech was not such an accidental killer, in a larger sense. The death of his ancestor and his son was not unrelated. In fact, one could say that Lemech killed his son before he killed him, and by so doing, he killed Cain forever. How so?

Think about it. Cain was now the father of all mankind. Abel died without offspring. The future of the human race is Cain's and it hinges on his sincere repentance for the act of murder he committed. Cain has, indeed, repented of the deed, but whether he has repented of the mindset that lead to the deed remained an open question. I suggest that it only became clear when the result of Cain's parenting and education of his children became visible in Lemech. What did Lemech do?

A couple of things. The Torah tells us about the careers of Lemech's three sons. Jabal was a shepherd. Jubal was a musician. Tuval Cain was a welder and blacksmith. According to Ramban, the great medieval commentator, Tuval Cain manufactured swords and spears, tools of violence. All three sons were taught their professions by Lemech. Thus, the first mistake of Lemech was in training his son to make these terrible things. The second was that he, himself, was a hunter. At this time in history, mankind was to be vegetarian.

Why would Lemech teach Tuval Caim armament manufacture? He would echo the gun lobby by saying that people kill, not weapons. By why make weapons in the first place? Perhaps he was afraid of others, and wanted to be able to defend himself. If so, that is the clear repudiation of Cain's repentence. Cain had been assured by God of a sign that would protect him. Cain had no need to arm himself. Indeed, Cain was ecstatic with his forgiveness. He finally found the Good Life. But not so Lemech.

In the Torah, there are two sections of Curses, one in Leviticus, and the other in Deuteronomy. They are both preceded by short sections of blessings and reward. "If you follow in my ways.." a number of wonderful things will happen. But if not, then a very long and fearful list of consequences follows. Now, according to the Talmud, God's attribute of kindness is greater than His Wrath. If so, then, I would expect the blessings to be much more plentiful than the curses.

In truth, I believe they are. The Curses, while certainly longer in text, are a list of details and specifics. The blessings, while shorter, are more global. A person who sees the world through negative lenses will find a thousand reasons to suffer. A person who sees and seeks the good will live in a world filled with light, flowers and music.

When a person begins to think of possibilities, they open up to them. The question of life is what possibilities one sees. Lemech saw a world of dangerous possibilities, that people could turn on him, that there were killers in potential. Further, by being a hunter, he himself had opened himself to killing. According to Jewish tradition, a shochet (kosher butcher) should also be cantor. Since he works in a cruel field, he should compensate by asking mercy for the people.

So when Lemech taught his son to make swords, he showed that Cain's repentance did not develop completely. The mindset that ignited his fratricidal jealousy was still influencing his descendents. Thus, since his repentance wasn't complete, his punishment now came at the hands of his descendent. And Tuval Cain was Lemech's victim too, by introducing him to this bleak mindset and influencing him to make tools of war.

When Adam and Eve saw what had become of the Cain lineage, they realized that the world would become a very bad place to live in. They took the only course they could to correct things, and had another son, Seth. Through him, humanity would have a better chance.

So this is the power of positive thinking, of what we choose to look at. Do we see the beauty in life, the wonders of nature, the glory of God? If so, weapons, jealousy, violence have no place in our heart and in our world. If we see the problems, the faults, the dangers, the they will be plentiful and they will be exaggerated. Even small things, like a brother succeeding where we failed, will become terrible sufferings for us.

The choice is ours. It starts with what we choose to look at in this world, to think about, to spend our time and energy on. If we choose to relive, in our minds, our achievements, the highlights of our days, we will be positive people, and our life will be The Good Life.

Creation and the Land of Israel

Indeed, the great commentator Ramban is puzzled by Rabbi Isaac's question. Why does the Torah begin with creation? Obviously, because belief in God is the creator of the universe is at the center of everything! I would expect the Torah to begin with it! To this, the Ramban replies that the Torah could have included a simple phrase, perhaps in the first of the 10 Commandments. "I am the Lord thy God who created the heavens and the earth." That would do it. Instead, we have the entire creation story, including Adam and Eve, the tree of knowledge, Cain and Abel and more. They are there to teach us a powerful lesson, and it is that which Rabbi Isaac is presenting.

