Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Akeidas Yitzchak - The Rambam's Unique Pshat

I found a Rambam in Moreh Nevuchim that gives a completely opposite pshat in Akeidas Yitzchak from the pshat you hear in almost every mussar shmooze on the akeidah. Absolutely mind boggling...

The famous question that is asked is, what is the big deal about the akeidah? If God told you to do something directly wouldn't you do it? Wouldn't you do anything for Hashem?

The famous answer that is given is that in fact Avraham wasn't a Navi at the level of Moshe Rabbeinu. Avraham's nevuah was at the level of Aspaklaria She'einah Meirah. He saw the word of Hashem, but not perfectly clearly. Therefore, the greatness of Avraham was that he didn't interpret the prophecy in a way that suited him better. He could have easily interpreted the nevuah in a more convenient fashion. But he didn't. Instead he went with the simple explanation, and proceeded with the akeidah.

If you want to see this pshat inside I found it in the Avi Ezri on Hilchos Yesodei HaTorah 7:6 (last paragraph). But it's not only in the Avi Ezri. I have heard this pshat numerous times. The basic idea being that the lesson of the akeidah is not to ask questions, not to find excuses, but just to follow the simple word of Hashem.

Before we get to the Rambam, there is a glaring difficulty with this pshat. The halacha most certainly is safek nefashos l'hakeil. If Avraham wasn't 100% sure what Hashem was telling him, wouldn't the halacha dictate to be on the safe side and not kill his son?

Here now is the quote from Moreh Nevuchim (3:24):

The second purpose [of the akeidah] is to show how the prophets believed in the truth of that which came to them from God by way of inspiration. We shall not think that what the prophets heard or saw in allegorical figures may at times have included incorrect or doubtful elements, since the Divine communication was made to them, as we have shown, in a dream or a vision and through the imaginative faculty. Scripture tells us that whatever the Prophet perceives in a prophetic vision, he considers as true and correct and not open to any doubt; it is in his eyes like all other things perceived by the senses or by the intellect. This is proved by the consent of Abraham to slay "his only son whom he loved," as he was commanded, although the commandment was received in a dream or a vision. If the Prophets had any doubt or suspicion as regards the truth of what they saw in a prophetic dream or perceived in a prophetic vision, they would not have consented to do what was unnatural, and Abraham would not have found in his soul strength enough to perform that act, if he had any doubt [as regards the truth of the commandment]. It was just the right thing that this lesson derived from the akeida should be taught through Abraham and a man like Isaac. For Abraham was the first to teach the Unity of God, to establish the faith [in Him] etc.

Amazing. The Rambam here says that the lesson of the akeidah is specifically to teach us not to think that the prophets had any doubts regarding their nevuah, even if they did see in dreams or visions. The whole point is that since Avraham was even willing to kill his son based on this prophecy it shows that the prophecy was 100% clear to Avraham with no doubts as to its interpretation. Had there been any doubt, the Rambam even says that Avraham surely would not have followed through! This is the exact opposite pshat of the standard pshat I have heard numerous times in countless shmuessim and of the pshat given by the Avi Ezri. Not only is it the opposite pshat, it's actually the lesson being conveyed by the akeidah not to think this way!

Note one other point. The Rambam (a little earlier in the same piece) says there is another lesson to the Akeidah. The lesson being just how far one must go in the fear of Hashem. He must be willing even to give up his child. The Rambam says this lesson despite the fact that the Rambam says that the nevuah was 100% clear to Avraham. In other words, the Rambam isn't bothered at all by the question of the Avi Ezri, what is the big deal about the akeidah if Hashem said so? No, it is a big deal to the Rambam even if Avraham heard it directly from Hashem! It's still shows Avraham's greatness that he was willing to follow through with the akeidah.