Message from Moriah – Part II: The Akeda: The Instruction of Abraham – Balance and Boundaries in Divine Devotion

28 Pages Posted: 19 Nov 2012

See all articles by Barbara Pfeffer Billauer

Barbara Pfeffer Billauer

Institute of World Politics; International Program in Bioethics, U. of Porto; Foundation for Law and Science Centers, Inc.

Date Written: November 19, 2012


In a short nineteen sentences towards the end of chapter 22 of Genesis, the “binding” of Isaac, in preparation for his sacrifice to the One God by his father is recounted. This account of parental fealty to a Divine Over-Lord that supersedes devotion to one’s offspring normative of civilized creatures is disturbing to most, regarded with repulsion by many, yet considered an exemplar of stellar piety by some. It has led to dozens of conflicting accounts and interpretations, resulting in leaving most of us confused or mystified, tempting us to reject the entire opus as maniacal, or worse, blindly accept the superficial account without question.

Here, I review the disparate positions of five medieval authorities, including one who asserts Abraham failed the test, and attempt to reconcile these with the divergent texts of the Torah (Genesis) and Mishnah. I explore the concept that Abraham’s seemingly irrational actions derive from his ripening “love of heaven,” a psychological state that is both exemplary, and one requiring balance and boundaries lest it lead to unacceptable, over-zealous conduct. In viewing Abraham’s mind-set as one seeking to perform the mitzvah enumerated in Deuteronomy ch 6. V. 5-8, “And you shall love Gd with all your heart…,” the texts of both Genesis and Deuteronomy become mutually interdependent and translucent, and the holistic nature of the Bible becomes manifest.

In addition, I re-examine the Kaballistic view that Abraham, whose soul-root derives from the Sephirah of Chesed (commonly translated as kindness), required testing in the opposing Sephirah of G’vurah, to wit that Abraham’s nature is one of soft-heartedness and he is put to the test to develop his capacity for “toughness” or “strength.” Instead, I postulate that the Sephirotic tests refer not to Abraham’s psychological state, but to his spiritual state, meaning that his capacity for “perfect” love of heaven (Ahavat Shamayim) must be balanced by an awe of heaven and a fear of punishment (Yirat Shamayim). Only when he is able to reach that state can he successfully elevate the spiritual levels of those around him, who begin their journey towards Gd from that plane.

That this occurs at a location that Gd calls “Har HaMoriah,” and Abraham re-names as “Hashem Yireh” telegraphs that this entire episode is meant to be a “teachable-moment” to Abraham and to us, and that Abraham, the paragon of Love of Gd, has mastered the ability to fear him as well, demonstrating to us the journey of reaching Gd must proceed along two levels.

Keywords: Akeda, Binding of Isaac, Ten Tests of Abraham, Yirat Shamayim, Ahavat Shamyim, Love of God, Fear of God, Sacrifice

JEL Classification: B30, B31

Suggested Citation

Billauer, Barbara P., Message from Moriah – Part II: The Akeda: The Instruction of Abraham – Balance and Boundaries in Divine Devotion (November 19, 2012). Available at SSRN: or

Barbara P. Billauer (Contact Author)

Institute of World Politics ( email )

1521 16th St NW,
Washington, DC
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+1 202-462-2101 (Phone)

International Program in Bioethics, U. of Porto ( email )

Rua Dr. Roberto Frias
4200-464 Porto

Foundation for Law and Science Centers, Inc. ( email )

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Suite LL1
Washington, DC 20036
United States
972 54 344 6055 (Phone)

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