As we read the stories of Adam, Cain and Abel, and so forth, there is a common thread. The people in the story commit a sin and are exiled from where they were as a result. Adam and Eve are banished from the garden of Eden, Cain, after he slays his brother, must wander around the world. What we are being taught is that there is a spiritual content to the physical land. The land of Israel, especially, simply cannot tolerate sinners upon it. Hence, the seven nations of Canaan who practiced human sacrifice and other abominations, could not be abided by the holy land. In their place, came the nation of Israel, with its commitment to God's Torah and morality.

Thus, we are being taught that our actions and moral stature have consequences.

But I might still ask why, then, the Torah doesn't have a problem-free rendition of the Genesis story? Why go into details about the six days of creation? After all, science has demonstrated convincingly that the earth is far older than just 6000 years, and that each stage described in the creation epic lasted far longer than a simple day. If the Torah would have simply said, "In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth," and left it at that, there would be no conflict between science and the Bible. Why give me 31 verses that give an impression at odds with scientific discovery?

There are different ways of resolving this seeming contradiction. Some claim that the world was, indeed, created in six days and that those six days were, indeed, about 6000 years ago. They say, however, that God created the world as if it were in midlife. Dinosaur fossils and astronomical echoes of the Big Bang (13.7 billion years ago) are simply there to give the impression that the world is older. I don't like this approach, because it implies that God intentionally tried to mislead mankind. The idea that God created dinosaur fossils of dinosaurs that never actually existed seems, to me, ridiculous.

Some interpret the six days of creation as referring to epochs, rather than 24 hour days. The sum total of those epochs might indeed be 13.7 billion years. I am okay with that. But there is another explanation that excites me.

Dr. Gerald Schroeder, the author of Genesis and the Big Bang, demonstrates how 6 24-hour days can equal 13.7 billion years. It all depends on where you are measuring the time. His premise is that the universe is stretching, and that time is a physical property that gets stretched along with it. Similar to a sheet of rubber with lines drawn every centimeter. Stretch it out, and those lines get farther and farther apart. The universe has been expanding at a rate of 900 billion times per day. As it expands, the relative passage of time changes dramatically. Imagine someone at the location of the Big Bang who sends out a pulse of light every second. For them, a second is a second, a 24 hour day feels like a 24 hour day, and 5 1/2 of them feel like 5 1/2 days.

Now, imagine someone on earth, which is billions of light-years away, receives the pulse of light. The next pulse will not arrive one second later. It can't because space has been stretched out so far. Instead, it will probably arrive millions of years later. The equation is: 900 billion×5 1/2 days (the amount of time from the beginning of creation until the creation of Adam) divided by 365 days a year equals 13.6 billion years! In other words, if we measure the first 5 1/2 days of creation at the origin of the Big Bang, from God's perspective, as it were, it equals 13.6 billion earth years. Only when Adam is created does the location of the clock shift to Earth.

The Big Bang theory posits that the universe existed as energy in a minuscule speck. Energy takes no space, so even a speck may be an exaggeration. That speck exploded and began to form matter, and the universe began to stretch and an increasing rate. Dr. Schroeder accepts the Big Bang theory and has shown us how the timing described in the Bible can be in complete agreement with the paleontology and astronomy that indicate the world is quite old.

What is amazing is that this Big Bang theory is not just from the mid-20th century, but was stated 750 years ago. The great Ramban, in his commentary on Genesis, describes exactly the same process. Everything was in a small speck that had no substance to it, and then God caused all matter to be generated from this one speck.

Perhaps the 31 verses of the creation story are put into the Torah so we should realize that science cannot throw us any curveballs. Taken together with the Ramban's explanation of Rashi and Rabbi Isaac we gain a new level of understanding. While science hasn't shown this yet, there is a spiritual component in creation that requires harmonized living by human beings. "The world stands upon three things: Torah, service, and acts of kindness," teach our sages. Perhaps they are doing more than just giving us good advice, perhaps they are describing this as yet unmeasured spiritual element in creation. We, who have the Torah, no this intrinsically. The more we harmonize our lives with the spiritual essence of the land, the more we will grow and blossom.

Believe in God and Do the Impossible

The Torah reading for the second day of Rosh Hashanah is the difficult passage of the binding of Isaac. Abraham was commanded to sacrifice his son, and he shows no hesitation in doing so. He takes the boy to Mount Moriah, ties him to the altar that he has fashioned, and is about to cut him with the knife when God's Angel calls out to him to stop. Abraham is told that he has passed the test, he must not harm the boy, and that many blessings are headed his way.

How could Abraham have been so willing to sacrifice his own child, for whom he had yearned all those years? Abraham didn't even argue, he just went! And why was this episode so powerful in granting merit and blessing to Abraham and his descendents?

Rabbi Solomon Sorotzkin claims that the binding of Isaac was a pre-atonement for the sin of the spies. The spies tried to prevent Israel from going where God told them, and so Abraham went to where God told him without question. A pre-atonement. What, exactly, is a pre-atonement? Perhaps it is a spiritual preparation for a future salvation. Perhaps, without Abraham's precedent, the spies would have succeeded completely. As we know, both Caleb and Joshua prevented the spies from having a unified front. Perhaps they gained the strength to do that by contemplating Abraham's binding of Isaac.

The Hasidic Rabbi, the Rabbi of Wurka, asked the opposite question. Why is Abraham's deep so special? If God spoke to him directly, and was crystal clear about what he was to do, Abraham was simply doing what anyone would do in that situation.

He answers that Abraham was probably being tempted by the Satan. Satan would point out that Isaac was Abraham's only son, and that Abraham's legacy will live through Isaac. Isaac was the sole gateway to the future of the Jewish people. If Isaac were to be killed, before he had any children of his own, there would be no Jewish people in the future! The whole legacy would be cut off!

And, so, Abraham had ample reason to protest. What's more, he was under no obligation to prevent Isaac from running away. But that's not what he did. He made sure Isaac accompanied him to Mount Moriah. He tied him up so that he could not run away. This was his great merit, that binding of Isaac. That showed Abraham's 100% commitment to do what God had told him. According to the Rabbi, Abraham basically said that the future of the Jewish people coming through Isaac was God's problem. His job was to fulfill this commandment, and God would figure out a way to carry out His promise.

In other words, Abraham taught us to believe in God, and do the impossible. Let's think about this. Abraham must have been 100% certain that it was God talking to him. He also needed to be 100% certain that he understood the message. Abraham knew that all of humanity was watching him. If he wavered, if his faith wasn't perfect and crystal-clear, his legacy would not endure. Perhaps he understood that his legacy going through Isaac was not biological, but spiritual. Perhaps he thought that, by sacrificing Isaac, he will ensure that faith in God will take root in all humanity. Maybe that's what God meant. And so Abraham was prepared to follow through, because this was bigger than him, or his son. All of mankind hung in the balance.

Not everyone comes to Abraham's level of faith, but because of his precedent, we have the potential for it. Sometimes we may waiver. Abraham was only tested with the binding of Isaac after a long life of consistent tests, some of which certain commentaries claim that he failed. The Legend of Rabbi Amnon, author of the Unetaneh Tokef prayer, is a case in point. When pressured by the Bishop of his city to convert to Christianity, Rabbi Amnon had said he will think about it for three days. His answer was intended to push the Bishop away, for he obviously had no intention of ever abandoning the Jewish faith. Nonetheless, he felt tremendous guilt about having given the impression that he would actually think about it.

After the three days were up, the Rabbi told the Bishop that he regretted having even said he would think about converting. As a result, he was maimed and tortured. Shortly thereafter, The High Holidays came around. Rabbi Amnon was brought into the synagogue in his bed, and recited his original prayer. The central word in it is, "Truth." It expresses faith in God's judgment, and urges us to pursue repentance, prayer, and charity in order to be judged favorably by God.

As long as a person is alive, they have an opportunity to get it right. This is where the Satan comes into our story. He is telling us that we are not able. He is telling us that we are imprisoned by our past. He is telling us to give up the fight, we have no hope. The spies expressed the Satan's message, "We cannot go into the land."

The rabbis explain the significance of 100 sounds as being the sounds of childbirth. The woman in labor utters 99 cries of suffering, doubt, hopelessness. And, then, the child is born. The 100th sound she orders is a cry of great joy! This is a source for the especially long note, the tekiah gedola, sounded as the 100th note of the shofar.

The Satan, who wants us to give up, here's these 100 notes, and knows that we will do nothing of the kind. We will persist. Abraham persisted, Caleb and Joshua persisted, the mother in childbirth persists, and eventually that baby is born. Against the people that refuses to give up hope in God, and refuses to stop trying to do the impossible, the Satan has nothing to say.